For Immediate Release
June 9, 2020
United University Professions, the nation’s largest higher education union, today called on New York state and SUNY to be the engine of transformation during a time when our state and nation are facing multifaceted crises: a pandemic, economic recession and social upheaval caused by institutionalized violence against people of color.
“The time for bold, wide-ranging change is now,” UUP President Frederick Kowal stated. “As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ However, there are moments in history when we need to step up and push or that arc won’t bend.
“Now is the time that our union and the SUNY system need to lead the way in instituting and pursuing change through legislation, SUNY policy and education.”
UUP applauds the state Legislature for its actions on police reform bills and urges lawmakers to approve proposals backed by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. Those proposals include repeal of the 50-A provision allowing police departments to block public access to disciplinary records; criminalizing police choke holds; charging 911 callers who make false accusations based on race, gender or religion with hate crimes; the banning of racial and ethnic profiling by police; and requiring state police officers to wear body cameras.
“The Memorial Day death of George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed black man who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, has lit a fire in America that will not be extinguished until racial injustice and inequality are snuffed out,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal. “People have seen and had enough. The time has come to make reforms across the spectrum of society that will achieve lasting, positive change.
“We must seize this opportunity and send an unmistakable message that America will no longer turn away at the sight of racial inequality or shrug at the reality of climate injustice or discrimination against people of color or those who don’t fall neatly into biased societal norms,” he continued. “The passage of police reform measures by the Legislature is a good first step. But we cannot stop there.”The union is putting its words into action. Kowal said that UUP will commit a substantial amount of union resources for inclusivity training for members, their families and communities that host SUNY campuses. UUP is also encouraging SUNY to select a chancellor who comes from communities that, for too long, have been underrepresented.
The union also believes the time is now to institute real, substantive change to begin to address systematic racism through changes to the health care system, addressing the climate crisis, and expanding diversity and educational opportunities. UUP has been fighting for these changes and introduced a set of policy recommendations in its NY25 policy proposal, released earlier this year.
Health care and climate change
Health care reform is part of UUP’s social change agenda. UUP represents more than 12,000 members at SUNY’s public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook and Syracuse, and University at Buffalo-affiliated teaching hospitals, with the Brooklyn facility—SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University—designated as a COVID-19-only hospital.
The union backs publicly funded universal health care; an aggressive expansion of medical care access through expansion of state-funded clinics linked to SUNY’s public teaching hospitals; expanding maternal and child care services at SUNY Downstate to help alleviate massively disproportionate maternal mortality rates affecting black women; and cutting tuition and creating a SUNY Medical Educational Opportunity Program to attract a larger, more diverse population of medical care professionals.
Enacting UUP’s climate change proposals would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs while mitigating the climate crisis that disproportionately affects communities of color and worsens the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Those proposals include retrofitting SUNY buildings to make SUNY carbon-neutral before 2025; setting up microgrids and battery storage sites at SUNY campuses; and expanding sustainability programs at SUNY to retrain thousands of people to work in green energy jobs.
“The coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis are two manifestations of environmental injustice,” said Kowal. “To address both, I believe that SUNY is uniquely positioned to be the change agent it must be through greatly expanding access to high quality health care and building the infrastructure for a truly green economy.”
Kowal said UUP is calling for SUNY’s next chancellor to be a person of color. SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson announced her resignation June 3.
“SUNY needs to be more diverse, and I can’t think of a better way to begin to accomplish that than by starting at the top,” said Kowal.
By 2025, the union also wants 25 percent of SUNY’s faculty, staff and administration positions to be filled by persons of color, including those who are African American, Native American and Latinx. The recruitment and retention of those coming from underrepresented populations will require investment of resources that will benefit the university and the student experience across SUNY, the union argues.
UUP believes that college must be affordable to all. The union supports a cap on tuition and fees through 2025 and doubling funding and student enrollment in SUNY’s opportunity programs.
“As a state and nation, our focus needs to be on justice and equality during these incredibly difficult times. As institutions across the country are failing us, it is time to lead the change, reform the institutions, or eliminate those that refuse to be part of progress,” Kowal stated.