Governor Cuomo’s Revenge on CUNY!

Dear Commons Community,

Politico New York had an article yesterday commenting on the worsening relationship between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the City University of New York.  Since his re-election, Governor Cuomo has asked for massive budget cuts at CUNY and/or the transfer of funding from the state to the city.  Here is an excerpt with our colleague, Steve Brier, giving his take on the issue.

“The governor has taken things further recently in his official posture toward CUNY, dramatically cutting previous levels of state funding for the system. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose relationship with Cuomo is worse than Bloomberg’s ever was, said at an event in Bay Ridge last week that it was in the “dead of night” before Cuomo’s annual budget address last month that he first learned the state would reduce its contribution to the CUNY system by nearly a half billion dollars a year. The city, which does not control the university, would have to pay the difference.

Cuomo and de Blasio, of course, have been feuding. And the move was widely portrayed as yet another example of Cuomo toying with his erstwhile friend. 

While that interpretation may well be understandable, it’s also incomplete.

Like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, another state entity that he technically controls but would seemingly rather not, Cuomo has long made it clear that he doesn’t view City University of New York as a priority.

He has yet to name his own chairman to the board: Benno Schmidt, who has sat on the board since 1999, has been technically term-limited since 2013. 

Of the 17 members on the board, Cuomo controls 10. Two are holdovers whose terms have expired. One trustee resigned earlier this month because, the trustee said, Cuomo wouldn’t pick a successor

Dani Lever, Cuomo’s spokeswoman, said Cuomo plans to fill some of those seats after the budget is passed.

The university has yet to reach a contract agreement with CUNY’s faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, whose more than 25,000 members have been without one since 2010, or District Council 37, which represents over 10,000 non-professional workers at CUNY and hasn’t had a contract since 2009. 

He’s denied CUNY staff a $15 minimum wage, even as he insisted upon it at the State University of New York.

A CUNY spokesman declined comment.

“The Governor has always been a champion and advocate for these students and is committed to ensuring this system remains strong, healthy, and viable for generations to come,” said Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever, in a statement.

ASK PEOPLE IN AND AROUND CUNY ABOUT CUOMO’S attitude toward CUNY, an institution that serves 530,000 New Yorkers, many of them people of color, and they will offer a number of explanations, prominent among them the Memorial Sloan-Kettering incident.

They will point to the fact that the CUNY’s faculty union declined to endorse Cuomo in last year’s unexpectedly competitive Democratic primary against Zephyr Teachout, which surely didn’t help matters either. The Professional Staff Congress went along with its parent union, New York State United Teachers, which declined to endorse.

“I can’t say I’m inside the mind of Andrew Cuomo, but I have to think it plays a role,” said Stephen Brier, a CUNY education historian and co-author of the upcoming book, Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education.”

In sum, Governor Cuomo has a bone to pick with CUNY.  Mayor de Blasio’s may be CUNY’s only hope, however, he has his own problems with the governor.


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