Feb. 26, 2015

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Standing tall for public higher ed

uupdate 2-26-15

In the most important day of the year for public higher education in New York, UUP members turned out in force for Higher Education Advocacy Day to push back against an unprecedented threat: A governor who wants to hijack public higher education funding and the democratic process and public debate that help set that funding in the first place.

“Andrew Cuomo has attacked all of public higher education,” said UUP President Fred Kowal, as higher education leaders and members prepared for a day of meetings with lawmakers Feb. 26 in Albany. “I don’t like to use marshal terms, but we are in a war – a war against the work that we do. We defend the good and the right. The times we face and the challenges we face demand that we be bold.”

UUP leaders spent the day telling lawmakers that this year’s advocacy is not just about asking for deserved funds to be restored to SUNY; it’s about pointing out that the governor – as stated in the new UUP television and print ad campaign –is just plain wrong.

View the ad!

UUP found a receptive audience throughout the Legislative Office Building. Senator Kenneth Lavalle—a Long Island Republican, a Senate Education Committee member and a longtime public education supporter—was so eager to talk to hear what UUP had to say that he invited newly elected Membership Development Officer Arty Shertzer to talk with him about the union’s concerns in the only time that Lavalle had on a day packed with budget discussions—as he walked from his office to the elevator in the LOB.

Other members found effective ways to illustrate how the governor’s proposals for performance-based funding would often overlook the meaning of a college education: as a time to prepare for a career, but to also get a broad-based education that will stand a student in good stead no matter what direction that student’s life takes.

“I was a physics major undergrad, but I went to medical school, so I wouldn’t ‘count,’” Gregory Threatte of SUNY Upstate Medical Center explained during a meeting with Cathy Fahey, chief of staff to Assembly Member Pat Fahy (D-Albany).

All UUP officers joined with members and students for a packed schedule Thursday that included a news conference with Kowal; encouraging remarks by Secretary Eileen Landy to some 300 students, many of whom were on their first advocacy effort; and an afternoon schedule of meetings between students and lawmakers, which the students conducted in small groups without the guidance of faculty or staff.

Over and over, those students did what UUP members urged them to do: tell their stories, with sincerity and a simple eloquence that clearly reached their audiences.

“I already have an excessive amount of debt – almost $30,000 in loans,” SUNY Purchase junior and Educational Opportunity Program student Bria Murray told Chris Brennan, chief of staff to Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland.) She told him why the Legislature should restore the $1.3 million the governor would cut from this proven academic support program for low-income students.

“We EOP students have the highest graduation rate in the whole college,” Murray said. “To cut money from this program seems counterintuitive – it’s killing a program that works.”

UUP will continue a relentless campaign to highlight what’s wrong with the governor’s budget proposal.Said Kowal, “At some point, the governor must wake up and realize the damage he is doing to this state.”

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