TESTIMONY ON
NYS BUDGET


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TESTIMONY OF THE
PROFESSIONAL
STAFF CONGRESS/CUNY

JOINT SENATE FINANCE
COMMITTEE AND ASSEMBLY
WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE

 Delivered by Dr. Barbara Bowen
PSC President

February 8, 2005

 

 

Good afternoon, Chairpersons Johnson and Farrell, members of the Assembly and Senate, students, colleagues and friends.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify today.  Thank you also for the support you have shown for the City University of New York and the 20,000 faculty and staff who work there.  I am honored to appear here with my NYSUT and UUP colleagues, and the PSC speaks in solidarity with their budget requests.   

The 2005-06 Executive Budget for CUNY presents you, as legislators, with a choice: do you accept an underfunded university system as good enough for New York, or will you act to make sure that higher education in New York is supported?  The choice is that stark, because what confronts us in the Executive Budget is another year of deepening starvation of CUNY.  Yes, you’ve heard today about how well CUNY is doing and the extraordinary efforts of students and faculty.  We are all doing more with less.  But the truth is undeniable and it’s in the numbers: whatever the State may say it’s doing or even whatever you as Legislators wish to do, New York State has decided to abandon the project of providing adequate funds for public higher education.  If that’s not the decision the Legislature wants to make—and I don’t believe it is—I call on you to reverse course and stop the hemorrhaging of public money from public higher education.   

Last year you acted in a bipartisan way and took important first steps in restoring higher education funding.  Unfortunately, some of the additional operating funds you allocated were not appropriated by the Executive branch, and the capital funds were vetoed.  This year’s Executive Budget not only seeks to make permanent the loss of $22 million in operating aid impounded last year by the Governor; it contains additional devastating cuts.  We are aware of the Court of Appeals decision, but we believe the Legislature can act to improve the budget.  Without courageous action on your parts, students, faculty and staff will be harmed, and New York will slip further behind in the ranks of higher education support.  I find it especially unfathomable that New York would engage in the defunding of public higher education at exactly the same time that it is under court order to improve funding for K-12.  A major focus of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision was to give all students across the state an equal chance at finishing high school and becoming prepared for college.  To pull the rug out from under the public colleges at just this moment, as the Executive Budget does, would be self-defeating.  

Decreased Operating Funds

This year’s Executive Budget for CUNY, despite the appearance of a larger allocation than in the past, actually continues the pattern of decreasing funds.  What creates the illusion of an increase, of $92.1 million, is a proposal for public funds to be replaced by increased tuition and a shift in the way collective bargaining increases are budgeted.  In a departure from past practice, the Executive Budget for 05-06 includes an amount dedicated to prospective collective bargaining increases with the PSC and District Council 37.  In the past, collective bargaining increases have been funded by a separate paybill, on which we have been grateful for your bipartisan support.  This year, however, $73.3 million is added to the CUNY budget for expected contractual increases.  Much of the balance of the $92.1 million “increase” is to come from an increase in student tuition, not from increased State appropriation.  Despite the appearance of an increased budget, then, the State appropriation for the CUNY operating budget actually goes down—by $9.8 million.   

Funds for Collective
Bargaining

While the PSC naturally supports funding for collective bargaining increases, there are two problems with the budgeted amount.  First, the amount is not sufficient to meet even basic needs, and second, it is designed to be funded in part by an increase in tuition.  Let me say here that it is absolutely unacceptable to the PSC that our overburdened students, among the poorest college students in the nation, would be expected to pay for collective bargaining increases that have always been funded by the City and State.  Only two years ago, CUNY senior college students endured a 25% tuition increase.  While the Legislature was instrumental in containing the size of that increase, it was still a major burden, when nearly two-thirds of CUNY students live in families who total family income is under $30,000 a year.  The students and their families have already paid for higher education through their taxes; to impose a further tuition burden on them to cover what should be basic operating costs of salaries and benefits is appalling.   

The PSC calls on you, as a start, to restore the $37.3 million in the Executive Budget proposed to come from tuition.  We also ask you not to accept the permanent, recurring loss of the $22 million impounded last year by the Governor and we ask for full funding for capital needs.  The additional funds allocated by the Legislature last year, at a time of severe budget pressure, represent a bipartisan affirmation of the need for additional operating aid for CUNY.  To allow what was a one-time hold on those funds to become a permanent part of the CUNY budget would undermine the significant work you did to begin restorations to public higher education. 

Hard as we fight for students, this year the PSC is also in a battle on our own behalf.  The $73 million allocated for collective bargaining increases for PSC and DC 37 together falls short of providing funds for the PSC even to maintain basic salary and healthcare, let alone to advance.  Obviously, it would be inappropriate to involve the Legislature in the details of collective bargaining, but it’s important for you to know that the amount allocated would leave our health benefit plan insolvent within the year.  Years of tight budgets for CUNY have taken a toll not just on student life, college buildings and research facilities; they have also meant that our welfare fund has been starved of support.  Without a serious infusion of funds in this contract, CUNY faculty and staff will face dramatic loss in health benefits.  Without decent healthcare coverage, the University’s ability to recruit and retain faculty and staff will plummet; healthcare is for many people the most important part of financial compensation.  That’s why we need more than the allocated amount and why I’m wearing this button, to protest the economic offer of 1.5% over four years that is currently on the table. 

Many of you will recall that the contract settled last summer with our brothers and sisters at SUNY, in UUP, included increases of approximately 15% over four years.  After more than three years without a raise, we’ve been offered one-tenth of that, 1.5%.  We continue to press as vigorously as ever for the budget CUNY needs, but our priority this year is to ensure that the CUNY budget includes contractual funding for the PSC comparable to the fair settlement reached at SUNY and that it contains sufficient increases to restore solvency to our welfare fund.  There is no future for CUNY if salaries and benefits are so poor that the best faculty and staff cannot stay.   

I recently got a message from a former CUNY professor, Cesar Ayala, who left his full-time position at Lehman College for UCLA.  He writes “as someone who loved, just absolutely loved teaching at Lehman, but had to leave on account of salary and conditions.  When I left, my course load went down . . . and my new salary was significantly higher.  Only when I saw the offer from my new employer did I realize the cumulative effect of disinvestment in higher education in New York.”   How many more Professor Ayalas can CUNY afford to lose before its most important resource, the people who do the teaching, is gone?  Certainly CUNY has major capital needs, but its real capital is the faculty and professional staff who make learning and research possible. 

Additional Funds for
Full-Time Positions,
Childcare and Diversity

As part of our focus on supporting CUNY’s human capital, the PSC is also seeking funding for three specific additions to the operating budget.  First, we support the University’s request for an additional $18.5 million for additional full-time positions and the support these positions require.  The PSC has led the campaign for additional full-time faculty lines, while also demanding better support for our part-time colleagues, and we repeat that call this year.  We also propose an additional $2.5 million to support childcare for faculty and professional staff, and $1.5 million to support increased racial, ethnic and gender diversity in hiring.  Both of these are small amounts, but they would go a long way toward rebuilding—and reimagining—the University. 

During the past two years, as you have heard, nearly 600 additional full-time faculty have been hired at CUNY.  (The number of part-timers, however, has also risen, by over 1000, to keep up with the increase in enrollment.  Student enrollment in the last two years has increased to such an extent that the equivalent of one-and-a-half colleges have been added to CUNY—but without the additional funding that one-and-a-half colleges need.  ) The issue of our newspaper, Clarion, attached to my testimony, tells the story of one young faculty member, CarolAnn Daniel, who   was forced to go on public assistance after the birth of her second child because CUNY does not provide paid parental leave or childcare support.  Even with a husband working full-time (though without benefits) Professor Daniel qualified for food stamps and had to turn to Medicaid to cover healthcare costs for herself and her children while on unpaid leave after childbirth.  Surely this is not what we want for anyone, but especially not for a young scholar, a product of CUNY herself, who earned an M.S.W degree, a Ph.D. and now a full-time faculty position at Brooklyn College.  SUNY faculty, like faculty at most colleges and universities, receive some support for childcare.  Their institutions recognize that an investment in sustaining the families of young faculty pays off in the university’s ability to recruit and retain the best new professors.  Teaching at CUNY shouldn’t mean forgoing the chance to have a family; not everyone is as loyal to CUNY as Professor Daniel.  A relatively small investment in childcare support for CUNY faculty and staff would make the difference. 

The PSC is also seeking an appropriation to CUNY of $1.5 million to support an initiative to increase the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the faculty and professional staff.  The State Education Law contains an eloquent statement on the centrality of faculty and staff diversity to CUNY: 

Only the strongest commitment to the special needs of an urban constituency justifies the legislature’s support of an independent and unique structure for the university.  Activities at the city university campuses must be undertaken in a spirit which recognizes and responds to the imperative need for affirmative action and the positive desire to have the city university personnel reflect the diverse communities which comprise the people of the city and state of New York.   (Section 6201) 

Although CUNY includes some nationally known scholars in underrepresented categories, nothing like the potential for diversity has been reached.  As faculty and professional staff ourselves, PSC members know that it takes active support to hire significant numbers of people in underrepresented categories.  Along with restorations to the operating budget, we seek funding to support successful hiring of minority faculty: a modest allocation of $1.5 million would allow faculty to travel to recruit scholars of color, provide for incentives in the form of research support, and support essential mentoring.  As the most racially diverse major university in the country, CUNY has a special opportunity—and responsibility—to go beyond mere compliance with Affirmative Action guidelines.  The City University should be a national leader in reversing institutionalized racism and providing a model to the country of the intellectual richness of a faculty as diverse as our student body.   

Decreases in Student Support

Of the fewer than thirty people from New York City who have been killed in the war in Iraq, three were CUNY students: Segun Frederick Akintade, James Prevete and Francis Obaji.  All three turned to CUNY in search of a better life, and all three bore heavy family responsibilities while attending school. Segun Akintade was working while attending school to support his mother and siblings in Nigeria, paying for their school tuition, and Jim Prevete was shouldering the responsibility of a seriously ill father at home in Queens.  Hundreds more CUNY students are financing their education through service in the National Guard, and many are currently in Iraq.  Our students—and working-class people like them across the country—are the people fighting this war, and our students are paying heavily for its enormous cost.  In addition to the terrible loss of these young lives, the war creates pressure on both federal and state budgets.  84,000 students nationwide are expected to lose all Pell Grant funding, and 1.2 million to see their Pell Grants decreased.       

I urge you not to add to these burdens on our students by asking them to bear far more than their share of the State budget shortfall.  The Executive Budget proposed this year hits students especially hard, calling for increased tuition, a reduction in TAP funds, elimination of financial aid for the poorest students—those in SEEK—and the new PACT proposal to pay a premium for speedy graduation.  All of these proposals move in the wrong direction, and have the cumulative effect of making this year’s Executive Budget proposal what one of my colleagues called “the most anti-student budget I have ever seen.”  The PSC calls on you to restore full TAP funding and not to force students to lend their money to the State while they work toward graduation.  There is absolutely no empirical evidence to support the idea that withholding needed funds from students helps them to graduate.   

Likewise, the PSC opposes the PACT proposal, which would pay colleges a premium for every student who graduates within four years for a senior college, two years for a community college.  While the proposal is useful in highlighting a continuing problem—the lack of access for students to the courses they need—the way to solve that problem is to fund more full-time faculty lines, not to put a bounty on the students’ heads.  The PACT program would also have the effect of transferring funds directly from the public to the private sector, as the demographics of private colleges make it more likely that their students will graduate within the specified period.  CUNY students take a longer time to graduate because they are supporting families in Nigeria or Flushing or the Bronx; they are working, often full-time, while attending school.  The PACT program would have the effect of favoring the colleges with the most affluent student populations; I urge you to reject it as a mechanism that would create a further drain on public higher education.  

Finally, the PSC urges you to restore the $6.9 million decrease in the Executive Budget in funding for SEEK.  Taking this huge chunk out of the SEEK budget means eliminating all financial aid for these students—and they are often the students who need financial aid most.  Cutting funds from SEEK also has a disproportionate affect on students of color.  It is unconscionable to cut off this lifeline for some of CUNY’s neediest—and often most driven—students, to deny the poorest students the chance to attend the City University.  As someone who has taught SEEK students and seen them go on to law school, doctoral programs and other demanding careers, I feel personally outraged at the proposed loss in support for these students.  It is a travesty of CUNY’s mission to single out the SEEK program for budget cuts.   

Conclusion

Education is about the future; it is intrinsically an expression of hope.  As people who entered into this work because of hope, we in the PSC call on you to believe, as we do, in the future of the people of New York.  Dollar for dollar, no investment goes further than funds for higher education.  Every dollar invested by the Legislature in CUNY results in 24 extra dollars contributed to the tax base.  If this is the year of education funding, then public higher education must be part of that movement.  We call on you to make vital restorations to the operating budget for CUNY, to understand the need for an increase in the amount allocated for collective bargaining, and to reverse the trend toward making our already overburdened students bear extra costs while new money is directed toward the private sector.  If public education is to mean anything in this state, nothing less is required.