A participatory project to collect and preserve the histories of the City University of New York

2010-2020 From OWS to Covid-19

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]

10 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.

Free University Week - 1st Annual May Day Course Descriptions

This pamphlet features workshops, teach-ins and events planned for the 1st annual Free University of New York City on May 1, 2012, in Madison Square Park, Manhattan, NY. In addition to talks by David Harvey, David Graeber, Francis Fox Piven, Chris [...]

Student Week of Action in Defense of Education

Occupy CUNY circulated this informational leaflet for a “Student Week of Actions” (November 14-21, 2011) in defense of education, and in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. The schedule of Graduate Center Events included a student strike, a [...]

Radical Teach In

This flyer announces a radical-teach by CUNY Graduate Center students on October 21, 2011, in Washington Square Park. An offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Occupy CUNY organized around fighting the militarization of CUNY campuses, and [...]

Goldstein and Kroll Security: Mock NYT Wedding Announcement

This mock New York Times announcement between Chancellor Goldstein and Kroll Security Group announces a protest in the form of a satirical wedding procession and ceremony, which was to be held on May 1st, 2012. In addition, the announcement [...]

Occupy CUNY News

This Wordpress site features a collection of links and articles relating to the Occupy CUNY movement of 2011-12. No longer updated, it now serves as a repository for information on the activism of the period.

A Spring Romance Blossoms for CUNY's Chancellor?

Satirical leaflets made by Occupy CUNY about Chancellor Matthew Goldstein's relationship to Kroll, Inc., a security advising company that CUNY hired to conduct a biased investigatory report about a November 21, 2011 incident at Baruch College. [...]

Graduate Center General Assembly Working Groups

Informational leaflet with a list of Graduate Center General Assembly Working Groups for Fall 2011: direct action, faculty liaison, inclusion, knowledgewerk, press, online presence & media, outreach, structure/process, support, and write [...]

Thursday's Special

This satirical menu featured dishes called “democratic” university, “meaningful” academic employment, “right to peaceful protests” and “safe and secure” learning places and was part of a pop-up political theater action created by the [...]

2010-2020 From OWS to Covid-19