Fund SUNY Now! Pushing Back Against Austerity in Public Higher Education

César Barros, Kiersten Greene, Stephen Pampinella and Melissa Yang Rock (United University Professionals / Radical University Professionals / SUNY New Paltz)

Welcome to Austerity University: Public Education for $ale! We’re so thrilled you could join us for the next two days. The purpose of Austerity University is to provide a space for educators, scholars, students, workers, and community members to discuss the problems associated with state and federal divestment from our public colleges and universities.

We (the organizing committee) decided to launch this conference as part of our broader campaign activism demanding that New York State lawmakers increase funding for New York’s public universities and across the country. We seek to create and strengthen alliances between groups dedicated to investigating, critiquing, and resisting the ongoing corporatization and imposition of austerity measures aimed at our public university systems.

Our conference is being held at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, a four-year comprehensive college which has suffered from a multiyear budget crisis since the 2008 recession. Since the financial crisis, New York state lawmakers, under the leadership of Governor Andrew Cuomo, have imposed brutal austerity policies across state institutions. For SUNY, the results have been dire.

After initial reductions in state assistance, Governor Cuomo has held SUNY funding flat up until the present day while increasing our students’ tuition. These policies have resulted in increased student debt, forced each campus to make painful budget cuts, overwhelmed faculty and staff with unsustainable workloads, increased class sizes, and seriously damaged SUNY’s ability to educate our students from New York and beyond.

Since SUNY (and its partner institution, the City University of New York), serve vastly more students from marginalized communities, SUNY is a key institution in fighting structural racism and inequality in New York. But it’s ability to create a more just and democatic society have been seriously weakened by New York State policy and budgetary decisions. In short, such manufactured austerity is starving us to death, but we refuse to let SUNY go down without a fight.

Defeating austerity requires building coalitions and movements with anyone interested in protecting public higher education. Our conference is designed to add this effort by achieving the following goals:

• Increase awareness and more clearly understand the history of funding for public higher education (within New York State and beyond)

• Examine the diverse impacts of present-day fiscal commitments to our public colleges and universities

• Build coalitions and solidarity networks across the state, region, country, and beyond

• Develop strategies and policy proposals that restore the democratic promise of accessible and affordable public higher education

• Promote and expand our #FundSUNYNow campaign, demanding funding commitments from New York State lawmakers

We’re so glad you could join us and we look forward to thinking, learning, and struggling together to defend public higher education!

In solidarity,

Melissa, Kiersten, César, and Steve

The Austerity University Planning Committee