Senator Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate and Brooklyn native, is calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to invest in the City University of New York and fund a fair union contract for CUNY faculty and staff. The message from Senator Sanders came in a letter delivered to Governor Cuomo last Friday, the same day he vetoed legislation to fund CUNY and SUNY. (Read about the letter and the veto in the New York Times.)
Senator Sanders tells Cuomo in the letter that “CUNY represents hope for economic and social justice.” Sanders calls the recent cuts that CUNY senior colleges have been forced to make due to underfunding from the state “unfair to New York’s students and unfair to our country’s future.”
Governor Cuomo has refused to restore the 14% of State funding that CUNY has lost since the 2008 recession. Instead, he has kept per-student funding essentially flat, used tuition hikes to cover costs that should be funded by the state and failed to invest in support for the faculty and staff. (Fact sheet on Governor Cuomo's austerity approach to CUNY.)
The cuts the Senator refers to are being made because the governor refused to fund $51 million in CUNY operating costs in this year’s budget. The Maintenance of Effort bill, vetoed by the governor late Friday night, would have prevented similar cuts in the future. Passed with overwhelming legislative support, it would have ensured that tuition hikes go to improve CUNY and SUNY, rather than to offset underfunding from the state by requiring the state to fund increases to CUNY and SUNY operating costs such as utilities, rent and salaries.
Without adequate state funding, CUNY colleges have begun to cut programs and student services, and the University has been unable to resolve its long-expired collective bargaining agreement. For six years, CUNY faculty and staff represented by the Professional Staff Congress, have worked without a raise. Today they are among the lowest-paid faculty in the New York City area—making it hard for CUNY to attract and retain talented faculty and staff. That’s why Sanders is pressing the governor on behalf of the students, faculty and staff of CUNY.
In his letter to Cuomo about CUNY, Sanders says he is “concerned that a precious national resource is being threatened.” And he urges the governor: “Show New Yorkers that your concern for working people and people of color includes a commitment to their ability to achieve a college education. Provide the necessary funding for a contract for the employees represented by the Professional Staff Congress.”