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2010-Present OWS and Beyond

In New York City and across the nation the 2008 recession continued to take its toll well into the next decade. Even as the overall economy recovered, local and state governments imposed austerity measures that cut the budgets of public agencies and institutions. Income inequality continued to grow, most notably in NYC, which spawned the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. Inspired by anti-austerity protests in Europe, OWS began with a takeover in fall 2011 of Zuccotti Park near NYC’s Wall Street. The protest quickly grew to include thousands.

OWS dollarFueled by young people locally and internationally and claiming to fight for the 99% of the population excluded from economic gains, OWS brought issues of income inequality and corporate greed to popular attention in ways that had previously been unimaginable. Many CUNY students, faculty, and staff participated in and supported the park take-over and tied the issue of income inequality to the steady decrease in State funding of the city’s public university system and the corresponding rise in student tuition. After several weeks, many New York City and national labor unions—including CUNY's Professional Staff Congress, representing CUNY 25,000 instructional and non-instructional professional staff—announced their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement and its attack on austerity politics.

Between 2008 and 2016, State funding for CUNY had decreased by 17%, mostly during the tenure of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2010. CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein’s administration (2000-2014) continually relied on increasing student tuition and private funding to fill CUNY’s budget the gap. For CUNY as well as other institutions of higher learning, this policy of disinvestment led to a greater reliance on contingent part-time labor and an intensification of the corporatization of education with greater emphasis on “metrics” such as “time to degree” and student graduation rates. Debates over spending priorities escalated.

Despite public disinvestment, the university continued to grow in these years, with undergraduate enrollment reaching nearly 275,000 in 2015. Goldstein used available funds and philanthropic gifts to establish several new CUNY schools and colleges during his tenure, including The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Public Health, Macaulay Honors College, and Guttman Community College. Initiatives that served a limited number of students—such as the School for Professional Studies, and the acclaimed ASAP program (Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs)—were also launched. Additionally, two other administrative initiatives--the Pathways general education program and the CUNYfirst “integrated” online administrative system--were imposed under Goldstein but proved far less popular. The first was opposed by most CUNY faculty members because it bypassed shared faculty governance policies, and the second by CUNY faculty, staff and students because it increased centralization, cost a huge amount to purchase and implement, and caused innumerable inefficiencies and delays.

Continued disinvestment in public education was brought to the fore when CUNY faculty and staff were forced to work from 2010 to 2016 under an expired collective bargaining agreement because neither the City (under Michael Bloomberg) nor the State (under Andrew Cuomo) were willing to contribute established levels of financial support or negotiate a new contract. The PSC and CUNY students continually lobbied Albany and, ultimately, PSC members voted by 92% to authorize a strike if no contract agreement could be settled during the 2016 legislative session. That vote, plus escalating direct actions by PSC members and their supporters, finally forced an agreement and halted a proposed tuition increase for one year.

The Goldstein era came to an end in the summer of 2014 when the chancellor was replaced by James B. Milliken, former head of the University of Nebraska. Historic battles over the vision, priorities, and purpose of the University continue, as does the fight over how to fund this important institution.

[Andrea Ades Vásquez, August 2016]

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3 Featured Items:

Professional Staff Congress Joins Anti-War Protest in Washington D.C.

Photograph of Professional Staff Congress, the union of CUNY faculty and staff, demonstrating with students in Washington, D.C., 2011.

2010-Present OWS and Beyond