Increased funding is always a win for CUNY

One welcoming sign in the 2016-17 New York state proposed executive budget, which looks to slash CUNY’s funding by 25 percent, was Gov. Andrew Cuomo earmarking money for a new contract with CUNY faculty and staff. Faculty and staff have gone without a raise for six years and have worked without a contract for five.

This $240 million gesture, on behalf of the governor, is an important step for contract negotiations—if the budget is ultimately approved by the state legislature—but it also reminds one of the serious collective action issue plaguing CUNY: CUNY students and the faculty and staff are seemingly being pitted against each other.

Thanks to the 2011 Rational Tuition Plan, which was implemented in 2011 and raised tuition $300 each year for five years, students have been emptying their pockets with the promise that their money would go toward a new contract for PSC. This year the Rational Tuition Plan expires, so the USS has been lobbying CUNY leaders and lawmakers to freeze tuition, calling on the state to better fund CUNY.

In order to sidestep the fact that tuition increases have been and probably will continue to be linked with retroactive pay increases—PSC President Barbara Bowen testified before lawmakers that an additional $100 million will need to be allocated to settle the contract dispute—for faculty and staff, student government and PSC have focused their efforts on Albany, demanding more funding from the state. Students and faculty and staff have successfully presented a unified front before lawmakers, but the fact that funding needs to come from somewhere has created fissures beneath the surface of the united effort.

Dr. Terrence Martell, chair of the University Faculty Senate and Baruch professor, spoke at a USG meeting in the Fall semester, asking student government to fight with the UFS to get the Rational Tuition Plan extended—an oppositional stance to what PSC has been lobbying for. “You’re making an investment in human capital today and tomorrow,” said Martell.

Some representative senators in Baruch USG, last semester, questioned how CUNY can survive without students funding their own education, and some did not necessarily view the unified-front approach being taken by organizations within the university as ideal. Before USG voted to pass a USS resolution calling for a tuition freeze, USG executive vice president Nardine Salama said, “Before a bill even gets passed, [USS] just want[s] to show legislators there is unity, and we don’t want rational increases. I know it’s not the best because we don’t know what the alternative is, but that’s where we’re at.”

While it is important for students, faculty and staff to lobby lawmakers for a bigger CUNY budget and to look out for one another, it is also important to realize two things.

One, dissenting opinions from within the CUNY community spurs discussion and thought and will only help to foster creative solutions to our problems from within our walls. Two, it is important to recognize that a win for one party does not mean a loss for the other. A win for CUNY—in the form of contract money or frozen tuition—is a win for CUNY.