In the face of a funding crisis that has plagued CUNY staff, faculty and students for several years, Professional Staff Congress, along with other unions and organizations, held several events dedicated to bringing awareness to the systematic underfunding of New York City’s public university system.
Prior to first lady Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at City College’s graduation ceremony on June 3, CUNY faculty and staff, student activists and student government leaders joined forces with members of PSC and CUNY Rising Alliance in order to discuss CUNY’s funding crisis. The event was held across the street from the entrance to City College’s campus, at the corner of Convent Avenue and 135th Street.
“The quality of education at City College is phenomenal, despite years of disinvestment. My professors go above and beyond. But with crumbling infrastructure, professors without contracts, and ‘excellence fees’ looming on the horizon, CUNY is in danger,” Alyssa Osorio, a member of City College’s Class of 2016, said in a media advisory released by PSC. “We need increased public investment to redeem this institution, to keep it a vehicle of economic stability for the working class of New York City.”
The excellence fees that Osorio is referring to are non-refundable fees that are needed to bring additional resources to graduate student programs.
In the week following that event, on June 8, LaGuardia Community College faculty, staff and students rallied at the college to repeat their demand for a new contract for CUNY faculty and staff, as well as to bring further awareness to CUNY being chronically underfunded. The LaGuardia chapter of PSC, along with Local 384 of District Council 37, New York City’s largest public employee union, organized that demonstration.
Last month, 92 percent of eligible PSC voters voted “yes” to authorize a strike over a lack of contract funding. CUNY faculty and staff have been working without a contract for six years now. Meanwhile, CUNY tuition has increased by $1,500 throughout the last five years.
Also included among approximately 70 participants in the rally were members of LaGuardia’s French Club and Japan Club, as well as speakers from Local 384 and PSC leadership. Although the demonstration was forced to remain indoors due to unfavorable weather conditions, participants specifically called for a commitment to freezing tuition until 2020, paid office hours for every course taught by adjunct faculty members and a review of campus facilities in the interest of health and safety.
Despite the concern with disinvestment in CUNY, some students have nothing but praise for the institution, citing its balance between affordability and education quality.
“CUNY gave me affordable and excellent quality education. Some of my dreams have come true and CUNY opened the doors for the ones still on process,” said Jolisel Vargas, a Hostos Community College graduate who is now a student at Baruch, in a statement to the University Student Senate. “If I could come back on time, again I would choose CUNY.”
Funding for a new contract, as well as any other funding for CUNY, must be worked out by June 16, which is the final day of the New York State Legislature’s session.
A university-wide policy being considered by the CUNY Board of Trustees is on the heels of recent rallies and demonstrations that attempt to bring awareness to disinvestment in CUNY. The Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct includes guidelines for expressive activity as well as a list of prohibited conduct, such as “using amplified sound without prior notice,” and “interfering with the freedom of movement of any person.”
The policy also lists specific guidelines for conducting demonstrations and outlines the criteria for disruptive demonstrations, to be ultimately determined by the college’s president.