Students, faculty, and supporters made an emotional push for funding Sunday by stopping traffic and marching over the Brooklyn Bridge.
The participants called upon the Senate and Assembly to invest in their future. Hundreds upon hundreds demanded on March 6 that City University of New York (CUNY) and Sate University of New York (SUNY) receive critical funding in the state budget.
With the final budget being put into place in three weeks, education advocates are not leaving the future of students up to chance or to those with deep pockets. They are not only making their voices heard loud and clear, but they are also making their numbers seen as well.
“We don’t need a strong budget this year, we need a transformative investment in public higher education. When you march across the Brooklyn Bridge, you march for a university that is as historic as that bridge, and as iconic as that bridge. The vision for CUNY was a people’s university, a university for the whole people of New York not just for the elite,” said James Davis, president of the Professional Staff Congress, a union representing 30,000 CUNY faculty and professional staff.
As FY23 budget negotiations are underway, a student-labor community coalition gathered on March 6 at Brooklyn Borough Hall demanding a new deal, one that includes an additional $500 million–allotting $250 million for each CUNY and SUNY–to be prioritized to help create more full-time faculty positions and mental health counselors, rebuild the academic department, and restore funding for SUNY’s three public teaching hospitals in Brooklyn, Stony Brook, and Syracuse.
Attendees shared that this march underscores educational equity for all, and for access to free, quality public higher education but in order to do this more money has to be invested in CUNY and SUNY schools. It is through $500 million that advocates believe will make a significant change in students’ lives, helping them fulfill their dreams.
“And so, when we say we need a new deal for CUNY, we are saying that our students deserve the best,” Davis said. “They deserve safe, clean buildings with excellent facilities. They deserve more academic advising, more mental health counseling to support their progress towards their degrees. They deserve access to full time faculty, professors with decent wages and job security who don’t have to rush off to the subway to their next gig.”
“They deserve professors who spend time mentoring them, involving students in their research, helping them to fulfill their dreams and their ambitions,” Davis went on. “CUNY students deserve all of those supports and they don’t deserve anything less just because half of them come from households with annual incomes less than $30,000 a year. They don’t deserve less because 80 percent of them are students of color. They don’t deserve less because 35% of them were born in another country. No, they deserve the very best.”
To symbolize the bridge that CUNY and SUNY are for the future of thousands of students, hundreds of supporters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge chanting: “Tax the rich not the poor,” and “We are CUNY.”
Protesters gathered on the Brooklyn Bridge roadway, blocking traffic to Manhattan with their fists raised high and waving banners reading, “CUNY is for the people!”
The march concluded at Foley Square.
“It is about bringing back hope. It is about bringing back dreams for young people and for our communities,” said Fred Kowal, president of the United University Professions (UUP), a union for SUNY faculty. “Think about it this way: The world we face right now desperately needs people that can solve the climate crisis, that can solve the crisis in democracy, where it’s beaten down and where a dictator in Russia can invade a peace-loving democracy that’s got to stop but only if we have the next generation of leaders and they come from CUNY and SUNY.”
A version of this story first appeared on amNewYork.