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CUNY week aims to maintain school’s funds

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Faculty members at York College gathered in the school’s Atrium Tuesday to kick off CUNY Week and urge their colleagues and students to take political action to protect the state and city funding the university receives.

The week features events at City University of New York campuses around the city to spark political action and education among staff and students.

“Every day this week CUNY colleges are having events for the purpose of informing faculty, students and staff of the legislative issues that affect us,” said Janice Cline, chairwoman of the York chapter of the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing faculty and staff members at CUNY schools.

The PSC sponsored the CUNY Week events, and York College President Robert Hampton co-sponsored Tuesday’s event. The borough has four CUNY sites: York College in Jamaica, Queens College in Flushing, Queensborough Community College in Bayside and LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City.

CUNY Week is an extension of CUNY Day, a lobbying day founded by Borough President Helen Marshall in 2001 while she was a city councilwoman and chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee. Marshall herself is a graduate of Queens College.

“Here at York College you are doing one of the most important jobs — preparing our population,” she said. “Our greatest natural resource is our people.”

But the schools are facing repeated threats from budget cuts, Cline said. The faculty members are confronting lower welfare benefits, while students are contending with constant tuition hikes and proposals that would defer aid payments until after graduation, she said. Potential changes to the Tuition Assistance Program, for example, could make it harder for students to pay their school bills, she said.

“The governor is proposing that a third of the students’ TAP be deferred until after they graduate,” Cline said. “This would make it impossible for many, many York students to graduate and complete their education. Money is one of the biggest things stopping students from going to college and doing well in college.”

The CUNY budget is also under constant attack from the state Legislature, said Jacob Applebaum, chairman of the PSC chapter at Queensborough.

“The state legislation wants to cut $100 million from the CUNY budget,” he said. “We want to restore that money. It’s always not enough money for public education.”

Others are pushing for a more multicultural staff to match the student and general populations.

“Queens and the city are becoming more and more diverse,” said Sam Farrell, chairman of the union chapter at LaGuardia Community College. “The student population of CUNY reflects the population of New York City. While we need to be happy about that, there is a piece missing. The faculty does not reflect the New York City population.”

But these problems can be addressed if students make their voices heard, Marshall said.

CUNY Week events will feature voter registration drives and help students and faculty write to their elected officials through the PSC Web site. The site, www.psc-cuny.org, guides writers through the process.

“Students have got to wise up about that,” Marshall said of voting. “They’ve got to register to vote.”

CUNY week will continue at campuses around the city, including a breakfast awards ceremony scheduled for Thursday morning at City Hall. Queensborough Community College was slated to host a voter registration drive from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday. City Council officials were invited to the Queensborough campus in Bayside to help register students.

“You as students are in a position to make changes,” said Jonathan Bucksbaum, chairman of the Queens College chapter of PSC. “This is something you can do by making sure you vote.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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