CUNY to slash budgets as enrollment plummets – Hiring freeze ordered!

If Cuomo Cuts Funding, CUNY Layoffs Will Be a 'Bloodbath' | The Nation

Dear Commons Community,

The City University of New York has ordered colleges to slash budgets by an average of at least 5 percent and implement a hiring freeze, according to an internal memo obtained by the Daily News.

The cutbacks, ordered by CUNY Chief Operating Officer Hector Batista, will likely be felt most sharply by students, faculty and staff and could lead to larger class sizes, increased fees and reduced library hours, among other changes.

Each of the system’s 25 campuses will be required to develop plans that cut costs and increase revenue by March 3. Colleges closing out the fiscal year in a negative position, including many of the community colleges, will need to cut more.

“CUNY students deserve a quality education,” said Salimatou Doumbouya, CUNY Student Trustee and chair of the University Student Senate. “This quality education will be lost with a decrease in the amount of lecturers and professors. We are already seeing this with the drastic amount of students who are having troubles with registering for class.”

The cuts come as CUNY is in a tight spot. Federal pandemic aid to the public college system is running out, while Mayor Eric Adams cut city funding and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget proposal did not meet CUNY’s funding request. Students could also face 3 percent or lower tuition hikes next year, if included in the state’s final budget.

At the same time, student enrollment took a nose-dive during the pandemic and has yet to bounce back. Enrollment has fallen by more than 10 percent over the past couple of years to fewer than 243,400 students in fall 2021 from a high of 271,000 in Fall 2019.

CUNY has lost more than 350 faculty members over that time, data show.

“The City University of New York continues to look for cost-saving measures without cutting student services, efforts that will become increasingly important as federal pandemic stimulus money dries up,” said CUNY spokesperson Joseph Tirella, who pointed to enrollment-boosting initiatives already underway like an outreach program for former students to complete their degrees and advertising campaigns.

While the full impact of the cuts will not go into effect until next school year, the system’s budget crunch is already being felt in a number of ways.

A writing center at Hunter College previously staffed with three full-time faculty is now run by two part-time adjuncts, who barring new hires could remain in those roles.

At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, chair of the political science department Susan Kang told The News she had to cut sections of required classes this semester, forcing professors to over-enroll classes and students to scramble for other ways to finish their coursework.

“The directives don’t match the realities — our students need these classes so they can graduate, so they can succeed,” said Kang, an associate professor of international political economy and human rights. “A lot of them are the first in their families to graduate from college, and they want to walk [at the ceremony] this spring.”

Lehman College librarian Robert Farrell said colleges across the system will need to reduce library hours. The Bronx campus already has needed to rid of 24-hour schedules during finals season as a result of previous cuts.

“That’s as direct an impact as you can imagine on our students, who often have no other place to go to do work,” said Farrell, coordinator of information literacy. “Our students live complex lives — family lives, work lives. College libraries throughout CUNY have been refuge, a quiet place to concentrate, to meet with their classmates.”

Farrell added that cutbacks over the years have meant fewer funds for textbooks and other resources.

“A lot of the costs of materials have been offloaded onto the shoulders of students,” said the librarian. “Technology fees probably will have to go up, and that will negatively impact already financially strained students.”

The fee is $125 per full-time student this semester.

“Students are struggling with non tuition expenses and these expenses make it harder and harder to be a full-time student which results in the unfortunate effect of many having to choose alternatives instead of attending school,” said Doumbouya, who attends the New York City College of Technology.

The hiring freeze includes carveouts for more than 500 new positions funded in last year’s state budget. College presidents and deans can also sign off on requests for exemptions through a centrally managed vacancy review board.

“Reaching the fiscal year 2024 targets will require courage, creativity, perseverance, and discipline,” read the internal memo. “Overcoming the financial challenges at each college is a campus wide, shared goal and identifying and achieving savings while also ensuring continued excellence can happen only through close collaboration among the leaders and members of the campus community.”

A similar directive last year is projected to shrink the CUNY’s structural deficit by 17 percent to $194 million, Batista said.

Though presidents and deans could propose “one time” measures at the time, this year colleges will have to come up with long-term savings and revenue sources, according to the memo.

“The university is looking for additional savings,” said James Davis, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY faculty and staff union, “and our members are saying where are we supposed to cut? There’s no place left to cut.”

Below is a message from CUNY Professional Staff Congress President James Davis discussing the budget.


Dear PSC member,

CUNY college administrators ended last week with an email memo from Executive Vice Chancellor Hector Batista instructing them to prepare for a hiring freeze and additional “savings targets” beyond the current year, averaging 5-6% per campus for Fiscal Year 2024.

As word of these austerity measures has spread through our membership, they have expressed anger and exasperation. They know that enrollment has not recovered from the pandemic declines, and that CUNY’s federal stimulus funding will end with Fiscal Year 2023. They understand that Mayor Adams has cut City funding for CUNY and proposed further cuts. But they also know that CUNY received $240 million in new operating funds from Albany last year and nearly $1 billion in capital funding. While the Governor’s budget proposal for next year isn’t as ambitious as it should be, it is still a funding increase, not a cut. This budget cycle is just beginning, so cutting our college budgets preemptively sends the wrong message to Albany and City Hall and the wrong message to faculty, staff, and students. Many legislators stand with us as sponsors of the New Deal for CUNY and advocates in the budget negotiations. City Council leaders have named protecting CUNY funding as a top priority in their budget struggle with the Mayor. The state budget deadline is April 1. The City budget is finalized in June. But management is imposing another round of destructive belt-tightening at CUNY by March 3. We feel strongly that this is the wrong decision.

Like enrollment at CUNY, ridership is down in the City’s transit system because of the pandemic. But the MTA and Governor Hochul agree that greater public support is needed to maintain quality and services. Why is CUNY signaling that we absorb possible budget shortfalls at the beginning of a budget cycle? CUNY produced an ambitious budget request for the state—how does embracing austerity at this moment support their vision for expanded funding? As one department chair told us, “There is no fat for us to cut – it’s now a question of the bone and muscle.”

CUNY’s mid-year financial report acknowledges the loss of hundreds of full-time positions across faculty and staff. Offices across the university are severely understaffed, with CLTs and HEOs taking on the work of their departed colleagues. As recently as 2017, CUNY employed 7,546 full-time faculty, but by Fall 2021 that number declined to 6,745 and remains below 7,000 today. This is a year to fight for real gains and enlist the University community in that fight, but management seems to be throwing in the towel in advance. The memo’s directive, to review adjunct budgets and student collection rates, indicates the intention for savings to come from those who can least afford it—adjuncts and students—and through increased class sizes, which will accelerate the downward spiral that many campuses are already experiencing.

The PSC urges an alternative: instead of rolling out austerity plans, why doesn’t the CUNY administration publicize its budget request and the acute needs of the institution? Organize high profile events of CUNY supporters who will express the needs and tremendous potential of our students and our system? Partner with other public institutions to educate New Yorkers about the value of our public sector and the necessary expansion of public goods? The operating funds that were used to add five-figure increases to senior administrator salaries and hire new vice chancellors are better spent directly supporting the needs of faculty, staff and students.

Our contract expires in less than 20 days, and we will be bargaining with CUNY in the coming months with a radically different vision of the future of our institution in mind. We will not thrive being cut to the bone. Our students will not return to colleges placed on life support. We need CUNY management to advocate openly and vigorously for fully funded public higher education, just as we in the union do, not to preemptively cut and invite further austerity. And we need PSC members and allies to unite behind A People’s CUNY, the vision towards which our bargaining demands are aimed.

Add your name to the PSC’s petition demanding that CUNY management come to the bargaining table.

Stand with us as we rally outside CUNY Central the morning of Monday, February 27 for a Fair Contract for a People’s CUNY that supports better working, teaching and learning conditions, and a a better life for PSC members, CUNY students and the communities that we serve,

James Davis, President