Read the full piece at The New Republic

By Jasmine Liu

In early May, students, librarians, mental health counselors, adjuncts, and tenured professors gathered in the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center to speak to the City University of New York’s board of trustees. Fresh from a picket line at LaGuardia Community College, those assembled spoke their minds with tones that ranged from temperate to unrestrainedly angry as they testified to the devastating toll that decades of disinvestment has taken on the largest urban university system in the United States. The consequences of this chronic neglect: overstuffed classrooms, meager provision of support and services, poverty wages for faculty and staff, peeling paint and falling debris. Members of PSC-CUNY, the Professional Staff Congress union representing 30,000-some faculty and staff, placed silhouetted signs in empty seats that read “Missing Adjunct,” “Missing Adviser,” and “Missing Student,” a visual symbol of all those who have had to leave the system as a result of unrelenting austerity.

Naomi Schiller, a professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College, spoke about a student named Angela whom she had advised just that day and who was the first in her family to attend college. “What came up again and again were the many ways that the leadership of this university is failing her,” Schiller said.

“Our financial aid office is so understaffed that it can’t figure out if she has the funding to take summer classes. The advising office has struggled to reach students, so she’s not aware of expensive new software she’s supposed to use to monitor her academic progress. Angela takes classes in rooms that are much too hot. Three of her five classes are taught by adjuncts. Only one paid office hour a week is not nearly enough to meet her and her classmates’ needs. A strange black goo is leaking from the ceilings of some of our lab spaces.” When she and her student charge finally got down to discussing topics related to class, they discovered that the journal articles Schiller recommended Angela read were no longer available to her through CUNY’s subscriptions.

When Schiller told Angela that the board of trustees had announced $100 million in cuts to CUNY in 2024, Angela responded, “I guess they just don’t care about us—but honestly, it doesn’t surprise me.” And there are few surprises in store for the beleaguered faculty, staff, and student body of the CUNY system, for they have seen the future laid out by New York City Mayor Eric Adams. The course that has been charted for what was once a higher education gem is one of demoralizing neglect.

As one might expect, many of the speeches delivered at the hearing came from those who’d divined this grim future and were on hand to deliver a rebuke to the February directives for CUNY campuses to slash their expenses by 5 to 6 percent, alongside the cuts to CUNY outlined in Adams’s proposed Fiscal Year 2024 budget. These cuts, as they currently stand, will amount to $41 million each year for the next three years, further straining the budgets of the 11 senior colleges, seven professional institutions, and seven community colleges that comprise the system—the last of which depend heavily on city funding. The budget is set to be finalized in June.

The cuts come on the heels of $155 million in reductions to CUNY’s funding over the past year; since June 2021, successive cuts have resulted in the elimination of 363 part-time and full-time-equivalent staff. The city’s rationale for deepening cuts to CUNY is that enrollments have declined in past years, but such are precisely the dire conditions under which funding should be reinforced, not scaled back. Since the beginning of the pandemic, full-time enrollment across CUNY has fallen by over 16 percent, a likely reflection of wayward institutional support and intensifying economic precarity that has hit CUNY students particularly hard.

“The mayor has been pretty brutal in his brief tenure towards CUNY, which has disproportionately harmed community colleges,” PSC-CUNY president James Davis said.

Maia Rosenberg, a member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice who graduated from Brooklyn College last year, says that she chose to go to CUNY because it was the cheapest option. She studied linguistics and loves that CUNY is “a home to everyone regardless of their backgrounds.”

“I’d be in a classroom, and there was no majority demographic. There were people from immigrant families, people who are new immigrants themselves. There was a range of ages, a range of economic backgrounds.” Currently, around 60 percent of students who graduate from New York City’s public high schools matriculate at a CUNY campus. Seventy-five percent of undergraduates are students of color, and half come from families that earn less than $30,000 a year. The students at CUNY, Rosenberg said, are “a mini-version of the city itself.”

Read the full piece at The New Republic