On March 5, 2022, the United University Professions held a rally at SUNY New Paltz calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers to increase state funding to the SUNY system as a part of the upcoming state budget.
The rally was a part of the UUP’s “week of action,” an eleventh-hour initiative focusing on securing an additional $250 million for the SUNY system in the new state budget slated to be adopted by April 1.
Out of this proposed $250 million, the union hopes $100 million would go directly to campuses to help alleviate the financial burden on students.
The union, which represents professors and staff on half of the SUNY campuses, says the additional funds they are calling for are a small fraction of the funding that has been cut from the public system over the past 10 -15 years.
“Our students have become shock absorbers,” Beth Wilson, the New Paltz UUP chapter president, said. “They have taken on a financial burden that they should never have been responsible for.”
This financial burden refers to the thousands of dollars in tuition increases that SUNY students have been facing over the past decade. The UUP argues that these tuition hikes are a result of SUNY’s austerity budgets over over the past decade.
One of the main ways the UUP feels that students have been let down is through the “TAP gap.”
The Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, is meant to assist lower-income students in paying tuition, making college affordable and accessible for all economic classes. To many, however, this program has fallen short.
Currently, the maximum amount that the TAP award will grant is $5,665. While in the past, this amount of money could have covered almost the entirety of a student’s tuition, this is not the case today. The average cost of tuition for a SUNY student is $7,070, a full $1,405 more than the awards maximum payout.
This problem only becomes more clear when looking at the fact that the award can start as low as $500, an amount that doesn’t even cover two full credits at schools such as SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Stony Brook, or SUNY Albany.
“We have been left adrift by the state for years,” said UUP’s Vice President of Academics, Alissa Karl. “Our mission is to provide for our students and it is the state’s responsibility to fund that. We need to have systems and facilities that work and we need a full-spectrum of support.”
Students aren’t the only ones suffering from budget cuts. Unpaid extra responsibilities, increased class sizes and low wages are all problems that have been a huge burden on the faculty.
“Vacated positions aren’t filled with new employees but put on to the backs of others,” said Rendesia Scott, SUNY New Paltz Vice President for Professionals. “Offices drop from six to four (employees) and from four to two without any relief. We are putting in more hours and more time and are not seeing any benefit from it.”
These longer hours and extra responsibilities have spread employees thin and could lead to burnout, which could affect the quality of services and level of attention that students receive, UUP members said at the rally.
“Our working conditions are your learning conditions,” Wilson said.
Another concern is class sizes. To help combat deficits, some campuses would have to combine classes, turning smaller learning environments into huge lectures.
“We’d see classes going from 40 people to an 80-person lecture session,” said Stephen Pampinella, political science professor at SUNY New Paltz. “This would severely impact the students’ learning experience.”
Those anxious for the final decision on the budget will have to wait until at least April 1, but UUP members say there are still things people can do to fight for the funding.
“Call your local officials and tell them to fund SUNY now,” said Jordan Hennix, Student Assembly President at SUNY New Paltz, said. “This is a critical moment and it is time to rise up and fight.”