PSC Testimony
on CUNY Budget

Go to:
Joint Legislative Hearing, 2/12/02

Higher Education Committee, 1/17/02




February 12, 2002


Presented by Barbara Bowen, President

Good morning, Assemblyman Farrell, distinguished Legislators, fellow unionists and supporters of public higher education.  I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to you today about the urgent needs of the City University of New York.  I speak on behalf of the 20,000 faculty and professional staff I represent as President of the Professional Staff Congress; I’m delighted to be joined by our Vice President, Professor Steven London, and our Secretary and Legislative Director, Professor Cecelia McCall.  They will join me in answering your questions.   

Everyone knows that this is not an ordinary budget year.  When the academic year began, in the other world that was early September, no one foresaw that the state’s already declining revenues would be strained to the breaking point by the devastation of September 11th.  No one imagined that last year’s bare-bones budget would set the terms for a future budget; my sense is that both the Executive and the Legislative branches would like to have proposed increases for higher education.  Higher education had begun to emerge as a priority for both voters and legislators: the 2001-02 Executive Budget called for modest increases for CUNY, and many of you supported additional funds to restore our university.  The signs were there that the decades-long decline in funding for public higher education was about to end; New York was poised to emerge from its years of lagging behind the rest of the nation in support for public universities. But the fiscal script, as we all know, has been rewritten.  This year’s Executive Budget repeats the bare-bones budget for CUNY—it is, in effect, a budget cut.  There is no money to cover the 2-3% increased costs of inflation, no money to repair last year’s cuts, and no money to support the rebuilding of the University we had begun. 

I am here today, with 20,000 politically engaged members at my back, to explain why investment in CUNY must continue, even in these straitened times.  I am here to show why you as legislators must take the lead in calling for use of the state’s precious reserves for investment at CUNY.  The PSC speaks in strong solidarity with my colleagues from NYSUT and UUP; we are fully behind their requests for funding for the state university system and the community colleges.  But I want to suggest that there is a particular crisis at CUNY and a particular contribution CUNY makes to New York.   These two factors—CUNY’s crisis and its contribution—justify the leap of courage it will take to add funding this year. 

Let me start with the crisis. CUNY has now reached the point where the majority of its courses are taught by part-time faculty.  Many other colleges, in our state and elsewhere, suffer from over-reliance on part-time faculty, but at CUNY the situation is acute.  Entire departments run primarily on part-time labor; some have one or two full-time faculty and an army of people who teach part-time.  No matter how good the part-timers are—and many of them are fabulous teachers and colleagues—it is not educationally sound to run a university on part-time labor.  Imagine how you would feel if you had a part-time lawyer, or a part-time doctor who had to run to his next job and had no office in which to meet you, no time for consultation, and a stethoscope shared with 20 other part-time doctors.  Would you allow your children to attend a public school in which most of the teachers were contingent workers, rushing from one school to another, not sure if they would have a job from one month to the next?  What kind of education do you think they would be able to provide? 

The amazing thing is that our part-time faculty have been able to do so much for so long.  During the last two decades, as the funding for CUNY has declined, the Administration has been able to paper over the large hole in our budget by replacing a full-time faculty with an underpaid part-time one, but now the hole is gaping.  The critical point was reached when the norm became part-timers rather than full-timers as the teaching faculty.  Take a look how the percentage of instruction by full-time faculty has fallen in just the last ten years.  At the senior colleges, it has dropped from 62% in 1990 to 51% now, and at the community colleges from an already unacceptable figure of 54% to crisis proportions at 44% by the decade’s end.  Students’ primary experience at the City University is now with underpaid part-timers, hired because they saved the University money, and who are often unavailable to consult students outside of class or write them a recommendation or even be found the next semester.  I have nothing but admiration for my part-time colleagues; this is a structural, not an individual crisis.  Let me show you the numbers. Fully staffed in 1975, the University employed 11,300 full-time faculty.  Now, the number of faculty is 5,700.  That’s a loss of half, even though the student numbers have held relatively constant.  A few gains have been made in recent years, but the number is still down by a thousand in the last decade.  Unfortunately, CUNY can’t wait until New York’s budget recovers.  You reach a point when you no longer have a university.  And that’s the point we are very fast approaching. The PSC calls on you to add funding this year for 450 of the 5,000 faculty we need and begin to achieve the ratio of 70% full-time to 30% part time called for in CUNY’s own Master Plan.  The cost is 34 million dollars. 

The crisis for professional staff is also as acute.  From 1988 to 2000, the number of Higher Education Officers—the people who administer programs, register students, program computers and counsel about financial aid—dropped by 15%.  The University has attempted to solve this crisis not so much with part-timers, but by piling more work on the Higher Education Officers who remain.  One of my own colleagues, a counselor, took on the work of the three people who retired from her office, working nights and weekends to answer students’ questions.  Within a few months, she had had a heart attack—but that didn’t stop her from advising students from her hospital bed and returning to work as soon as she could.  Three years later, there has still been no one hired to assist her.  How well are students being served when the understaffing is this extreme?  At a certain point, the commitment to student services becomes a sham.  We need to create 140 new Higher Education Officer positions this year, at a cost of 8.4 million dollars.  

The University’s technical staff, too, its laboratory and computer technicians, has been eroded by budget losses.  As CUNY seeks to upgrade technological resources and make more efficient use of computer systems, it is vital that there be trained staff to do the work.  Otherwise, the investment in infrastructure is wasted.  This year, CUNY needs funding to add 120 new Laboratory Technicians. 

We have identified a few other pressing needs, which are explained in the longer document provided to you.  Many of our members will be visiting your offices, both in your districts and here in Albany, to speak directly to you about the ones that affect them most.  I’d like to use my remaining time to reflect on our needs as a whole and suggest why the crisis at CUNY has occurred and why it must be solved. 

If you look at the other budget priorities the PSC has outlined, you will find things that are assumed to be basic at almost all other universities.  We call for full funding for some of the programs that are distinctive at CUNY, such as SEEK and the Centers for Worker Education, but much of what we are seeking is embarrassingly basic.  CUNY is almost the only research institution in the country that does not provide tuition relief for doctoral students who are employed by the university.  I am happy to say that SUNY receives full funding for this purpose, but CUNY receives nothing.  This is an inequity that must be resolved.  Despite having several doctoral programs that rank in the top ten nationwide, CUNY will soon find itself unable to compete for the best graduate students.  Not being able to attract graduate students means not being able to attract top-level faculty, many of whom come primarily because of the doctoral students they can teach.  With a small expenditure, this problem can be solved.  Other relatively modest amounts would supply funding for the current part-time faculty to hold office hours for students; even if CUNY adds 450 new full-time faculty this year, there will still be thousands of part-timers who receive no money for office hours and tens of thousands of students underserved.  Put these needs together with the lack of funding for such routine items as travel to professional meetings or support for research costs, and you get a picture of a university dangerously hampered in its work.  There’s a magic about CUNY—few people who work there long can resist the beauty of its diverse, determined student body.  But after a while, a university without funds for basic needs is no longer a real university.  

More than twenty years of declining support have brought us to this point. State funding has dropped steadily since 1990, and city funding has declined at nearly as fast a rate. The state has attempted to bridge the gap with tuition, which now covers 37% of CUNY’s operating budget, but without public investment, the deficit has continued to grow.  According to the Institute for Fiscal Policy, CUNY ranks second from the bottom in the list of state funding priorities. Overall New York State funding to public higher education is low, but the withdrawal of funds from CUNY is especially sharp. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that total New York funding for public higher education increased by 2.7% in 2000-2001, which included much-needed funds for SUNY’s hospitals.  But state support for CUNY rose only 0.8%.  Funding at that rate places CUNY 48th among the 50 states’ university systems.   

The investment New York has made—and many of you have been leaders in this area—has been in direct assistance to students.  The PSC is a strong supporter of TAP, and we call for an immediate repeal of the punitive plan to withhold the last third of students’ TAP funding.  But  valuable as TAP is, it is not a substitute for investment in the University itself.  Portions of TAP funding have gone to New York’s private colleges in the form of tuition support, and meanwhile the public funding base for the state’s universities has eroded.  The PSC asks you to restore TAP funding and continue to support all students in the state who seek higher education.  But we also ask you to recognize that for such support to be meaningful, students must have strong public universities in which to study. It’s self-defeating to provide support to attend college but then pull the rug out from under the colleges most students attend.  It’s time to re-examine how New York allocates support to higher education; the formula of the last two decades hasn’t worked.  No dollars have a greater multiplier effect than those invested directly in public colleges and universities; direct investment in CUNY is the strongest gesture of confidence in the state’s future you can make. 

I want to close by reflecting on the particular contribution CUNY makes to the life of New York.  Too much has already been written about the greatness of New York that was revealed by September 11th, but there are some things that have not been noticed.  One is that the habit of cooperation among working people, across supposed barriers of ethnicity and race, is not new.  The most powerful engine of integration in New York City is the public schools and colleges, and I would say especially the colleges, because there the mix of ages and backgrounds is even more intense.  It is no accident that thousands of New Yorkers, immigrants and native-born, were able to rise together to the challenge of an event that shook the foundations of their thought.   Daily in our classrooms students learn to expose themselves to hard ideas, to have the courage to face tough challenges in a public setting.  In the years before the Taliban, I had a Russian and an Afghan student working side by side in my classroom at Queens; the two young men had fought on opposite sides in the war between their two countries.   

But the real story of CUNY is about the future.  New York, as we have been forced to remember, is not just about stockbrokers and dot.com wizards; it’s also about cooks and court stenographers and carpenters and firefighters and medical technicians.  And in the future it’s going to be about people flexible enough to move from one field of work to another.  Where will these people come from?  Not out of state and not from expensive private colleges.  They will come from the City’s university.  There is no rebuilding without investing in people, no rebuilding New York without rebuilding CUNY. 


The Honorable Edward Sullivan, Chair

January 17, 2002

    Good morning, Assemblyman Sullivan, distinguished legislators and staff members, fellow unionists and New Yorkers. I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak about the urgent funding needs of the City University, and especially grateful to Assemblyman Sullivan.  We are still a new leadership of the PSC, but it is already clear to us what a champion we have in Ed Sullivan.  He has been a voice of both reason and passion, a fierce advocate of public higher education, throughout his legislative career.  The officers and members of the Professional Staff Congress are proud to consider him a colleague, a fighter and a friend. 

    We speak today in solidarity with the other higher education leaders on this panel: New York, as you have heard, still lags shamefully behind in funding for public higher education, and there is a pressing need at each of our institutions.  It is simply not acceptable, even in times of limited funding, for New York to rank 47th among the states in increases to higher education over the last ten years.  As a state whose economy is fueled by the knowledge industries, New York ought to be a leader in investment in higher education.  A college degree is no longer a luxury; it is the minimum credential for success in almost any of New York’s growing employment fields.  The Professional Staff Congress begins by calling on the Legislature to invest wisely in the future of the state, and no investment pays bigger dividends than higher education.  Dollars invested in higher education have the greatest multiplier effect of any form of public spending: they create the biggest return in the form of increases to the tax base of the state.  And that’s only one, rather crude way of measuring education’s importance: the real return on investments in higher education is much larger, almost incalculable.  There can be no price tag put on the value of enlarging one’s life in the way higher education makes possible.  The strength of this state, as the terrible events of September 11th made clear, is its people, and there is no better way to invest in the people’s future than by supporting higher education. 

    We call on the Governor and the Legislature, then, to look to the future as they develop this year’s budget.  Nothing signals faith in the future more than investment in higher education, and a commitment to our collective future has never been more needed than now. 

    All of public higher education in New York needs an infusion of funds, but I want to concentrate on the sharp needs at the City University.  Our needs have a particular urgency this year, for two reasons: first, the importance of a public urban university was painfully demonstrated by the devastation of September 11th; and second, CUNY has been a singular target of underfunding in the last decade, and that underfunding must be reversed.  I want to use most of my time to specify our funding needs, but first I’d like to say a word about what September 11th revealed  about New York City’s public university. 

    CUNY is part of the fabric of the city; when the city was under attack, CUNY was under attack.  And when the city stood together, showing that it is the diversity and density of a great urban population that defines a city’s strength, CUNY was part of that resurgence.  On the day of the attack itself, CUNY faculty and staff offered leadership and support to the 200,000 students at our University.  The faculty and staff at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, only three blocks away from the World Trade Center, successfully evacuated the entire student body that terrible morning, and then stayed with their students to assist them in traveling home.  To take just one example: part-time faculty member Salar Abdoh, who was teaching an English class at Fiterman Hall, a building that suffered irreparable damage, found himself cradling the head of one of his students as she reacted in shock to the collapse of the Towers.  “I just put her head on my shoulder so she wouldn’t see any more,” he said.  With countless gestures like this, the CUNY faculty and staff nearest to the tragedy reacted in ways that were deeply human, but also inflected by years of dedication to a profession that is about learning, communicating, supporting others as they struggle with difficult ideas.  

    Above all, what PSC members did in response to the attacks was go back to work.  The next day, we were there at our colleges, many of us staying on even where classes had to be canceled, offering opportunities for our students to mourn and react.  In the weeks since September 11th, CUNY faculty and staff have risen to the difficult occasion in myriad ways, some visible, some not.  And at CUNY, of course, we are in a unique position: as the most diverse university in the country, CUNY bears a special responsibility for fostering openness and rejection of racism.  It has been one of the union’s major campaigns since September 11th to create an atmosphere of zero tolerance for bias attacks on students of Arabic descent or on any students—to make CUNY a model of a diverse community in a difficult time.  I think we have succeeded: Muslim students at several CUNY colleges report that they feel more supported now than before because of the strenuous efforts of the faculty and staff to create an atmosphere of openness.  And we’ve just learned that the Indian and Pakistani student clubs at Hunter College have merged to show their commitment to working cooperatively despite the tensions between their home countries. 

    As New York City and State begin the rebuilding after September 11th, one thing is clear: we will need an educated citizenry, a people prepared for the multiple challenges offered by a changing economy.  We need a people broadly educated, not just narrowly trained, flexible enough to find their places in the new city and state economies. The City University is essential to that effort.  Rebuilding New York means rebuilding CUNY.  There are years of lost ground to make up, because CUNY has been systematically stripped of funding over the past two decades.  But it’s not too late to begin the process of reinvestment, starting with the current budget.  

    We need investment in seven major areas.  The first three were outlined by Alan Lubin, and they are also priorities at CUNY: increases in the operating budget; restoration of full-time faculty; improvements in the base aid to community colleges to the level of $225 per full-time-equivalent student. Our needs here are clear and pressing.  There are four other areas I would like to highlight, and these are of special importance at CUNY:  restoration of a full-time/part-time faculty ratio of 70% to 30%; restoration of full-time professional staff, as well as faculty; enhancement of technology in the classroom; and graduate student tuition.  While funding of public higher education throughout New York lags behind national levels, funding for CUNY is in a unique crisis.  The latest tables published by the Chronicle of Higher Education show New York’s overall funding for public higher education increasing by 2.7% in 2000-2001, but CUNY’s funding rising only 0.8%.  While the state’s other institutions of higher education received far less support than they need, CUNY received the lowest level of funding in the state.  The PSC’s own analysis suggests that our funding level may be even lower, but the Chronicle’s report alone would place CUNY’s funding third from the bottom among the 50 states. 

    We see the cost of that underfunding in the collapse of our numbers of full-time faculty.  CUNY has gone from over 11,000 full-time faculty to about 5,500 in the space of 25 years.  In the last decade alone 1,000 full-time faculty have been lost. The single most important measure of the quality of a university is its faculty, and the decline in full‑time faculty is the scandal at the center of CUNY. 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.   

    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 fell from 63% in 1990 to 51%, and at the community colleges from 54% to only 44% in 1999. 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; it is time for New York to do the same.  We cannot continue to shortchange our students by depriving them of the consultations with faculty they need.  

    But the crisis in full-time faculty needs to be solved.  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.  The amount needed is $34.4 million. 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. 

     A second major area of need for CUNY is replenishment of the professional staff.  Some of the most important work of the University is conducted by the staff—the lab technicians who prepare experiments for science courses, the financial aid counselors who guide students in being able to afford college tuition, the registrars and program directors and computer programmers and high-level technicians without whom the University would not function.  Hundreds of professionals in these positions have been lost as CUNY has lacked the funds to replace those who leave or hire those needed for new areas.  I know one financial aid counselor who has taken on the work previously done by four people, working literally night and day with adult students seeking a college degree.  When overwork contributed to a heart attack, she didn’t falter in her dedication.  Students received calls from her hospital room and she continued counseling over the phone until she was well.  No university, no matter how important its mission, should ask that of its staff.  CUNY cannot withstand another year of scraping by on the goodwill of people like this counselor; ultimately, it is our students who suffer.  The University needs $8.4 million in this budget for instructional staff. 

    Teaching and learning also depend on physical facilities.  While in the past teaching required little more in the way of facilities than a classroom and a chalkboard, instruction today is quickly becoming dependent on technology.  CUNY has fallen at least a decade behind in its classroom technology.  At other universities, “smart classrooms” are routine; all classes have access to the Internet and related technology.  At CUNY such equipment is rare.  The time has passed when technology was a luxury or a gimmick, or even restricted to certain fields: today all careers demand technological fluency.  We ensure our students’ failure from the start if we do not offer them technological sophistication.  The PSC is calling for investment in technical support for classrooms, laboratories and studios; and for the technologically-trained staff to manage them.  The cost for this investment is $3.6 million. 

    The final item I would like to highlight is unique to CUNY.  The City University is virtually alone among Ph.D.-granting institutions in not waiving tuition for doctoral students who teach or work in labs for the University.  At almost all other doctoral institutions, graduate students are not expected to use the small amount they earn from the university to pay the same university for tuition.  I am happy to say that SUNY does receive support for these costs and SUNY doctoral students do receive tuition waivers.  A similar investment is urgently needed at CUNY.  Fully a third of CUNY’s doctoral programs rank in the top third nationally; several, such as Music, English, Women’s Studies and Sociology, are among the nation’s top 20.  But these rankings are imperiled by our continuing inability to offer what is standard at other universities.  I know of several students for whom CUNY’s doctoral program in English was their first choice because of the quality of its faculty, but who reluctantly chose to go elsewhere when they were offered stipends of $12,000 to $20,000 and free tuition.  One of the University’s strongest assets is rapidly being undermined—all for the want of the relatively modest sum necessary for graduate tuition waivers.  The sum of $6.7 million would fund this need and enhance CUNY’s competitiveness not only for students but also for the highly credentialed faculty who are drawn by the chance of teaching them.  

    There are many other needs in CUNY’s budget, some of which would be answered by increased funding in the areas detailed by my colleagues: additions to the operating budget, new full-time faculty lines, community college base aid at $225.  To these must be added targeted funding to SEEK, the Worker Education programs, childcare and disability services.  

    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; rebuild New York by rebuilding CUNY.    

Delivered by Dr. Cecelia McCall, Secretary, PSC/CUNY