November 14, 2023
More than 100 UUP members and North Country unionists sent a loud, proud message Nov. 9 to the SUNY Potsdam campus and SUNY administration—a message of union strength in the face of threatened program deactivations at Potsdam.
“What kind of power do we have?” UUP President Fred Kowal shouted to the gathering in the courtyard outside of the Thomas M. Barrington Student Union. The crowded shouted back, “Union power!”
At issue is a decision by the Potsdam administration to deactivate 10 academic programs. Campus administration has tried to justify the actions by noting that Potsdam has at least a $9 million deficit and has seen declining enrollment through the coronavirus pandemic.
UUP counters that enrollment increased this year, and that the state budget included $163 million to address deficits at Potsdam and 18 other financially distressed campuses. The SUNY Board of Trustees diverted more than half of the $163 million for other uses in the SUNY system, leaving smaller campuses like Potsdam coming up short.
“All the trustees had to do was take the money and distribute it the way it was intended,” Kowal told the crowd, which included students; faculty and staff; UUP members from SUNY Canton and Plattsburgh; NYSUT; local Teamsters; and members of PEF, CSEA; and the Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties Central Trades and Labor Council.
A teachable moment
Potsdam Chapter President Kevin Smith, a history professor, led the crowd in union chants and invoked the long struggle of the American middle class in describing why a college like Potsdam, and a union like UUP, matter so much to families who thought a college education was out of reach.
“State universities and unions are the bedroom of the middle class, and the middle class is the bedrock of democracy,” Smith said.
Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ronald McDougall, a United Auto Workers member and past president of the Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties Central Trades and Labor Council. a SUNY Potsdam student, also spoke at the rally, along with Jennifer Mitchell, a SUNY Potsdam English professor.
The plight of the 19 financially distressed SUNY campuses will figure strongly in UUP’s upcoming advocacy for full, fair funding to the entire SUNY system in the upcoming negotiations for the next state budget. Watch chapter and UUP websites for announcements of activities, as well as the UUP Connect and UUPdate newsletters.
Kowal told Potsdam members that their concerns will remain central to UUP.
“We will be back whenever you need us, marching through the snow, because that’s what we are about – union power,” Kowal said.