Public Advocate Jumaane Williams speaking at a press conference in front of York’s closed PAC Building. Photo Credit: Angel Adegbesan
By Angel Adegbesan
Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams toured York College on Dec. 11 to shine a light on the needs of the school along with other colleges in the City University of New York.
Williams held the tour alongside student and faculty representatives to view how funding cuts have affected York particularly especially after CUNY recently proposed additional tuition hikes for students.
“We saw of course still, underpaid faculty,” Williams said after he completed the tour. “We saw spaces that were in need of repair. We have a lack of basic services like the cafeteria that has been inoperable for a very long time. Students talk about the inconvenience of trying to get to class and get nourishment at the same time.”
“There was a voucher program, I was told, that can be used outside, but students with disabilities have a more difficult challenge trying to get food when they are hungry,” Williams added. “And of course, this theater (the Performing Arts Center) is closed because of mold issues and we heard that repeatedly that mold and mildew issues throughout the school.”
William’s tour came after he released a report analyzing the current funding crisis faced by CUNY while outlining solutions such as increased investments to guarantee the university’s sustainability.
The recently elected public advocate, who officially won the seat in November, discussed how funding cuts at CUNY have directly impacted students and faculty.
“We, unfortunately, for too long have been starving CUNY,” Williams said. “We need the State in their budget to come up with additional funds. We need the City in their budget to come up with additional funds particularly for senior colleges while they continue to pay for the junior colleges.”
Williams is a two-time graduate of the CUNY system. He completed both his undergraduate and graduate degree at Brooklyn college.
“There is a world class education that people are able to attain here at CUNY, but we’re at a precipice right now where we can go backwards now and we don’t want that to happen,” WIlliams said. “Because CUNY is the best place for New Yorkers.”
During the Wednesday’s tour, the public advocate was joined by representatives of the University Student Senate and PSC CUNY, the union representing CUNY faculty and staff, as well as faculty and students.
Krishna Fnu, the President of York’s Student Government Association, noted at the conference that the lack of funding due to budget cuts puts a toll on the student government to act as a stop-gap to keep the college functioning.
“Last year, student government had to purchase cleaning carts for the custodial services because York college didn’t have the appropriate funds to provide those carts for the custodial services,” Fnu said as an example of the SGA supporting budget gaps. “At the end of the day, all the burden is going back to the students rather than state legislature or CUNY picking up the tab as they should.”
Fnu also gave examples of other budget gaps and how the student government has almost exhausted its $1million reserve funds.
“We have purchased furniture for the lounge areas, green chairs to put in the library,” Fnu said. “We also purchased 145 computers to be installed in different areas of the school and there are other projects that we have been working on.”
“This year, we also had to support by helping to fund the commencement program because with the PAC building being shut down, the revenue that we used to collect from renting out the space went down,” Fnu added. “So, this year, students had to pick up the tab and pay $70,000 for commencement out of the student activities funds rather than the money coming from York College.”
The public advocate expressed concerns that the student government served as a stop-gap at York. He was more bothered by the possibility that York’s situation could be rampant throughout the CUNY system.
“I can’t imagine folks at Brooklyn college coming for our student government fees to provide services that the college itself should be providing-that’s absurd,” Williams said. “I was expecting to see infrastructure problems but wasn’t expecting to hear that. So, that one kind of threw me for a loop and hopefully that will get addressed really soon.”
University Student Senate Vice Chair of Legislative Affairs Juvanie Piquant also lamented the idea of student leaders like Fnu purchasing things to keep the college running.
“It is time we call on our elected officials to do the right thing and stand up,” Piquant said. Governor Cuomo and all the ones that are elected who could help fund CUNY, they need to stand up. We’re here, we’re standing up. I and other students across CUNY would not be compromising our rights to a well-funded public higher education.”
In his report, the Public Advocate noted that CUNY began as a free higher education outlet before shifting to a tuition model.Williams said tuition has continued to increase alongside enrollment while investment has stagnated and declined on a city and state level.
The public advocate’s report calls for the city and state to increase their combined contribution to CUNY, “so the university can reinstate full-time faculty and counselor positions, reduce class sizes and provide students with more resources.”
“We’re getting closer to a crisis moment,” Williams said. “I think so many are happy with the type of people produced by CUNY but they are not paying attention to how that’s happening and they are taking it for granted that the facilities will always be here, that the staff will always be here and that everything is going to be here by magic. But, it’s not. We need investments.”