Cuomo's CUNY cuts put students' futures on line


(re: “CUNY union fights adjunct job cuts,” June 4)

When advertisements for CUNY boast that they’re “the greatest engine for social mobility in the world,” I try to believe it. Now in my fifth year at CUNY, I have dedicated my time maintaining my grades and conducting independent research thanks to the world-class professors who choose to teach at public colleges.

As a working class kid from the Bronx, I consider this education an immense privilege.

Like so many CUNY students, I am an “essential” worker. Working at a tech store, I have come into contact with hundreds of people near the heart of the pandemic, risking my health and the health of my loved ones. At least three of my coworkers have confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

We still go to work, not out of a love for the minimum wage we make, but because there is still rent and prescriptions to pay for. In the most expensive city in America, life goes on, frustratingly, as normal.

My situation is not unique, and can be repeated by thousands of CUNY students across the city. So why, during a pandemic, does Gov. Cuomo think it is necessary to gut funding for the “greatest engine for social mobility”?

In preparation of federal funding not coming through to fill the gap, CUNY’s colleges are making drastic cuts, leaving adjuncts without jobs and health insurance. Hundreds of classes have been dropped, leaving class sizes even bigger in the fall, and leaving students the trouble of fulfilling course requirements to graduate.

Brooklyn College is cutting 25 percent of its course offerings. John Jay is laying off 40 percent of its faculty. And all colleges are being told that they need to make at least 10 percent cuts to each department.

While students admire and need our adjuncts, Cuomo is using them as a bargaining chip under the pretense that, because there won’t be in-person classes in the fall, he can make these cuts. Of course, even if classes were to resume in-person, he would want to make these cuts anyone.

Instead, he’s creating the false pretense for a blackmail: Look, you can either have your adjuncts or safety, but you can’t have both. (Of course we could have both.)

For CUNY students, this is nothing new. The steady cuts to CUNY over the years have left buildings with ceilings caving in, broken elevators, and classrooms moldy and overcrowded. You can conjure up visions of plucky students and professors from broken neighborhoods, beating the odds and still succeeding. But the successes are largely in spite of Cuomo’s decisions, and at some point, the fantasy can’t block out the reality that things were already bad before the coronavirus.

Whenever I hear people say they want to return to the way things were “before” the pandemic, I wince. “Before” was a utopia for the well off or ignorant. In reality, “before” was bearable for essential people who made the city run, and the students who believed in that “engine” to a better future.

This is why Cuomo’s vision for New York should be frightening. It’s an accelerant for the worst elements of the past.

Outside of CUNY’s budget, Cuomo’s plan for New York is one where private companies play a larger role in the government’s functioning while public services get the austerity treatment.

In the same budget, funding for public hospitals (which are now on the brink of collapse), Medicaid, localities (which choose to slash youth programs instead of bloated police budgets), and transportation were slashed.

Partnership deals that are “public-private” (like the one currently under way with Bloomberg, Microsoft and Google to “reimagine New York”) and up benefiting the “private” way more than the “public.”

So you will have to excuse me and fellow CUNY students — many of who have taken to the streets recently — when we do not share the same thrill for Cuomo (whose approval numbers have soared in the past few months), or any other New York establishment figure, when our chances at a better life are snatched from our hands.

At the level of budget policy, we cannot look at the pandemic as an aberration in history. The coronavirus and the political response to it has proven once again that in times of crisis and upheaval, the suffering of the powerless is the rule, not the exception. The lack of concern for CUNY is a very clear and painful message to the students of New York: poor, Black, Latino, queer and working class futures should remain precarious, while those at the top can have their futures secured.

I dedicate this Point of View to the faculty and students of CUNY who have died due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Michael Villanova,