Michelle Obama, City College, and CUNY Funding!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article this morning commenting on the state of City University funding woes in light of the fact that Michelle Obama will be delivering the commencement address at City College on Friday. Here is an excerpt:

“On Friday, Michelle Obama will deliver a commencement address at the college, a flagship school of the City University of New York system, which is the largest urban public university in the country. She is likely to celebrate its proud legacy of creating opportunity for New York’s striving class.

Established in 1847 as the Free Academy of New York to educate “the children of the whole people,” as its founder Townsend Harris said, City College has been called “the poor man’s Harvard.” Tuition-free until 1976, it has produced 10 Nobel Prize winners. It was a hotbed of Jewish intellectuals in the 1930s, and today it welcomes the ambitious children of families from around the world, many of them poor and working class.

But any evocation of the past by Ms. Obama will mask a troubled present.

“We have gone backwards,” said Frederick R. Brodzinski, a senior administrator and adjunct professor in computer science who plans to retire in September after 30 years at the university. “Morale is horrible on campus. There are too many highly paid administrators, and there’s a lack of clear leadership. We have stepped down on the ladder that we were climbing for about 10 years.”

The troubles at City College, and throughout the entire CUNY system, are representative of a funding crisis that has been building at public universities across the country. Even as the role of higher education as an engine of economic mobility has become increasingly vital, governments have been pulling back their support.

Since the 2008 recession, states have reduced spending on public higher education by 17 percent per student, while tuition has risen by 33 percent, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.”

CUNY, a collection of 24 community, undergraduate and graduate schools, where 45,000 employees help to educate 274,000 students annually, has been caught in the political feud between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, both Democrats.

The governor proposed shifting some $485 million in costs to New York City from the state, which has paid for the bulk of the senior colleges since a fiscal crisis in the 1970s. The city eventually won, but the governor’s $1.6 billion appropriation did little to stem the chronic underfunding of the system.”

The last point is critical in the discussion of CUNY’s funding.  While the article rightfully points out that state financing of public higher education has been declining for the past decade across the country, here in New York, CUNY specifically has been used as a pawn in a political battle.  Governor Andrew Cuomo in particular has decided to use CUNY as a whipping post for his personal vendetta against Mayor Bill de Blasio.  It is a shame that two Democratic Party leaders cannot put their personal feud aside for the good of the 500,000 students presently enrolled at CUNY.  It makes them look petty and vengeful and not as champions of the needs of the people of our state and city.



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