It has come as no surprise to us, at this point in the development of the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA), that Stony Brook’s, and indeed all of SUNY’s, stance on this is diametrically opposed to what we feel are the students’ best interests. The zealous dishonesty from Chancellor Zimpher’s March 5 op-ed in the Albany Times Union, and Stony Brook President Sam Stanley’s adamant and “tremendous excitement” about this legislative proposal have shown us that they aren’t going to bend on this issue anytime soon.
In a recent email update about PHEEIA, Stanley also cites a sycophantic February Newsday editorial that basically parrots everything the SUNY administration has been saying. They simplify a hypothetical the state legislature may make against PHEEIA in an attempt to maintain some sort of sinister control over SUNY. Likewise, they misrepresent the United University Professions, SUNY’s faculty union and an outspoken opponent of the legislation—or at least, the major parts of UUP’s argument. They claim that UUP’s opposition to the proposal stems from their “worry that it will erode their collective bargaining position and perhaps even put them in a students v. professors struggle for dollars.” They don’t even mention that the students would be against the burden “to create massive numbers of jobs” falling on them.
Newsday‘s stance comes as no surprise to us either. They’ve been against any sort of civil service provided by the state, including education, police services, fire services, etc. Any time an education budget is released—even for K-12—Newsday laughably calls it a “budget hike.” Any rhetoric by the hack editorialists of that paper is nothing more than a fiscal conservative agenda in the guise of SUNY support. The idea that SUNY needs its freedom to systematically tax students in order to let the state off the hook is absurd, and President Stanley should be embarrassed to rely on Newsday’s work.
What SUNY needs is not for legislation to continue this decades long privatization of public higher education. SUNY administrators need to rethink their priorities, and stop pushing to let state legislators off the hook. Higher education is a human right, and a responsibility of the state. Instead of spending time and resources on promoting PHEEIA, SUNY administrators should be mobilizing students, their parents and the rest of the state to pressure legislators to restore decades of reduced funding for higher education.
The Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent nonpartisan research group, has a long list of ideas that would enable restoring state spending—alternatives to further eroding state funding for necessary civil services, like higher education. It includes suggestions like adding income tax brackets, effectively reversing years of indulgent tax cuts for the wealthiest New Yorkers. It also has a slew of other actual innovations; clever and sustainable ways to increase funding and state support. The real “indefensible status quo” (to borrow a phrase from Zimpher’s ridiculous op-ed) is the steady subversion of the state’s role in public higher education, a status quo which she and Stanley currently stand behind. There are alternatives to steep budget cuts, with corresponding steep tuition hikes, and they should be supporting those.
So if they’re not going to do it, we’re going to help do our part. Call your local representative, and let them know that you and your parents are few of the hundreds of thousands of voters who think the education of citizens, the creation of jobs and revitalization of New York’s economy is the state’s job, not the students’. Tell your friends to do the same. Another option is to get involved with, and support, any future demonstrations against the privatization of SUNY, and the commodification of your education.
SUNY, as it is now, is not just an engine for economic development; it’s a necessary entity for the sustainability of New York’s future. More importantly, it is an engine of social justice. Don’t let that slip away.