March 16, 2015

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Weingarten in solidarity with UUP in battle with governor

uupdate 3-16-15

For months, UUP has loudly criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans for public higher education, taking every opportunity to tell anyone who will listen that the governor’s proposals to underfund SUNY opportunity programs, close teacher preparation programs and privatize SUNY’s public hospitals are “wrong.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten joined UUP’s battle in a very public way, pulling on a black T-shirt with Cuomo’s photo and the word “WRONG” in white block letters before speaking to more than 1,000 unionists at the AFT/NEA Joint Higher Ed Conference March 14.

“Is he smiling?” she joked as she looked down at the shirt, emblazoned with a large white UUP logo on the back. More than a dozen UUPers, including VPP Philippe Abraham, Secretary Eileen Landy, Membership Development Officer Arty Shertzer and several Executive Board members, cheered along with the rest of the crowd as UUP President Fred Kowal presented the shirt to her on stage. Weingarten wore the shirt for the duration of her 10-minute address, the introduction to the NEA’s annual Irwin Polishook Lecture.

“We are fighting to save the very concept of public higher education as it exists today,” said Kowal, who, like most UUPers at the conference, wore one of the union's "Cuomo Wrong" shirt while at the event. “As unionists, we must stand together to fight for what’s right.”

The conference, March 12-15 in Orlando, Fla., was a meeting for and between higher ed members of the country’s two largest education unions. Members of AFT’s Higher Education Program and Policy Council—chaired by Kowal—and NEA’s National Council of Higher Education Officers held joint and separate meetings.

Abraham, pictured above with NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, was elected as membership chair of the NEA’s National Council of Higher Education. He was also honored as an NEA Emerging Leader Academy graduate at the conference, titled “Advancing Equality On & Off Campus: If Not Now, When? If Not Us, Who?”

UUPers took part in some of the more than 50 workshops and training classes at the conference. Session topics included student debt; contingent faculty; labor history; state funding for higher ed; and civil rights campaigns.

Wise words

Kowal, a panelist for the “Campaigning for Higher Education in State Legislatures” workshop, gave the address at the AFT Opening Plenary March 13. During his 90-minute presentation, he discussed the threats to public higher education and health care in New York and asked attendees to reflect on the challenges facing higher ed in their states.

He talked about the “ever-deepening exploitation” of contingent employees and called on unions to aggressively take on the student debt issue if “we are to maintain our position as defenders of the interests of the working class.”

“Many low-income and working-class students cannot afford a college education,” said Kowal. “That’s a fact. Many are forced to take out thousands of dollars in student loans, adding to the highest student debt in U.S. history. They may have a chance for higher education, but it is not an equal chance.”

Kowal criticized Gov. Cuomo’s plan for a performance-based funding system for SUNY and his proposals to close down teacher preparation programs and a move to delay tenure for new teachers. He also lashed out at states across the country for cutting funding to public higher ed.

“We find ourselves in a vicious cycle: fighting to stop the disinvestment in public higher education while operating in an environment where public goods are dismissed as wasteful and taxes of any kind are defined as oppressive,” he said. “The results are a worsening of our public schools, the rejection of public goods by a public misled by the rhetoric of anti-government, anti-taxation one percenters and an ever-worsening distribution of income in the nation.

“Add to this the stoking of racism by far too many groups in the body politic and by a growing number of hate groups, and we have a witches’ brew of caustic forces eroding the foundation of a civil and progressive society.”

Landy spoke about the dangers of New York’s START-UP NY plan to SUNY and the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education as a panelist on “Fighting Higher Education Corporatization” March 13. VPA Jamie Dangler was slated to speak as a panelist but canceled at the last minute due to illness.

Abraham spoke at “Emerging Leaders: University of Texas-Pan American Experience” March 14. He also moderated “Advancing Your Career in Higher Education Administration,” given by Stony Brook Chapter member Marianna Savoca.

UUPers who attended the event were Tom Hoey, Albany; Carolyn Kube, Stony Brook HSC; Darleyne Mayers, Farmingdale; Idalia Torres, Fredonia; Tom Tucker, Buffalo Center; Anne Wiegard, Cortland; and Ezra Zubrow, Buffalo Center.

Weingarten: Get involved!

During her March 14 address, Weingarten urged unionists to engage and activate their members to stand tall against anti-union attacks from the well-bankrolled likes of the Koch Brothers, the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council and others.

“We have to engage our communities and we have to engage our members,” she said. “Our power is in both our numbers and our engagement. When we have more people, we have more power and we can leverage against any amount of money that is weighed against us. When people start taking this power, we repel the bad guys and we start turning things around.”

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