March 2, 2017

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UUP members, students tell lawmakers to invest in SUNY

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Chaos and confusion at the federal level may make for unexpected cooperation and progress this budget session between UUP and state lawmakers, as the union and its affiliates press a legislative agenda that would bolster public higher education in New York.

That was the consensus among UUP members March 2 as they joined more than 700 students from SUNY and CUNY, as well as members and leaders from NYSUT and the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, for a day of advocacy on behalf of New York’s public colleges and universities.

“It’s different this year,” UUP President Fred Kowal said after addressing a standing-room-only crowd of student activists at the Empire State Plaza. “There’s a dialogue, and the fact that lawmakers are asking for information from us is very important.”

Praise, strong interest from lawmakers

Kowal said that in the midst of a conversation with a group of members including Stony Brook HSC Chapter President Carol Gizzi, Stony Brook HSC member Irene Stern; Old Westbury Chapter President Candelario “Kiko” Franco, and Farmingdale Chapter member Barbara Maertz.

The members had just updated Kowal on their successful meetings with lawmakers, one of whom asked for additional details on legislative topics and another of whom asked for a follow-up meeting in a district office.

UUP Membership Development Officer Tom Hoey met with Assemblyman Phil Steck (D-Colonie), who they said commented favorably on UUP’s push for SUNY funding increases—and the union’s plan to finance those costs. Among the union’s ideas: continue the state’s so-called “Millionaire’s Tax,” that levies higher income taxes on the state’s richest residents.

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Student power

More than a dozen UUP members visited legislators; their meetings ended as students were wrapping up their short but loud late-morning rally.

Fired-up students from campuses across the state cheered, waved signs and chanted “Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power! What kind of power? Student power!” Speakers, which included Kowal, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta, PSC/CUNY President Barbara Bowen, and student representatives, remarked that student turnout for the event was much larger than in past years.

“I’m here to tell you that a revolution does not come because one man says it, or one woman says it. A revolution comes because 700 young people, with their hopes and minds and hearts, and voices come in here today to speak their dreams. You are the revolution!”

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Students met with lawmakers after the rally. New Paltz student Victoria Lopez, in a meeting with Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D- Ulster, Dutchess), a Higher Education Committee member, said access to the SUNY system isn’t enough.

Students need support programs such as Educational Opportunity Program, affordable tuition, solid financial aid programs and the assurance that they will not be separated from their families by the Trump administration’s Draconian approach to immigration policy.

“Having access is not enough,” Lopez said. “Most of us have access to Harvard, but that doesn’t mean we can afford it.”

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