Testimony Before Board of Trustees
Proposed 2003 CUNY Budget

November  12, 2001

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Professional Staff Congress

Testimony on the Fiscal Year 2002/2003 Budget Request

Barbara Bowen, President, and Steve London, First Vice President

Delivered at the Budget Hearing of the CUNY Board of Trustees, November 12, 2001


Good afternoon. As the Board of Trustees begins deliberations on the Fiscal Year 2003 budget, we find ourselves still trying to bring the Fiscal Year 2002 Budget to closure. As you know, the PSC has mobilized hundreds of its members, who worked tirelessly over the past year, and tens of thousands of our students to achieve a breakthrough budget. On September 10th we delivered 50,000 signed postcards to the Governor and the leaders of the Legislature in support of budget restorations. Through these efforts we succeeded in substantially increasing the City’s contribution to CUNY and were poised for a meaningful increase to CUNY’s budget on the State side when the September 11th tragedy unfolded. Now we are trying to plug holes in the State budget, reverse the decision to place CUNY in the 15% Reserve Fund category, and we are actively lobbying the Federal government to come to CUNY’s aid by appropriating funds for disaster relief and including CUNY in the Federal economic stimulus package.

This year’s quixotic quest for a budget should be instructive as the Board of Trustees formulates our request for next year. Conventional wisdom is not a good guide in these times. The calls for austerity policies based on predictions of vast budget shortfalls for the City and State do not take into account possible reevaluation of past tax-cutting policies nor the possible stimulative effect of reconstruction. Recent elections and opinion polls show public support for government and rejection of tax-cutting policies.

But there is a more pressing issue in the budget request itself. We commend the University for submitting a request for an increase—CUNY funding remains a national scandal—but we have strong objections to the sources from which much of the increase is sought. While the Fiscal Year 2002/2003 Budget Request appears to reject austerity for CUNY, it in fact proposes austerity in another form. But this time it will be austerity for us and our students. Of the total $98 million sought in budget increases, only $53 million, or 54.1%, is requested from the City and State. Nearly half of the total amount—$45 million or 45.9%—is expected to come from a combination of "private funding/revenue enhancements" and "productivity savings." The PSC is troubled about both of these categories and about the shift from public to private funding they entail.

To start with the $10 million sought in "productivity savings." The Master Plan shows that CUNY has operated at austerity levels for the past decade when compared to peer institutions and the rate of inflation. New York, as we know, ranks last among the 50 states in increases to public higher education over the last decade. To think of $10 million in further savings is an insult. Where do you plan to trim? Crowding more students into classrooms when some are already sitting in the halls to hear the class? Selling off books from the already under-stocked libraries? Squeezing even more work out of employees who already put in hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime out of loyalty to the institution and our students? Exactly where is the room for $10 million in productivity? The union would like to request your written response to these questions by the end of the week.

We also have grave concerns about the plan to seek $35 million in revenue enhancements and private fundraising. The PSC is grateful to the many private donors and foundations who have invested in CUNY, but we are certain these institutions would agree that private funds designed to supplement, not replace, public ones. The City University of New York is a public institution; it is one of the great resources of the city and the state, especially as we seek to rebuild. The Board of Trustees must become an advocate for continued and increased public support; the Board must not allow the responsibility for funding CUNY to shift to private donors. We all know that private funds are more often seed money than money for maintenance of programs; a University cannot function long-term on the hope of attracting donations.

Even more dangerous is the other category: revenue enhancements. If part of what is meant by this phrase is tuition increases, the PSC wants to register its strong dissent. Students at New York’s public universities already pay among the highest tuition in the nation. New York ranks highest among the 50 states in the percentage of income needed to pay for college expenses, when measured against available financial aid. But beyond that, there is evidence that raising tuition is not an effective way to increase support. Your own budget document shows that raising tuition has not had that effect. In the last decade, tuition revenue at CUNY’s senior colleges rose 79.4%, while public support for these colleges declined by 43.4%, with a net revenue loss of 15.2%. The picture is similar for the community colleges. At the community colleges in particular, tuition increases in the last decade have far outstripped those at peer institutions: tuition revenue rose by 79.7% at CUNY, compared to only 29.1% at peer institutions. Not only is a shift to higher tuition unethical, then, it is also unlikely to solve the problem. The only answer is to continue to make the case, loudly and without embarrassment, that CUNY must be one of the major resources for the new New York, and that it must be publicly funded as such.

I want to close by reflecting on the way CUNY has posed its request in this area, funds specifically for the rebuilding of New York. The budget request also relates CUNY to the urgent need to rebuild the physical structure of the City and the lives of residents, many of whom have lost their jobs. While plans to have CUNY enhance its workforce development programs that address the needs of displaced workers are important, funding under "workforce development" should also be used to ensure that open access to community colleges is maintained and that a vital pathway to upward mobility for New York’s working people remains available. Remember, the mission of the community colleges and the entire University goes far beyond "training": a college education is preparation for entrance into full civic life, not just for narrow compliance with job requirements. If ever there were a time to match the boldness of CUNY’s founders and try to the experiment to see whether a college education could be offered to the children of the whole people, this is it.

The PSC recommends a budget request that would begin to equip the University for this challenge. We propose that the request be made for public funds and that it include the additional items and enhancements contained in the PSC FY 2002 Budget Programmatic Priorities For the City University of New York. A summary of that request is attached (click HERE). Thank you.

Professional Staff Congress

Testimony on the Fiscal Year 2002/2003 Budget Request

Cecelia McCall, Secretary of the PSC
Vice Chairperson of the UFS

Delivered at the Budget Hearing of the CUNY Board of Trustees, November 12, 2001

Good day. I’m Cecelia McCall, Vice Chairperson of the UFS and Secretary of the PSC.

I’m sure that you, as Trustees of this institution, understand more than anyone one else the importance of this particular hearing. For now more than ever, the public must have public places and spaces where they can engage in a collegial dialogue, learn of and exchange information about the Middle East and share with the University’s cadre of professionals – faculty, staff and counselors - suggestions and expertise ways of coping. Now more than ever, the public must have a public arena where, with the guidance of our professionals, they have a space to heal, and find relief and succor.

CUNY’s professionals played a magnificent role at the height of the emergency and continue to do so today. We have heard a great deal about BMCC and Fiterman Hall from which our members at the Research Foundation had to be evacuated. In spite of its proximity to ground zero, faculty, staff and students are in class at BMCC. The Armory on Lexington Avenue, the in-take sight for the filing reports of missing persons and where hundreds of photograph and memorabilia of the missing were posted, is directly across the avenue from Baruch College’s new and spectacular vertical campus. Baruchians, coming to and leaving school, witnessed the agony and hope of the daily search. Yet they carried on and are carrying on with some semblance of normalcy in the face of very abnormal circumstances.

The 2002-2003 budget request speaks of other campuses and at the same time, the union, as you have heard from the PSC President, Barbara Bowen, has organized its members to provide other kinds of assistance, notably to the firefighters. This is not the moment for our members, students and other campus personnel to be denied resources for their sustenance and program and department maintenance. Now more than ever the city needs the University and now, more than ever, the University must have advocates for its resources.

Even while we listen to one another at this hearing, the union is still engaged in an effort to get funds from the State Assembly and Senate for the current fiscal year. And we are trying to prevent the City from exacting the 15% cut. We still struggle for more money for full-time lines at both the senior and community colleges, for the Worker Education Centers, SEEK and Childcare. We have partnered with the University on this while we begin to strategize for the next fiscal year, start all over again, and plan to work for the 2002-03 budget.

It is our goal to make every member of the PSC a lobbyist for the University. We are organizing on the campuses, in the Assembly and Senate districts, have dates scheduled for visits to the Capitol, and are engaged with NYSUT as well as our private lobbying firm, Bolton St-Johns.

Now more than ever, we need a strong public university, so we must be bold and go where some may fear to tread. We must tell the truth about the consequence to CUNY of decades of under-funding , consistent and predictable budget cuts and the failure to hire full-time personnel. We will say, among other things, that 250 full-time lines are not enough,that less than a $1million for a diversity fund is not enough and that SEEK and the Worker Education Centers must be line items.

Now more than ever when the City needs this University, we ask you to pledge, as a gift to the saddened and traumatized people of New York, not to impose additional tuition on our students and their families. The people have suffered and sacrificed enough. You, as Trustees of this public institution, must also pledge to speak the truth to the powerful politicians that you represent so that its professionals can do what they do best – educate and serve the people of the City of New York.

Thank you.