December 9, 2019
More than 300 UUP members and University at Albany students rallied at UAlbany Dec. 9 to say in public what their administration has said to them in meetings: This flagship university center faces not a budget gap, but a budget cavern, in the form of a likely $11 million shortfall this year.
When asked if the administration should be talking about the budget crisis as publicly as the union, which organized Monday’s rally, UUP Albany Chapter President Aaron Major, above left, said, “Absolutely. Not just the administration. Everyone who can should be saying it. We just need everyone to be saying it to the people who make the decisions.”
Major and Albany Chapter members organized the rally, which drew media coverage from the Albany Student Press, and a pair of local television stations, WNYT, Channel 13 and WTEN, Channel 10.
That same day, UUP members at Stony Brook University and SUNY Old Westbury also rallied to call for more state funding for SUNY. Above, UUP VP for Professionals Tom Tucker, left, speaks to UUP members and students who attended the Stony Brook protest, as Stony Brook Chapter member Andrew Solar-Greco, second from left, listens.
Speaking out for students
Representatives from several local unions, including the Communications Workers Of America, the Graduate Student Association and SEIU, also spoke at the rally. So did students in the Educational Opportunity Program, which is eliminated in the Executive Budget proposal every year and is restored every year at the last minute by the Legislature.
The strong show of support, by approximately equal numbers of faculty and students, indicated that the campus is united “about raising awareness about what the students need and what the university needs,” said UUP Secretary-Treasurer Jeri O’Bryan-Losee, who joined the rally.
Programs and services have been cut steadily since the start of the Great Recession in 2008, which ushered in year after year of almost consistently flat funding throughout the SUNY system, or funding increases so minimal that they barely counted, when factored against inflation.
Tuition to everything but academics
“Our department has been hammered,” said Ineke Murakami, an associate professor of English. The department no longer has a dedicated expert in African American literature and has lost to retirement or the lure of a better-paying position several experts in core literary subjects and poetry.
And as programs have struggled, the burden of funding the university has fallen to students, whose tuition now forms the bulk of the UAlbany operating budget. Tuition used to be directed at academic programs and services and the hiring of faculty; now, it helps to keep the lights on at campus. Tuition pays nearly $150 million of the operating budget; the state pays about $58 million. The two figures used to be reversed.
Major directed rally attendees to sign an online petition to SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson urging her to support stronger state funding, and to send photos of themselves holding a “Fund SUNY Now!” sign out on social media.
Said Major, “The solution is right there in front of us, the solution that was there 10 years ago, by the state supporting the university at the level students are supporting it right now. We need to get back there.”