Lawmakers listen to students when students tell their compelling stories of what it’s like to be at a SUNY or CUNY campus these days.
Students will talk about campus libraries with undependable internet access, and buildings that haven’t had regular maintenance in decades, but also about the feeling of personal power that comes with attaining a college education—often as the first person in your family to do so.
That sense of power, including the power to effect change, dominated the plenary of the annual NYPIRG Higher Education Action Week Feb. 16, which brings together students from throughout the state’s public higher education systems as a force to be reckoned with, for a week of advocacy on the higher education budget.
UUP, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, NYSUT and lawmakers who have been consistent friends to higher education joined student activists for the virtual session that kicked off the week.
“This year has been a long time in coming,” UUP President Fred Kowal said to the group. “With this year, with the state having the resources it has, we can say this is a year for the 15 years of austerity to end.”
ASKING FOR MORE, WITH GOOD REASON
Other speakers echoed Kowal’s message that this year’s Executive Budget is good, but it needs to be better, because public higher education in New York was starved for 15 years.
UUP and the PSC are each asking for an additional $250 million in operating funds, in a year when both unions correctly note that the state has the money to act on their request. Larger-than-expected tax revenues, a state economy that is coming back to life and pandemic emergency funds still available in the state’s coffers all make it possible, advocates say.
Kowal also noted that the three SUNY teaching hospitals have not just saved lives and offered innovative treatments during the coronavirus pandemic; they also have continued teaching students to be future physicians and other health care professionals. And they are doing that without any state operating funds at all.
“As good as the governor’s budget was, there isn’t a single thing in that budget for the hospitals,” Kowal said.
The NYPIRG week of action falls midway through budget negotiations in the Legislature, and also midway through a series of spirited advocacy events by UUP members seeking more equitable funding for SUNY.
Watch the UUP website, chapter announcements, UUP’s Connect e-newsletter and UUPdate newsletters for details on upcoming events.