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TESTIMONY
OF THE
PROFESSIONAL STAFF
CONGRESS/CUNY
 

BEFORE THE JOINT LEGISLATIVE
HEARING: HIGHER EDUCATION
 

Delivered by BARBARA BOWEN
President, Professional Staff Congress

 

Charts and statistics:

 

"We must rebuild  the City University -- before it is too late"

Good afternoon.  I bring you greetings from the 17,000 faculty and professional staff represented by the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY.  As the union’s President, I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify and pledge that you will come to know many of us in the months ahead; the PSC membership looks forward to being an active presence in Albany, working with you to rebuild our complex, embattled, beautiful university.  We are a new leadership for the union, and we want to usher in a new era for CUNY.  I am here, with the clarity and passion of 17,000 people at my back, to tell you that we must begin now, with this budget, to rebuild the City University—before it is too late.  We have issued our own budget proposal, a proposal that is serious, realistic, and based on research.  We hope it will guide you in your approach to the appropriation for CUNY.  This year represents perhaps our last chance to give public higher education the support it needs if New York is not to slip from its premiere position in the intellectual and economic life of the nation. 

The PSC reads the Executive Budget as an acknowledgment that the rebuilding of CUNY must begin.  For the first time, the Executive Budget names replenishment of the full-time faculty as a primary need and gives support from the outset to new faculty lines.  It also offers support for technology in the University and expresses a willingness to fund top-level programs in some areas of the sciences.  But where the Budget fails is in telling the truth about the University’s current financial position: CUNY has been so radically defunded in the past ten years that mere incremental change is not enough.  The $9.1 million increase proposed by the Executive Budget goes nowhere near supporting the restoration the University needs. The truth is that CUNY has been damaged and stripped until it survives only through the incredible grit and hope of its faculty, staff and students.  If CUNY is to continue as a viable university—let   alone return to being the major resource it could be for the entire state—it needs more than an increase of  0.5%.   

"Major funding is required even to reach ground zero"

Our testimony today will show first that CUNY has already suffered such an extreme loss of support that major funding is required even to reach ground zero, second that the restoration proposed by the Executive Budget falls far short of the need, and third that the PSC’s proposed budget shows the way to rebuild the University.  One of our members, a professor who has taught at CUNY for almost thirty years, recently called on the Chancellor to make the breathtaking gesture of supporting the union’s vision for the University.  I call on you to take an equally breathtaking step: be courageous, step outside of the framework of business-as-usual and work with us to make this University great.  The new leadership and the entire membership of the PSC stands ready to work with you.   

The Governor’s State of the State address spoke of years of unprecedented support for public higher education.  The truth is that these have been years of unprecedented decline.  An increase of $9.1 million—the total of new money for CUNY in this budget—does not even keep up with inflation, let alone address the real financial crisis we face. In the last ten years New York has fallen dangerously behind the national averages for support for higher education; we have reached the point of no return.  Either we restore the CUNY budget now, or we take responsibility for letting New York become the only state that fails to recognize the importance of public higher education to the new economy.  That is the stark choice before you.  Since 1990, State and City support for CUNY has fallen by 375 million in inflation-adjusted dollars. [Click here  for chart on decrease in funding.]   Over the last decade New York State ranks last, 50th among the 50 states, in the percentage change in state and local allocations for higher education.      

"The state has put a whole generation at risk
through disinvestment in higher education"

As public appropriations have fallen, tuition has risen.  While other states have offset tuition increases by increasing support for higher education, New York has allowed tuition to spiral out of proportion with base aid.  The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education recently issued its state-by-state report card: New York received a D- for affordability. [Click here for chart on summary of New York’s ranking.]  New York is highest among the 50 states in the percentage of income needed to pay for college expenses offset by the available financial aid; highest among the 50 states in the percentage of income needed to pay for community college; highest of the states in the share of income poorest families need to pay for tuition at the lowest-priced colleges.  The state has put a whole generation at risk through disinvestment in higher education.  As legislators you know what it means to lose the chance to educate our population.  You know what happens to the whole culture when the universities are allowed to decline.  Knowledge is not a luxury; it is the key to our whole new economy.  At a time when education is more crucial than ever for  participation in the new knowledge-based economy, and when it has become clear that education means K-16, not just K-12, New York is taking the unsound course of placing even the lowest-cost college education out of reach. 

As the University’s financial base of State support has been withdrawn, its core mission has been compromised.  The single most important measure of the quality of a university is its faculty, and it is in the ranks of CUNY’s full‑time faculty that the most devastating evidence of underfunding appears.  In the last 25 years, the size of the full‑time faculty has been slashed by half: from over 11,000 in 1975 to 5,500 today.  A thousand full‑time faculty positions have been lost in the last decade alone, despite some progress made in this year.  [ Click here for chart on decline in full-time faculty.]   The decline in full‑time faculty is the scandal at the center of CUNY and it is the trend we must reverse.  There is no time now simply to add a few more positions or even to rely on selected flagship programs as a source of renewal.  The entire faculty and professional staff, throughout the University, must be restored to levels appropriate for a research university.     

"Other states have recognized that part-time instructors must
be paid on a basis of parity with full-timers"

The damage to our students is immense.  Consider the record of the last decade on the percentage of courses taught by full‑time faculty.  The number at the senior colleges has fallen from 63% in 1990 to 51%, and at the community colleges from 54% to only 44% in 1999.  [Click here for charts on senior college and community college part-time ratios.]  Nearly half of CUNY’s courses are taught by people who are paid meager part‑time wages, who receive no support for research, who are not paid or required to spend time with students in office hours.  This is no way to run a serious university.  Because of their commitment to the idea of CUNY and to the students it serves, dedicated people accept intolerable wages and do their best for our students.  Other states have recognized that part-time instructors must be paid on a basis of parity with full-timers; California just allocated 63 million dollars to support payment of part-timers for conference hours with students.  The PSC’s budget makes a similar proposal, though for a more modest amount; we cannot continue to shortchange our students by depriving them of the consultations with faculty they need.    

" We are nowhere near the University’s stated
goal of 70% of instruction by full-timers"

But the crisis in full-time faculty needs to be solved.  [Click here  for chart on FTE-ratios.]  We are nowhere near the University’s stated goal of 70% of instruction by full-timers, and CUNY now risks losing academic accreditation in several areas because the ratio of full-time to part-time instructors is so low.  The PSC offers a reasonable plan for reaching the 70/30 ratio within three years, and we set this year’s target at 350 for the senior colleges, and a further 108 positions in Teacher Education.  This figure is substantially higher than the University’s proposal for new lines and higher than the current rate of replacement—120 last year.  The University asks for $3 million for this purpose; the real need is $34.4 million.  As you will see in the longer budget document that accompanies this testimony, CUNY has now fallen below the Regents’ minimum mandated level for full-time staffing of Teacher Education courses.  If we are to avoid being forced to scale back on the training of teachers New York urgently needs, there must be immediate funding in this field.   

"SEEK and College Discovery"

Equally vital, in an institution that serves the country’s most diverse and also its poorest college population are SEEK and College Discovery, both of which suffer cuts in the Executive Budget. Created by the Legislature more than thirty years ago, SEEK and College Discovery have been among the primary engines for advancing the city’s immigrant and working-class populations.  The PSC urges you to restore and expand these programs.  We also call for replenishment of the critically-important faculty counselors, for increases in the three Centers for Worker Education, and for restoration of the full-time ranks of professional staff.    

I want to turn finally to some of the less visible costs of the starvation of CUNY.  Currently CUNY offers none of the standard junior faculty leaves or lab start-up funds, no incentive funds for hiring faculty and staff of color; we are almost alone among research universities in not offering tuition remission to doctoral students.  The University’s budget proposal seeks $1.5 million for doctoral tuition remission; the real need, as identified in our proposal, is for $4 million for tuition remission and $2.7 million for graduate fellowships. Why must CUNY go on being a cut-rate university?  It’s time for an end to the dictum that CUNY should always be poor.  Every other state is recognizing that investment in public higher education pays enormous dividends in economic growth, intellectual capital, richness of collective life.  Over and over we find CUNY undercutting itself to save a few dollars.  It’s time to put money into supporting our most promising young scholars, time to make research possible, time to reverse the mentality of cutting and shaving at every turn. The PSC’s proposed increase of 12% for the total budget represents the state’s best hope for moving forward.   

"The choice...."

The choice is before you: rise to the moment and appropriate the funds to restore the University’s health or allow one of New York’s signature institutions to decline beyond repair.  You have a chance to rebuild an institution that has historically ensured the life chances of millions of New Yorkers and done much to enable the integration of generation after generation of new immigrants into the life of the state.  Each year, CUNY graduates, most of whom would not have gone to college without CUNY, add billions of dollars to the tax base of New York.  The people of New York will benefit for generations to come if you accept our proposals and chart a new direction for CUNY.  Across the nation, state governments are realizing the wisdom of investing in higher education and upgrading their university systems.  The PSC’s new leadership came into office on a groundswell of hundreds of faculty and staff who shared our bold vision of renewal.  We ask of you a vision equally bold; take this last chance to restore our great university.  Don’t inflict damage that it would take generations to repair; don’t let New York be left behind. 

 

January 31, 2001

Delivered by Barbara Bowen, PSC President

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