Assembly Needs To Stand Up for SUNY Students

Cartoon by Derek Zimmermann
Cartoon by Derek Zimmermann

Over the last few weeks, we have seen our student government stand up and speak out at about the most pressing issue facing students in public higher education: funding cuts. However, it is troubling to us at The New Paltz Oracle that our SUNY Student Assembly has not shown the same spirit for this cause.

Of course, economic times are tough across the country. It would be foolish not to recognize that the national deficit has taken its toll on the economy and sacrifices need to be made. However, in light of recent events, we have reached a breaking point in the SUNY system.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget includes a 10 percent funding cut to the SUNY system, and a deficit for our campus that could exceed $6 million. Administrators are now being forced to consider a possible hiring freeze and eliminating programs and faculty positions. People’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line. The quality of our education is at stake. The situation is more than dire.

We had hoped that the SUNY Student Assembly would empathize with the anger of  our students more. Now is not the time for the SUNY Student Assembly to play the political game that seems to engulf Albany. The needs of the 64 SUNY campuses and 468,000 enrolled students the Assembly represents should come first, not the wills and whims of those in suits walking up and down the steps of the Capitol building.

We should note that this body of students has advocated that legislators vote to support SUNY financially, and we appreciate these efforts. However, the problem is that we feel certain concerns students have at our campus are not being considered by this larger student group, and we fear others aren’t being heard.

We urge the SUNY Assembly to listen to the voices of those protesting in Albany rather than telling them to calm down. They have to  absorb what they are saying and take it into account. They should not be afraid to shy away from the predetermined rhetoric of SUNY officials that is flung from every direction.

Both the SUNY Student Assembly and SUNY officials have used the term “tuition roulette” time and time again to describe our reality if a rational tuition increase policy is not instituted. Yes, it is arguable who used the term first; but regardless, the assembly should continue to research the ever-changing situation and reevaluate the language they use and sentiment of what they are saying rather than reiterate and regurgitate the rhetoric of system officials. We do not fault the assembly for agreeing with SUNY officials about rational tuition or any other issue – we are simply concerned that they are not fully examining the issue for themselves.

The financial landscape of SUNY and public education in New York is getting more and more desperate, and those in the assembly should listen to student associations across the SUNY system.

SUNY Student Assembly memebers have said they are in favor of rational tuition increases; our Student Association is not. Instead of telling our representatives to be quiet, the assembly should take the time to explain why they are in favor of such a controversial policy.

Instead of silencing those who are trying to speak their opinions, the SUNY Assembly should have a well thought-out explanation that clearly describes why those who represent us are in favor of something we do not want. If the assembly truly stands by its beliefs, it should explain it to students in their own words rather than those that make them sound artificial and detached.

The  assembly has the power and access to speak directly to the chancellor and legislators. They should use this privilege to the advantage of those they serve by voicing various student concerns rather than echoing Chancellor Zimpher’s thoughts and sentiments like a broken record.

At SUNY Palooza, our student representatives had a negative experience with the assembly that should not go unheard. New Paltz representatives were told they were being un cooperative and it took chants from other people for them to speak their opinion at protests. There is a clear disconnect with those who represent us and those who are represented.

Over the past three years, SUNY has suffered $1.1 billion in reductions, this is not the time to be silent. It is a time to be loud and fight for the future of our education. It is time for students to unify and cooperate, not argue with one another – Albany does enough of that already.