Forty-one people were arrested March 24 in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office during a protest over proposed cuts to CUNY.
Those arrested included students, faculty, staff and Councilmembers Inez Barron and I. Daneek Miller. They participated in a die-in, a tactic used by protesters in which they lie down on the ground and act dead. New York Police Department officers warned the protesters to not block the sidewalk before arresting them.
The protest, organized by the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing more than 25,000 professors and staff, happened just before the April 1 deadline for a new budget from lawmakers in Albany. Governor Cuomo, in his Executive Budget, shifted the $485 million in CUNY expenses from the state to the city.
However, after a backlash against Cuomo’s proposal, the Democratic governor pledged not to reduce CUNY’s budget.
“We applaud [Cuomo] for that. We understand, at this point, that we’re taking him at his word,” Michael Fabricant, first vice president of the PSC, said.
Despite this, Fabricant highlighted other problems affecting CUNY such as a lack of a contract for workers and the state’s decrease in funding for CUNY.
“Over the last six years, tuition has replaced state investment. That means our students are having more difficulties gaining access [to CUNY],” Fabricant said.
Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, testified January 26 to the State Legislative Fiscal Committees on the State Budget for Local Government on proposed cuts to CUNY. He said if funding for the university system grew at the same rate as the budget, CUNY would have an extra $637 million.
“We need to put CUNY on a solid, sustainable path forward. Because when we invest in higher education, we all win–students, teachers, government and business,” he said.
On the opposite side of Cuomo’s New York City office, students, faculty, staff and CUNY allies showed solidarity with those arrested.
Chika Onyejiukwa is the president of Hunter College’s student government and vice chairperson of the University Student Senate. She said the arrests highlighted an important demand—restore funding for CUNY.
“That sends Governor Cuomo [a message] that he’s starving CUNY. He’s already killing us and we’re dying,” Onyejiukwa, a junior studying community health at Hunter College, said.
Franklin Rodriguez, a senior majoring in psychology and sociology at Queens College, felt proud of the protesters who were arrested. He said the lack of proper funding for CUNY is affecting major issues in the university.
“In particular, teachers need a fair contract. They haven’t had a new contract since 2010, and the one they were offered was a smack in the face,” Rodriguez said.
Professors and staff are working without a contract despite negotiations between the PSC and CUNY. The only contract offered by CUNY would increase total wages by six percent from 2010 to 2016, an offer the union rejected as they deemed it insufficient.
Rodriguez further elaborated on the effects on students. He noted how CUNY was a free university before the 1970s. Today, with tuition increasing every year, education for students is being affected.
Still, he felt glad students attended the protest so they could learn what’s happening to CUNY.
“That’s how you get students to understand what’s going on and tell their friends,” he said.
Keith Fuller, a junior studying biotechnology at York College, was one student who attended the rally. He felt empowered by the rally, but said it could have been avoided if the state had pledged investment in CUNY.
“It shouldn’t have escalated to this point where we have to come out and fight for representation,” he said.
Fuller felt concern regarding the impending April 1 budgetary deadline.
“[State lawmakers] already have their minds set going in, and it’s going to take a lot like this for change to happen,” he said.
Fabricant said the university was at a tipping point, something both Cuomo and the state Senate needed to know.
“If you starve this university, which is what is happening, then you starve the possibility of narrowing inequality and being able to fund the dreams of many New Yorkers,” he said.