Manhattan Times Cutting CUNY by Gregg McQueen
Story and photos by Gregg McQueen
The crown jewel is in peril.
Each year, presidents and administrators of various City University of New York (CUNY) schools, together with students and elected officials, convene a legislative breakfast meeting to discuss the year’s budgetary matters and capital plans.
This year, the threat of decreased state funding for CUNY, as outlined within Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2016 budget, was the central topic at the annual gathering held on Thurs., Feb. 25th at the office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.
Brewer kicked off the latest proceedings by calling CUNY a “crown jewel of New York City,” and noted that more than 100 interns from CUNY schools currently work in her office.
Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations and Secretary of the Board of Trustees, said that CUNY has had a profound effect on minorities in New York City. He explained that eight out of 10 Hispanic and African American undergraduate students in the city attend CUNY.
In his State of the State address in January, Cuomo proposed unloading a third of CUNY’s budget, nearly $500 million, from the state’s balance sheet and transferring it to the city’s.
“The budget is staring us right in the face,” said Hershenson. “We’re going to need your help. We’re going to need to work as closely as possible with the governor’s office to protect and preserve the missions of this great institution.”
There were representatives at the meeting from the offices of Assemblymembers Robert Rodríguez and Deborah Glick; State Senator Brad Hoylman; Councilmembers Inez Dickins, Dan Garodnick and Margaret Chin.
According to budgetary information provided at the meeting, the university’s baseline costs are expected to increase by $50.4 million for fiscal year 2017, which includes contractually required incremental salary increases and fringe benefit, energy and building rental cost increases.
Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that that the university would be short $27 million in fringe benefit costs.
He also explained that a CUNY provision to increase tuition by as much as $300 per student each year was due to expire in July, preventing the school from increasing tuition in fall 2016.
Though Travis indicated that an extension on the provision was likely needed, he said that decisions to raise tuition were not made lightly.
“We do take tuition increases seriously,” said Travis. “We will not be raising tuition at community colleges, because we know some students struggle.”
Councilmember Ben Kallos said that keeping tuition affordable for New Yorkers was important, telling meeting attendees that he wouldn’t have his law degree from the State University of New York-Buffalo if he hadn’t been able to pay his own way through school.
“It’s important that our students graduate debt-free,” Kallos remarked.
Following the meeting, Brewer expressed worry about CUNY’s place in the Cuomo’s budget.
“I’m very concerned,” she stated. “The state needs to step up, not only to fund the gap that was discussed here today, but they need to do even more.”
Hershenson said that all areas of CUNY are “working day and night” to demonstrate the impact that the university and its member colleges have had on people in the city, and how that would be damaged by slashed funding.
“Our students are visiting Albany, our faculty is visiting Albany, the staff and alumni are going to Albany,” he remarked.
Among those that have called on the Governor to restore the cuts was Henry Garrido, Executive Director of DC 37, the city’s largest public employee union, which claims 121,000 members and 50,000 retirees.
“If you believe that higher education is a priority, then you are going to have to fund it in the proper way,” said Garrido at a news conference held in Albany on Feb. 9th.
“We believe that is a priority for not only who we represent, but also for the people in our communities who otherwise have no other opportunities to advance themselves.”
Hershenson said that 90 percent of CUNY students still reside in New York City one year after graduation, and 80 percent of them still live in the city a decade after graduating the school.
This, he said, is one reason why the Governor Cuomo should supply more funding.
“Our students are providing a stable tax base regarding the city and the state,” Hershenson stated. “They are paying the cost of the investment in their education back many times over.”
“CUNY is an enormous investment in human capital, in people,” he added.