60 City Council Candidates Promise To Support Free & Fully Funded CUNY

Broken ceilings at Brooklyn College. (Photo via the cuny_brokelyn_college Instagram page, which highlights broken facilities on the CUNY campuses in an effort to bring more awareness.)

BROOKLYN – Sixty City Council candidates have signed a petition promising to support a free and fully-funded CUNY, an institution relied on by thousands of city students. Fourteen of those candidates are running in Brooklyn.

“As Council candidates, we firmly believe that we are responsible for publicly committing to investing in CUNY. Since its founding in 1847, CUNY has been a vehicle of upward socioeconomic mobility for millions of New Yorkers,” the letter states.  “Whether through providing employment, the granting of degrees, or the offering of certificate programs, CUNY remains a pillar of the Five Boroughs; and, it is an example for public higher education systems across the country.”

Candidates for the 2021 races include Elizabeth Adams, Victoria Cambranes, and Lincoln Restler for District 33, Jennifer Gutiérrez District 34, Curtis Harris and Crystal Hudson for District 35, Chi Ossé for District 36, Sandy Nurse for District 37, Rodrigo Camarena for District 38, Brandon West and Shahana Hanif for District 39, Kenneth Lee for District 40, Wilfredo Florentino for District 42, and Anthony Beckford for District 45. The rest are candidates from Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx.

CUNY is the country’s largest urban public university system. It is a diverse institution that includes 25 campuses across the city with 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, and seven graduate/professional schools. When it was first founded, it was free. Now, there are tuition hikes every year, budget cuts, adjunct professors get paid very low wages, and the physical campuses are in desperate need of repairs. Students, professors, and supporters of CUNY have been protesting and urging the city and state to make CUNY free again and to have it fully funded.

“CUNY… is now forced to depend on annual tuition hikes, on the backs of its most vulnerable students, while adjuncts are paid pennies, and the costs of running the university system continue to rise,” the letter says. “Any disinvestment in CUNY will contribute to inequity in our communities and in our respective districts. This is terrible news for NYC’s future workforce, especially in a time of high unemployment. The City needs investments that will help our most marginalized communities.”

“We recognize that in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, that state and local budgets have suffered tremendously. NYC’s budget faces an approximately $9 billion dollar shortfall, and we also recognize that our economy will not rebuild overnight,” the letter continued.

According to the City Council candidates that signed on, an investment in CUNY is an investment in NYC, and the incoming City Council must make a commitment to investing in higher education. A recent Economic Impact Study revealed Queens College added $1.8 billion to the New York City metropolitan area. Therefore, a fully-funded CUNY is vital, candidates urge.

The petition states a five-point CUNY plan that the candidates have promised to support:

  • Establish a pathway to the full elimination of tuition at all CUNY Community Colleges;
  • Create a Faculty Diversity Improvement Plan to increase the percentage of CUNY faculty members who are People of Color;
  • Provide additional funding for mental health and wellness programs, thereby eliminating the need for future “Health and Wellness” fee increases;
  • Commit to fully funding CUNY ASAP, immediately, and ensuring the Mayor and City Council include baseline funding for our nationally renowned program;
  • Commit budget outlays to a Community College Prison re-entry program funded discretionarily by the Council.

The petition was initiated by Ossé, who told Bklyner that it was launched because City Council candidates need to ensure that everyone has a right to it.

“Free college needs to be more than just a campaign slogan, it needs to be a commitment, and we need to make that commitment a reality. The data shows that investing in CUNY will benefit the city by giving us highly skilled and well-trained workers who plan to stay and live here long term. Will it cost us a lot of money? It probably will, however, it is definitely worth it in the long run,” Ossé told Bklyner.

“I expect the list of candidates that signed on to grow. Other candidates have already reached out asking if they can sign on, and I believe that this is only the beginning,” Ossé continued. “The city needs a fresh new City Council. One that prioritizes the working-class people of New York, and I am glad to stand alongside my peers to advocate for a free and fully funded CUNY.”

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time || zainab@bklyner.com

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