An open letter to state Sen. Jeff Klein

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I am sorry you will not have time to meet with a group of faculty from Lehman College and CUNY, but as the head of the Lehman College Professional Staff Congress, the faculty union, I urge you to reconsider your support for shifting $485 million of the cost of the City University of New York from the state to the city.

You should be aware that as of fall 2015, 7,074 students from 34th state Senate District attend CUNY, including 1,392 at Lehman, and there are more than 10,000 CUNY alumni living in the 34th District.

There are approximately 120 faculty members at Lehman who reside in 34th District, and 773 members of the PSC who live in the 34th District and teach elsewhere in CUNY.

Since the mid-1970s, all New York State residents, including those in NYC, pay local taxes to support two-year community colleges.  All New York State residents also pay state taxes to support the four-year public institutions, SUNY and CUNY.  But under the governor’s and the Senate Republicans’ plan, New York City residents, including those in 34th District, would have to pay additional taxes to support CUNY.  Why should New York City residents be the only ones in the state required to support the four-year colleges with their state taxes and then pay again through their local taxes to support CUNY?  People in Buffalo or Stony Brook do not have to pay an extra tax to help support SUNY-Buffalo or SUNY-Stony Brook.

CUNY is not perfect, but it provides residents of NYC (and lower Westchester) with the opportunity to obtain the education they need to find good jobs and become productive, tax-paying New Yorkers. CUNY’s administrative costs are lower than at most comparable public institutions.   

Tuition at CUNY has gone up $300 a year for each of the past five years. That may not sound like much, but it is a total of $1,500. A student starting CUNY today will pay $1,500 per year more than someone who graduated five years ago, a total of $6,000 more over four years.

And what have students gotten for their increased tuition? Did they get the additional faculty and class sections they were promised? No, because New York State has cut its per-student funding for CUNY. The state needs to be putting more money, not less, into the higher education of its students, including those at CUNY. 

Faculty and other employees, including those in PSC and DC 37, are now in their sixth year without a new contract.  We need the $485 million the governor and the Republicans want to shift to NYC, plus $330 million for back pay (the $250 million the governor has proposed is already outdated.)  We are losing faculty because our salaries are no longer competitive, especially considering the high cost of living in New York.

As for the alleged anti-Semitism at CUNY, the chancellor has already appointed independent counsel to investigate the alleged incidents. Holding CUNY’s budget hostage while the investigation proceeds is grandstanding and punishing all students at CUNY for the alleged acts of a few. Colleges and universities are intended to be places where all sorts of ideas, even unpopular ones, can be expressed, debated and refuted without censorship. 

Please give CUNY the support that its students, its faculty and its staff deserve without burdening your constituents in New York City with financial obligations not imposed anywhere else in the state.

Duane Tananbaum is a history professor and the acting chair of the Lehman College Professional Staff Congress.

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