Students, professors, activists, religious organizations and labor groups rallied in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office March 10 to demand funding for CUNY.
The rally featured the CUNY Rising Alliance that included over 20 organizations, including the Professional Staff Congress, which represents all professors and staff, and New York Public Interest Research Group, the largest student-activist group in the state.
“We’re in a state of emergency,” Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education, said.
Earlier this year, Cuomo announced his Executive Budget that cut $485 million in funding for CUNY and passed it to the city. Many—including CUNY administrators—are concerned about these cuts affecting the university system.
Speakers called on the Democratic governor to restore funding for CUNY ahead of the finalized budget deal on April 1. If not, they warned it would cause significant problems for New York City’s future.
Alexandros Hatzakis, chief of administration and executive affairs of The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said CUNY helped people like him. As an alum of Baruch College, he urged the state to invest more in the institution.
“It’s clear that there is a strong voice to be heard. A voice that carries the message that CUNY in our city is important. That it’s critical; it’s vital for the lifeblood of our city,” Hatzakis said.
Sheldon Edwards, a 12th-grade student from Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community Service, said he was arrested twice and felt his “life was over” after going to Rikers Island.
But Edwards decided to go school with a support system that included a foster home and teachers interested in helping him. He explained that this made him want an education system requiring support for people like him.
“If Governor Cuomo supports an increase in CUNY, it will reflect in the success of New York City’s youth,” Edwards said. “But if Governor Cuomo does not invest in CUNY, it will be a slap in the face of the under-privileged college students.”
Tiffany Brown, a higher education project coordinator with the NYPIRG, highlighted that CUNY required more funding to continue educating youths.
“I think the CUNY system needs to be protected, and we need to preserve its integrity,” she said.
Brown felt disappointed with Cuomo’s cut for CUNY in the Executive Budget.
“It’s disheartening to see him undermining CUNY,” Brown said.
Leandro Seligmann, a junior at Queens College, marched alongside others at the rally. He carried a sign advocating for a $15 minimum wage, an issue some speakers at the rally brought up too.
“We also got to address income inequality and minimum wage [here at the rally],” he said.
Seligmann found it strange the state—despite a surplus in the state budget of $1 billion—would not help provide more funds for CUNY.
“What really bothers me is that the state’s budget has a surplus, and it collected more tax money than last year. Still, it wants to defund CUNY [even though] it has collected more money,” Seligmann said.
After the rally, groups mobilized at the Community Church of New York where other speakers continued discussion on funding for CUNY.
Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC, said more actions will happen if cuts are still on the table. She highlighted Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter as examples of where activists challenged officials to act on major issues.
“We’re in a moment when movements are starting to be built,” she said.
Bowen elaborated that, if funding is not restored for CUNY, then the PSC will demonstrate in front of the Governor’s office on March 24. She said the union was prepared for arrests.
“We have to send a message. It will be a non-violent message, but it will be a militant and strong message,” Bowen said.