Members of the Radical University Professionals (RUP) staged a rally at Peace Park across from the SUNY New Paltz campus on Tuesday, demanding equitable funding for the SUNY system and a fair contract for professors. Candidates Jen Metzger, running for State Senate, and Cynthia Nixon, who has her eye on the governor’s office, appeared to express their support.
A crowd of 120 circled the besodden Peace Park, with speakers surrounded by placarded supporters a stone’s throw from the titular peace pole. A paper puppet of Governor Andrew Cuomo, gesturing with fistfuls of cash and grimacing all the while, overshadowed the entire proceedings.
According to RUP, professors at SUNY New Paltz in 2016 earned 77 percent what their colleagues at comparable institutions did, yet live in a much more expensive area than many of those other educators. Other faculty and staff have not fared better, organizers say, citing data published in The Chronicle for Higher Education.
In addition, several speakers spoke of “work creep” in the form of larger class sizes with no extra pay. RUP member Melissa Rock spoke of “proportional grading expansion,” which can only be mitigated by making more tests multiple choice, diluting the education. “It’s not my personal failing,” Rock said, that she and her partner struggle to make ends meet despite her student loans being in forbearance.
Rosendale native Metzger spoke of how her own childhood changed when her father lost his job, and how public education and college financial aid turned that around for her. “Education equals opportunity,” she said. “I know that firsthand.”
Metzger compared the SUNY challenges to the problems funding public education, as both have suffered due to decreasing state aid. When Rosendale Elementary School was closed, two of her children attended a different school three years running, “all while the classes kept growing.” Similarly, SUNY schools have had both tuition hikes and pay freezes.
Nixon has made education an issue in her campaign, and took this opportunity to hammer at the shortcomings of the Excelsior scholarship program. While Cuomo’s promise was for free education, only three percent of SUNY and CUNY students are recipients of the funding, she said. The program has a number of restrictions, including requirements to complete 30 credit hours per year, maintain state residence throughout and not take any breaks from the learning schedule.
Tying educational funding to income inequality, she asserted that Cuomo’s policies have supported the wealthiest one percent in the state, whom she said hold 45 times the money as the remaining state residents. She also took aim at the broad set of tax breaks called Start-Up NY, saying that the program uses SUNY campuses to create benefits for corporate shareholders, even as support of those campuses is gutted.
As Nixon railed against the governor’s “inhumane budget,” the clock tower struck one, and she paused to add, “I guess the bell is tolling for Andrew Cuomo.”
The group Radical University Professionals was formed less than six weeks ago, and members’ first action was to picket about the long-delayed contract April 21. At that time, the contract was 21 months expired. RUP is not affiliated with United Professions, the union with which the contract is negotiated.