CUNY and SUNY students are not customers

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Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, proposed withholding 10 percent of funding for CUNY and SUNY should they fail to provide “performance improvement plans.”

Essentially, CUNY and SUNY colleges must work through the Start-Up NY program, which, as noted by the Albany Business Review, provides “tax-free benefits to lure private-sector businesses to empty offices and land on or near campuses.”

Last May Governor Cuomo told New Yorkers the program would create “a relationship to the academic mission of the university and companies creating new jobs.” Moreover, Cuomo himself emphasized the tax-free program in the initiative.

“What do we mean by ‘tax-free’?” Cuomo said. “We mean tax-free.”

Governor Cuomo is wrong to decide this is in the interest of students and companies. In fact, funding should not be held hostage in order to force universities into joining the program. This is coercion by a desperate governor attempting to re-establish himself after failing to comfortably gain the Democratic nomination last year, all thanks to Zephyr Teachout’s challenge in the Democratic Party.

Tuition, meanwhile, will increase once again for the following academic year. CUNY faculty and staff are still without a contract for five years. Spending for full-time students is lower than it was 30 years ago.

Yet Starbucks can come on our campuses to give us over-priced coffee and solve racial problems through their Race Together initiative.

We are unsure as to what the Cuomo administration’s motives are when it comes to CUNY and SUNY. Perhaps they genuinely believe this is for the good of the CUNY and SUNY systems. Perhaps they want to attack it just like Maine Governor Paul LePage, a Tea Party Republican, did last year when he went after the University of Southern Maine.

What we are sure is that students are already suffering from a very weak recovery where low-pay jobs are being created despite high-pay jobs being eliminated from the Great Recession.

Henry A. Giroux, famous cultural critic and professor, wrote a piece last year titled “Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation” and is relevant in understanding why Cuomo, or any other politician, would decide to enact such a useless policy. Essentially, higher education is slowly becoming another commercialized aspect of our society.

“The democratic imagination has been transformed into a data machine that marshals its inhabitants into the neoliberal dream world of babbling consumers and armies of exploitative labor whose ultimate goal is to accumulate capital and initiate faculty and students into the brave new surveillance/punishing state that merges Orwell’s Big Brother with Huxley’s mind-altering soma,” Giroux wrote.

The motto for Queens College is “we learn so that we may serve.” From what we understand, we do not serve the interests of private businesses. We serve society.

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