On Tuesday, April 10, SUNY New Paltz faculty members of the Radical University Professionals (RUP) stood outside Haggerty Administration Building to protest stagnant wages, the heinous underfunding of the State University system and the abuse Gov. Andrew Cuomo has inflicted upon New York State’s public higher education system.
The picket, which drew about 60 students and professors, featured chants and speeches played through a portable stereo. Students held handmade signs defying and condemning Cuomo and calling for the funding of the State University of New York.
Students and professors, of equivocal frustration, called for the funding of the SUNY system, and for an immediate end to the faculty’s 21 month struggle to negotiate a new contract with Cuomo. Although the Triborough Amendment of the Taylor Law maintains the prior contract, it prevents amendment until a new agreement is reached. The current contract prevents overworked and underpaid SUNY professors from having concrete means to receive a raise.
In addition to the lack of negotiations, wages for associate and assistant professors at SUNY New Paltz have remained mostly stagnant for a five-year period, while many professors, including those hired within the last decade, experienced salary compression. SUNY New Paltz professors are being paid, on average, a whopping 20 percent less than their counterparts at other four-year public universities.
Adjuncts are even worse off — earning around $3,000 per course. Practically poverty level wages.
We at The New Paltz Oracle support the mission of the RUP in challenging Cuomo’s apathy towards the SUNY system. As students within public education, it is in our interest to earn a quality education, and to be able to utilize ample resources to build a future. Additionally it is in our interest to assure that the professors who teach us and work with us are given adequate wages and respect for the time they put into educating their students. The plight of our professors is our plight as well.
Across the country, we are witnessing teachers bravely take to striking to demand livable wages and work conditions. We applaud and commend those who went on the statewide strike in West Virginia, those in Oklahoma protesting cut funding and wages and those professors in New Paltz who planted the roots for a movement to earn livable wages and be allocated proper funding. We commend them for their courage, and recognize the value of this unique wave of civil unrest which erupted after the election of the Trump Administration. We stand in solidarity with educators.
Gov. Cuomo should not treat SUNY as a business, or something to be manipulated for profit, but should instead invest in the public sphere. Investing in education is investing in the future of New York State. The recent investigation and subsequent indictments of those involved in SUNY Polytechnic bid-rigging fiasco indicates a possibly alarming level of corruption within the Cuomo Administration. SUNY will not be a vehicle to make profit.
The recent introduction by Cuomo of the Excelsior Scholarship, in which only 3.2 percent of SUNY students are eligible, seems like a disingenuous attempt to convince voters of Cuomo’s dedication to providing affordable higher education. The reality is that education is still not affordable for many, and Cuomo should increase SUNY funding to prevent tuition hikes.
The proper funding of SUNY, as well as the proper allocation of funding for SUNY professors would require some sort of revenue, particular in the form of taxation. Cuomo should explore different avenues, or find some other way to funnel much-needed money into the SUNY system. Investing in educational infrastructure is an absolute necessity. To attract students and to promote social mobility, resources and money are needed to maintain the SUNY schools’ reputation of providing affordable education. The burden of funding the schools should not be on the backs of students.
While the cost of living in the mid-Hudson Valley is rising, New Paltz professors’ salaries remain largely stagnant, and are present a problem unique to New Paltz, professors are being driven from the area due to the cost of living not aligning with their income. This deters quality professors from establishing lives in this region, and pushes potential educators to pursue careers at other universities. This prevents the collection of a qualified and dedicated faculty.
Ultimately, we love our professors. Some of our best, most inspiring professors have been adjuncts — who are being paid poverty wages. Associate and assistant professors work 10 and 12 hours daily, answering questions after class, engaging in discussion and on-campus activities. They consistently advocate for us, so we should advocate for them.
All members of the SUNY system, students and professors alike, share a rational, common interest: fund SUNY. By working in a coalition of students and professors, and by exercising our civil right to protest and speak, we can convince politicians to provide SUNY with the funds it deserves. Together, we stand a fighting chance against Cuomo.