In the face of tuition hikes, crumbling infrastructure and other problems, around 70 CUNY students, faculty members and supporters testified to the CUNY Board of Trustees on Oct. 16. The board held its annual “Manhattan Borough Hearing” in preparation for the voting the board will conduct on the 2019 CUNY budget and more on Oct. 23.
Other officials in attendance included CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, the Manhattan CUNY college presidents and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
The hearing occurred at Baruch College.
The board of trustees governs and steers CUNY, voting on allocations in budgets, tuition increases, policies and other issues. The board features some members appointed by the governor, some appointed by the mayor of New York City and two ex officio members — the chairperson of the University Student Senate and the chairperson of the University Faculty Senate.
One of the biggest issues addressed during the meeting was the Fiscal Year 2019 University Budget Request and the Maintenance of Effort bill. The MOE bill, passed earlier this year by the state’s Senate and Assembly, would secure higher funds from the state for the university and cover CUNY’s inflationary costs each year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has yet to sign the bill.
Robert Farrell, an associate professor in library at Lehman College, urged the board to push for the signing of the MOE bill. Farrell noted that while operating funds from the state fell 17 percent from 2008, a 58 percent increase in tuition cost occurred during the same period.
“The university has balanced its budget on the backs of students in other ways,” said Farrell.
“Student fees have been raised and those fees have been dipped into to cover costs they shouldn’t. For example, at Lehman and the other CUNY colleges, the student technology fee — which was raised in 2013 — is being used to cover fixed, recurring costs such as library database subscriptions. By cutting budgets and shifting mandatory library costs to the technology fee, the colleges have deprived students of improved smart classrooms, hardware and other technology for which the fee is designed.”
Farrell went on to point out the student activity fee was being similarly misused, with student governments using the fee to buy library books, and to keep libraries open for longer hours during midterms and finals.
Susan Semel, a professor at the City College of New York, also testified in favor of passing the bill. She claimed that her building in CCNY, the North Academic Center, “is in a constant state of decay,” with elevators and escalators not working properly, soap and toilet paper often being unavailable in the bathrooms, bathrooms flooding and the cleaning staff being overwhelmed due to being “cut to the bone.”
“The lack of consistent and sufficient state funding makes CUNY colleges uncompetitive with other similar public institutions in recruiting and retaining faculty, in particular faculty of color,” said Semel. She also discussed the difficulty the university has in retaining faculty due to the higher bar for tenure and competition with other colleges.
“Clearly, we remain here for our students, in spite of our decaying and dirty surroundings,” said Semel, urging the board to push Cuomo not to veto the bill.
New York City Council Member Inez Barron spoke about tuition increases in her testimony. In the 2019 budget request, tuition will be raised $200 in all CUNY senior
Barron attended CUNY herself as a college student because it was free, and maintained that tuition should stay at its current rate, or even be reduced. “You know my position — roll it back, free tuition and that, that’s an obligation,” said Barron. “Students are entitled to be able to go from pre-K to post-graduate.”
Some other issues discussed during the testimony included the still-unbuilt Hunter College Science and Health Professions Building, the funding of disability services for students and the relocation of Guttman Community College.
Adjuncts were also discussed. Abi Doukhan, an associate professor at Queens College, testified against what she called the “deep root of injustice that permeates our institution.” Adjuncts, said Doukhan, do not receive a living wage and, as a result, “they live
Doukhan argued that adjuncts’ pay should increase to $7,000 per course, and they should have more job security.
Many students also testified, including Jasper Diaz, one of Baruch’s delegates of the USS. In Diaz’s testimony, he applauded item No. 3 up for vote on the board’s calendar, which would allow students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to receive in-state tuition for a year following the destruction caused by hurricanes Maria
This comes after the State University of New York making a similar decision to allow for in-state tuition for these students.
The main item Diaz spoke about, however, was No. 8A, which would begin the process of revising the student activity fee at all CUNY colleges. In an interview with The Ticker, Diaz said that the USS voted on a resolution that a task force for revising the fee should include student representation.
The USS chairperson would serve as the co-chair of the task force, with four student representatives appointed by the chairperson. Other members of the task force would include two faculty representatives appointed by the UFS chairperson, one campus student life director appointed by the Council of Student Life Directors, one representative appointed by the general counsel’s office, one representative appointed by the central office of student affairs, one representative appointed by the office of budget and finance and one representative from the CUNY College Association appointed by CUNY’s chancellor.
“It’s very important that we have student buy-in and student input when it comes to major potential decisions or issues of academic policy that could impact us. Any potential changes could potentially have big ramifications, not only for our student government, our clubs and the way that they are funded through the student activity fee,” said Diaz.
Regarding what the USS was doing about the tuition hikes, Diaz said that the senate is testifying against it and working to make sure student voices are heard through lobbying elected officials.