New Paltz students joined hundreds of others from across the state in Albany last Wednesday in a last ditch effort to sway the Legislature to reject proposed budget cuts to the SUNY system.
According to Student Association (SA) Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and Governance Caitlin Ryan, nearly 1,000 protesters gathered at the State Capitol’s million dollar staircase on Wednesday, March 30, hoping to stop the passage of a 10 percent cut in SUNY funding that was approved the next day.
Although there were approximately 30 New Paltz students voicing their concerns to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal to lawmakers, Ryan said the protest didn’t provide the “glorious victory” she was hoping for. She said it was instead a learning experience for all those who attended and were involved.
“It was disappointing that the budget got passed and the governor was able to get away with what he did, but it showed us the potential that we have,” she said. “It also showed us how much work we have left in order to get ourselves to a place where we are really organized.”
At the event, Ryan said students from both SUNY and CUNY rallied alongside union members, community activists and K-12 professionals asking Cuomo, among other things, to re-institute the millionaire’s tax. If this tax were enforced, Ryan said revenue collected from the state’s wealthiest citizens could benefit the education system.
However, the surcharge on New Yorkers making more than $200,000 was not included in the final approved budget.
“There is money available, but Cuomo just doesn’t want to do that,” Ryan said. “He said ‘no new taxes,’ but this would be extending an old tax.”
Also supporting the implementation of a millionaire’s tax as an alternative to a loss in SUNY funding, second-year secondary education major Dean Engle said he attended the demonstration because of his fears regarding the $100 million cut contained in the new state budget.
Despite voting for Cuomo in November, Engle said he would not be supporting the governor in the future because of his decision to choose millionaires over students.
“New Paltz has already had to make massive cuts and the situation is even worse at other SUNYs,” he said. “New Paltz is finally becoming a respected university, but a few more years of paltry funding from Albany and we’re back to being a joke.”
Fifth-year Black Studies and sociology major Eirik Bjorkman said the March 30 demonstration was much rowdier than past protests like SUNY Palooza, organized by the student leaders of New York on March 15.
But Bjorkman said he found it difficult to call the latest rally an overall success because he feels there are still massive cuts to public services in the budget.
“A lot of people have said that we did something good there, but really in my eyes we didn’t do what we set out to do,” he said. “We never really expected to stop the entire budget, but to at least get some recognition for it.”
Ryan said that if more students had shown up in the numbers she had originally hoped for, the results might have been very different.
In an effort to increase involvement, Ryan said SA E-Board members have discussed potentially starting a weekly discussion group to continue the conversation and make more of a difference on campus.
Ryan said the ultimate goals of demonstrations this semester have been to ensure that programs and faculty positions are being saved and public universities are remaining affordable. Even though the budget has now passed with cuts to SUNY, Ryan said the fight is far from over.
“We want to make sure that our administration is concerned about keeping the school accessible to all students and not just to the valedictorians of people’s classes or those that can afford it.”