March 27, 2024
UUP, unions push for higher education funding at Capitol rally
uupdate 03-27-24

By Vincent Gasparini, special to UUP

With the April 1 state budget deadline just days away, UUP leaders and other advocates of public higher education seized on the sense of last-minute urgency with a March 27 Albany rally to urge lawmakers to support SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges.

“There was a time when a SUNY education was truly affordable, accessible, and of the highest quality,” said UUP President Fred Kowal, who was one of a dozen unionists, students and lawmakers speaking in support of public higher education against a backdrop of more than 100 sign-waving advocates who filled a section of the Capitol’s Million Dollar Staircase.

“Unfortunately, all we can say right now is that the quality remains, thanks to the committed work of UUP members, PSC members, and NYSUT members across all the campuses we serve,” Kowal said.

Saving Downstate

For UUP, the urgency is heightened this year by the state’s threat to close SUNY Downstate University Hospital. This teaching hospital serves as a linchpin in the medical education of hundreds of students a year, many of them students of color.

The health sciences university to which the hospital is attached is part of the state’s public higher education system—as are the three other SUNY health sciences centers in Stony Brook, Syracuse and Buffalo. UUP has fought long and hard to get the state to regard these specialized parts of SUNY as what they are: valuable components in the state’s public higher education, every bit as much a part of public higher education as the four-year colleges and universities.

UUP supported both the Senate and Assembly one-house budget bills, which provided funding and included language to keep Downstate hospital open. UUP’s 2024 Budget Agenda called for $139 million to be allocated directly to the 18 distressed four-year campuses to close their budget deficits, along with $110 million across SUNY to enhance academic programs and student services.

Higher Ed leaders speak out

The Legislature’s two chairs of the higher education committees—Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblymember Patricia Fahy—also spoke at the rally. So did NYSUT President Melinda Person; Professional Staff Congress/CUNY President James Davis; and Dante Morelli, president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College.

“I think this poster says it all,” Stavisky said, while holding a poster that stated, “Quality Accessible Higher Education.” “How do we get there?. We get there by remembering that it’s really about the students, and our students are asking us to turn on the TAP.”

TAP is SUNY’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which lowers costs at certain universities for families in need. UUP has advocated for TAP to be expanded to cover student fees, not just tuition. The chant, “Turn on the TAP” has been heard regularly at rallies throughout the budget season.

“We must demonstrate to [students] that we are going to keep college affordable,” Fahy said. “We want them, and we are going to keep it welcoming.”

UUP plans to keep up the effort right down to the wire, as the April 1 budget deadline looms. In addition to the concern about Downstate, the union is pressing lawmakers to ensure that funding for the smaller campuses—and especially those with the highest need—goes where it should and where lawmakers intend it to go.

“They shove the most money allocated at the campuses at SUNY that have plenty of resources,” Kowal said of SUNY’s handling of last year’s money for the distressed campuses, which SUNY reallocated so that the bulk of it went to the University Centers instead. “And they are trying to close a public teaching hospital in the heart of Central Brooklyn.”

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