Debate on tuition hike, freeze comes to Baruch

At the sixth Undergraduate Student Government senate meeting, Lucas Almonte, University Student Senate vice chair of legislative affairs, and Terrence Martell, chair of the CUNY University Faculty Senate and professor at Baruch, presented to the USG senate table their opposing views on the potential extension of the RationalTuition Plan.

The Rational Tuition Plan was a law pushed by the CUNY Board of Trustees and passed by the New York State Legislature in June 2011, which raises CUNY and SUNY tuition by $300 each academic year until 2016.

In May 2015, USS passed its resolution in unanimous support of a tuition freeze, calling on the New York state legislature to “fund the increasing mandatory cost within CUNY as part of the maintenance effort,” according to the resolution.

At the Oct. 13 senate meeting, Almonte expressed how CUNY students were informed about the Rational Tuition Plan at the last minute and did not have the opportunity to make an impact against the hikes.

“It was November 2011, the city had already adopted a resolution giving the CUNY Board of Trustees the power to raise tuition. At that point, protesting wouldn’t help change the mind of the CUNY Board of Trustees,” explained Almonte.

He continued, “The state had authorized the powers and it was a done deal. What we’re trying to do now is talk about tuition hikes early on before the state adopts a similar resolution and it’s too late for us to not just organize but to change the course of action for the board of trustees.”

As part of the adopted resolution in 2011, the state legislature included a “maintenance of effort” provision that requires state funding for all CUNY colleges to be greater than their previous fiscal year’s allocation.

“The state, however, is not required to provide the extra funds to cover the fixed cost, health insurance, salary increases for faculty, professors and staff, which had led to budget gaps,” said Almonte.

“So the 2011 resolution that was adopted, they had proposed to create the maintenance of effort provision, it was supposed to cover all these considering costs to get CUNY a stable and rational and predictable budget so they can move and operate much easier.”

“However, it was a short-form solution that did not cover these fixed costs and now CUNY is facing a $51 million budget gap,” he continued.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and the SUNY Student Assembly have announced their support for the extension of the Rational Tuition Plan, which Almonte fears will group SUNY and CUNY’s views on the hikes together by the state.

The SUNY SA passed a resolution in March 2015 stating, “A five-year tuition plan that is fair, equitable, and responsible, and keeps tuition revenues within the respective SUNY campus has provided students and their families the ability to plan ahead.”

The resolution continues stating that, “such a plan has allowed SUNY campuses the benefit of predicting revenue which has in turn led to improved academic programs, increases in aid and additional faculty, in addition to several other benefits.”

Almonte wants to create a united CUNY student voice to go to the board of trustees and state legislature. “We cannot afford to pay for these broken promises from the state and cannot afford to pay for tuition any further. And a lot of students are from working class families, low-income families, immigrant backgrounds, some of them are undocumented and cannot receive tuition assistance program and we’re the ones feeling the burden. New York City’s probably the most expensive cities to live in,” said Almonte.

USS is in the process of trying to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the Maintenance of Effort Bill that calls on the state legislation and governor to fund all mandatory increases as part of the maintenance of effort, which is not being covered by the Rational Tuition Plan.”

“This was May 2015 and the state legislator did adopt a bill in June 2015 requiring the state to fund mandatory increases, however the bill still remains on Governor Cuomo’s desk, unsigned,” said Almonte.

Although Baruch has solid programs and solid faculty, Martell , who has been with Baruch’s faculty since 1988, said, “I see cracks in those solid programs and solid faculty. We’ve got budget issues here and it’s my job as a faculty member, as a trustee, looking at the institution that I’ve given 30 years of my life to, to say we’ve got to protect the core values of this place. I fear that without adequate funding, funding from the state, funding from the students, it’s the only two sources we’ve got.”

Martell made the point that with a rational tuition increase, there will be an increase in quality within CUNY and Baruch.

“You’re making an investment in human capital today and tomorrow. I really hope that I could get USS to fight together with the UFS to get the rational tuition, which is the growth, and the mandatory cost, which is the base, that will give us a little bit of resources to add some faculty, to hire some people and to keep some people,” said Martell.

“Money comes from the state and from students. It’s not unreasonable, the state benefits, you benefit. It’s a better place today than when I arrived in 1988. Stronger faculty, stronger reputation. That’s the human capital, the indirect investment of human capital that you benefit from,” explained Martell.

“Sixty percent of the full-time students that go to CUNY pay nothing. No one wants to pay more for something but the something we have to pay for here ladies and gentleman, is extremely valuable.”

Almonte says that USS agrees with some of the points Martell made at the senate meeting, stating, “our faculty members deserve to be provided the resources to advance their careers at CUNY and that the quality of our CUNY degrees depends on the quality of the faculty.”

Still, Almonte says students should not be shouldering costs from budget cuts.  USG has not confirmed its position on the potential extension of the Rational Tuition Plan as of Oct. 16.

Few USG representatives have discussed their opinions on the plan. Samuel Rubinstein, a board of directors USG representative said, “I feel like there’s a lot of what I like to call ‘pork’ in the system. I feel like there should be, what I would say like an outside audit to see what does CUNY really need. Because there’s a lot of things that CUNY spends a lot of money on.”

For example, Rubinstein mentioned the former CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein’s emeritus salary.

“He gets paid  $300,000 for five years for the title ‘chancellor emeritus.’ So $300,000, let’s assume he has it for five years, – that’s $1.5 million. It’s a drop in the bucket but I think there still can be some cuts,” said Rubinstein.

The New York Times reported in June 2013 that after Goldstein’s retirement, he received a salary of $490,000 for 12 months of study, five months off at the same pay rate for his accumulated unused sick leave and then returned for five years as chancellor emeritus with the $300,000 salary.

Discussion and voting on a resolution on the topic is set to take place at the seventh USG senate meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

USG will also host a Town Hall about the tuition hikes and other topics during club hours on Oct. 20.

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