Gotham Gazette Thu, 09 Apr 2020 10:24:47 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Rep. Jeffries Endorses Council Member Cumbo for Reelection 15064019050 ec023beaf0 z

Council Member Laurie Cumbo (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)

New York Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, has endorsed City Council Member Laurie Cumbo for reelection. Cumbo, a first-term Democrat from District 35, which covers Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, is in the midst of a tough primary battle against Ede Fox, a Democrat who lost to Cumbo in 2013 and is running again this year.

Jeffries, whose congressional district includes large parts of Cumbo’s Council district, explained the endorsement to Gotham Gazette in a phone interview on Monday. “These are challenging times in our country, and Democratic members of our Congress are fighting hard each and every day to stop the onslaught of regressive policies coming from the Trump administration,” he said. “In this atmosphere, having a strong ally in the City Council to defend the interests of the neighborhoods we both represent is critically important. There is no better ally that I could have at the local or state level than Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo.”

The Congressman said he plans to actively campaign for Cumbo in local churches, block parties, senior centers, subway stations, and “whatever else it takes to make sure she wins decisively” in the September 12 primary and the November 7 general. Jeffries is extremely popular among his constituents and was reelected last year with 93.3 percent of the vote in the general election after being unopposed in the primary.

The Congressman, who was rumored to be a potential challenger to Mayor Bill de Blasio for much of last year, has taken on a notable role among national Democrats since the election of President Donald Trump. Jeffries was elected as co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee in December and has since emerged as a vocal critic of the Republican president. Jeffries and Cumbo share many views on major issues, including handling the district’s housing crisis and improving education.

“Laurie Cumbo has been a tremendous champion both in creating and preserving affordable housing throughout Central Brooklyn,” said Jeffries. “On issue after issue, she’s been phenomenal when it comes to pushing back against the intense gentrification that we confront in Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights.”

Jeffries is the latest high-profile fellow Democrat to endorse Cumbo. Last week, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke declared her support for Cumbo’s reelection. Cumbo has also been endorsed by Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Vanessa Gibson and the Council’s LGBT Caucus.

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(photo: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries/Flickr)

 Jeffries praised Cumbo’s accomplishments in her first term, and spoke highly of her efforts to preserve affordable housing in Brooklyn, getting at a core issue motivating Fox’s challenge. “She’s been responsible for helping to prevent the privatization of certain housing cooperatives in the Clinton Hill section of the district. She’s fought hard to affirmatively create affordable housing opportunities on NYCHA developments throughout the district, particularly in Fort Greene,” said Jeffries. “Cumbo single handedly shut down the [Bedford Union] Armory deal because it did not meet the aspirations of the community that she effectively represents.”


The Bedford Union Armory rezoning proposal has been a particularly hot issue in the District 35 race, and represents the core of any vulnerability for Cumbo in the September 12 primary. The project -- which would convert the Armory into 330 units of rental housing and 60 condos, and includes plans for a state-of-the-art recreation center -- faces heavy opposition from some residents who believe it is a sweetheart deal for real estate developers, would spur gentrification, and doesn’t include enough affordable housing. Although Cumbo came out against the proposal in May, some constituents and community activists criticized her for her delayed opposition. Critics point to the project’s affordability levels -- about 50 percent will be set aside for affordable units in the current proposal -- will not match the incomes of the district, and say that the facility should be 100 percent affordable. Jeffries, however, felt comfortable that Cumbo has handled the development effectively.

“At this point, the City Council has a long standing policy of not moving forward with a development deal absent the support the local City Council member,” he said. “There is no scenario that I can envision where the Armory deal moves forward and sees a vote for the City Council as long as Laurie Cumbo is opposed to it. [Up] to this point, she has managed to negotiate improvements to the deal with the developer and the [de Blasio] administration, and I have every reason to expect that her opposition will only strengthen the leverage that she has to improve the outcome.”

Though there are several other Council districts that fall in the areas that Jeffries represents, the Congressman said he did not have plans to make any other endorsements. “Laurie Cumbo is the only endorsement that I have made this summer in the City Council races, and it’s not clear that I will go beyond this particular contest,” he said. “She is an on-hand, ever-present, active representative of the community, and a tremendous partner to me.”

Council Member Cumbo, who was pregnant throughout the campaign and gave birth on Friday, was with her newborn son and not available to comment. A spokesperson said she was thankful for Jeffries’ endorsement and was excited to work with him on affordable housing and improving schools in their shared communities.

Although Cumbo has a slew of prominent endorsements, her primary opponent Ede Fox has also picked up support. Fox has been endorsed by a number of local Democratic organizations, the Transit Workers Union and New York Communities for Change, among others.

The winner of the primary will be a heavy favorite in the general, where she will face Republican Christine Parker, as well as the winner of the Green Party primary between Scott Hutchins and Jabari Brisport.

[Related: Rare Green Party Primary in Brooklyn City Council Race]

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Rep. Jeffries Endorses Council Member Cumbo for Reelection Tue, 08 Aug 2017 00:57:08 +0000
The CUNY Tuition Myth CUNY commencement York College

(photo via CUNY on flickr)

Gotham Gazette recently reported that Brooklyn City Council Member Inez Barron, chair of the Council’s higher education committee, introduced a bill aimed at studying the possibility of eliminating tuition in the CUNY system. Barron said, “College should be a right that is part and parcel of a commitment we make to provide free public education in grades K to 12.” Gotham Gazette writes that this was “a ‘commitment’ that was, in fact, extended to college for the majority of CUNY’s history - more than 150 years where the city university system has been an engine of opportunity for city residents, especially those from modest socioeconomic backgrounds.”

While Gotham Gazette does mention that tuition was free for “qualifying students,” many appear to have read the article and missed that point. Unfortunately, there are quite a few people who have accepted the myth that CUNY was free until the 1970s. This was only true for those students who were accepted into the day school. By contrast, during the 1960s, the majority of CUNY students were enrolled in the evening college (SGS) that had a substantial tuition charge.

Indeed, today a larger share of CUNY students have no tuition obligation than did in the so-called free era; the difference being that then it was based on merit while today it is overwhelmingly based on family income.

Today, because of weak skill levels, many entering CUNY students require extensive remediation to reach a minimum level of proficiency. Graduation rates at many of the community colleges are below 20 percent. The overwhelming majority of weakly-prepared students already have no tuition obligation. Barron and other City Council members, and many others, it seems, want to extend this benefit to all CUNY students.

Yet, any free tuition proposal is likely to worsen the situation for those least-prepared for college as the resulting enrollment growth would stretch support resources even more thinly and create more havoc to students’ ability to schedule their classes consistent with their other responsibilities. This is exactly what happened when CUNY began Open Admissions in the 1970s.

As I wrote for Gotham Gazette last year, I believe that all students should have a small tuition obligation. While this would mean the poorest students would have to take out a small debt, they would make much more efficient decisions about their educational choices. It would also close the tuition gap between lower middle-class students and poor students without the costly tuition-free proposal.

However, my two main complaints with the free-tuition proposal are: one, it does not address the issue of making colleges more efficient; and two, it ignores the need to shift to occupational education, focusing on certificate programs, and other short-term occupational programs.

Whether the discussion is around national free tuition or a CUNY proposal that may come from the committee the City Council is considering, even critics neglect to look at ways to improve the four-year college delivery system. Forty years ago, CUNY and most college systems were dominated by a teaching faculty of professors who taught four courses each semester. Now, however, virtually every state four-year college system privileges faculty research so virtually all faculty have teaching loads of no more than three courses per semester. Indeed, based on this research model, new CUNY faculty hires teach only two courses each semester during their six-year probation period. Once CUNY faculty gain tenure they are no longer required to do research but their three-course teaching load continues. Certainly there should be serious discussion of reducing the privileging of research endeavours, and the ability of tenured faculty to maintain low teaching requirements despite no longer doing research.

Faculty are able to reduce their three-course teaching loads by teaching large classes. At Brooklyn College faculty received double credit for teaching 110 students; and the benchmark is lower at other schools. The vast majority of these large sections use multiple-choice exams that are scanned and use textbooks which have quizzes that are submitted and graded electronically. Thus, faculty efforts are virtually the same as for smaller sections and yet they are richly rewarded.

This desire to reduce teaching requirements has also driven some departments to increasingly offer online and so-called hybrid courses where in-class teaching is reduced. At Brooklyn, each semester there are a few faculty members who teach their entire program online so that they are totally absent from campus. Many other courses, including some large sections, are taught as hybrid courses – where students meet once rather than twice each week – so that faculty are on campus only one day each week. When I proposed a resolution that the faculty norm should be a minimum of two days of teaching responsibility each week, not one faculty chair supported it. Thus, colleges increasingly have phantom faculty and administrators have been powerless to stem the tide.

Another way to increase efficiency is to have teaching lines be more consistent with student demand. For years, there has been a decline for many liberal arts majors as student interests have shifted to business and other applied areas. However, tenure and continued elitist notions of college education has limited the reduction of faculty in liberal arts areas. This is most glaring at the CUNY Graduate Center where teaching requirements are half what they are at the four-year colleges.

A whole range of expensive Ph.D. programs reside there in areas where the small number of graduate students has very low prospects of gaining faculty positions. But once more every effort is made to protect these costly programs. Closing down Ph.D. programs at the CUNY Graduate Center, limiting the number of CUNY colleges offering low-demand majors, and consolidating these small departments should be a priority if free tuition is pursued.

A second area of concern is the continued overemphasis on four-year degrees. As mentioned, too many of the weakly-prepared students have an unsuccessful experience in the community colleges that are overwhelmingly geared to the transfer function. And many of those who successfully transfer to four-year colleges flounder and limp to graduation with degrees that do not lead to employment in their fields of study.

For many of these at-risk students, I believe that employment prospects would be greatly improved if they had enrolled in one of the certificate programs CUNY offers. One of the reasons that these students are not encouraged to consider this alternative is that certificate programs are offered through “Continuing Education” and, therefore, participants do not qualify for student aid. Since advocates are unwilling to have these students take out even the small loans necessary to pay for certificate programs, they choose to allow them to fail in the community college system. If the City Council really wants to help poor at-risk students it would expand any tuition proposal to make CUNY certificate programs free. This would not only enable more at-risk students to make effective choices but would undoubtedly shift many similar students away from the for-profit schools which offer much more expensive certificate programs.

During the so-called free era, CUNY students came from a small population cohort that was born during the Great Depression and graduated in the baby-boom era when expanding government services and educational institutions created a large demand for such programs. Today we no longer have expanding government, expanding social services, or expanding teaching positions. Students need more technical and applied skills desired by private industry and public colleges must be transformed to meet these needs.

Robert Cherry is Stern Professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

The CUNY Tuition Myth Thu, 28 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Filings Show Candidates for Council Seats Being Vacated CityCouncil

At The City Council (photo: Sofie Hecht for Gotham Gazette)

With the latest New York City Campaign Finance Board filing deadline just passed, the 2017 city elections are beginning to take more clear shape. The races for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and City Council members may be currently overshadowed by the presidential election, but the new city campaign finance filings further reveal who is planning to run for which seats in 2017 and the extent to which candidates for local positions have been successful in their fundraising efforts.

While money isn’t everything - and the city’s public-matching program rewards small donations and helps allow more candidates to compete - the financial activity outlined in campaign filings is indicative of both the amount of support candidates have so far and their chances of success next year.

Many in and around city politics are watching to see who emerges to challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio in his re-election bid. But, that is not the real story right now. The City Council won’t see much turnover in 2017: just eight of the Council’s 51 members are term-limited from running again and must be replaced. But, these are the only seats in city government where an incumbent cannot seek reelection next year - all three citywide officials, all five borough presidents, and the other 43 Council members can all seek another term (this is in part due to the fact that some are allowed a third term after term-limits were temporarily lifted in 2008).

The latest CFB filings show intense competition brewing in several of these eight districts as voters will be asked to replace City Council Members Rosie Mendez, Dan Garodnick, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Inez Dickens, James Vacca, Annabel Palma, Darlene Mealy, and Vincent Gentile. All of these term-limited members are Democrats - 48 of the Council’s 51 members are currently Democrats - so the September 2017 primaries will very likely be the key vote to determine this next class of local legislator.

One other significant theme to watch is that five of the eight outgoing members are women (and women of color) - the Council currently includes just 14 women among its 51 members, something that Mark-Viverito, the Council Speaker, and others have repeatedly raised as a concern going into the next round of city elections.

And while additional candidates could easily declare in the coming months - the primary is not for another 14 months - CFB filings show the following candidates in each of the eight districts where the current City Council member is term-limited:

District 2: Manhattan, Lower East Side - currently represented by Rosie Mendez
Thus far, the only candidate filed to run to replace Mendez is Carlina Rivera. Born and raised in the LES, Rivera is currently a district leader of Assembly District 74 and Mendez’s legislative director.

According to the CFB, Rivera has raised $47,932 in campaign funds, $47,208 of which was raised in the last six-month filing period. Rivera reported spending $1,581 during that time. Rivera has won an endorsement from CoDA (Coalition for a District Alternative), an independent progressive political organization from the Lower East Side, who announced their support for her on Twitter in March.

Several current Council members, including Mendez, Elizabeth Crowley, and Helen Rosenthal, have contributed to Rivera’s campaign.

District 4: East Side of Manhattan - currently represented by Dan Garodnick
While Garodnick appears to be eyeing a statewide run for Attorney General or State Comptroller in 2018 or beyond, according to Politico in January, after he leaves the Council, several candidates are looking to replace the term-limited Council member.

Garodnick has a 2017 city account open (he could mount a run for city Comptroller or another office in 2017 or beyond) but it saw no activity this filing period - it holds an estimated balance of $191,624. Additionally, Garodnick has $888,124 in private funds left in the citywide account he opened in 2013 when he flirted with a run for Comptroller. Garodnick could move city funds into his statewide campaign account, which he has already registered with the State Board of Elections as “New Yorkers for Garodnick.” The account began filing almost a year ago and holds $515,544 as of July 20.

As for Garodnick’s successor in the City Council, according to the latest filings, four candidates are vying to replace him: Diane Grayson, Jeffrey Mailman, Keith Powers, and Martha Speranza.

Mailman, a legislative aide to Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, raised $20,378 in the past six months, and spent $2,198. Crowley has donated to Mailman, who is a member of Community Board 6.

Since announcing his campaign on June 2, Powers, Vice President at Constantinople & Vallone Consulting and a leader of Community Board 6 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, has raised $50,077 and spent $585. On July 18, Powers told Town & Village that his fundraising thus far has been “a grassroots effort that is supported by average New Yorkers and small contributions.”

Speranza, Democratic State Committeewoman for the 74th Assembly District and member of Community Board 5, currently boasts “the earliest and strongest fundraising start to any Council campaign in New York City history” according to a July 20 press release from her camp.

During the recent six-month filing period, she raised $169,706 and spent $5,727. Like Powers, Speranza seeks to highlight not just the quantity of her fundraising efforts, but their source: “52% of our contributions came from women, 73% gave less than $250, and 35% of our contributions came from people of color,” her campaign said in the release.

Meanwhile, Grayson is on the opposite end of the fundraising spectrum - she has set up a Facebook page announcing her City Council candidacy, but as of the latest filing deadline she has neither raised nor spent any money. When asked by Gotham Gazette, Grayson explained, “Campaign finance reform is something I care deeply about, and I want to be the candidate that represents many people in the district who would ideally like to reduce money in politics.” Grayson has pledged to run her campaign on a $50 budget, and if elected, donate back $50,000 of her salary “to projects that benefit the community.”

District 8: Manhattan's El Barrio/East Harlem and a slice of the Bronx - currently represented by Melissa Mark-Viverito, also the City Council Speaker
Like Garodnick, Mark-Viverito has money in the bank and no clear post-Council plans. In the past six months, Mark-Viverito raised $186,581 and has an overall estimated balance of $319,911 in her CFB account.

As Gotham Gazette reported earlier this month, Mark-Viverito has already endorsed Diana Ayala, currently her deputy chief of staff, to be her District 8 successor. Ayala’s first campaign fundraiser was held July 7, and according to the most recent filings, her campaign has raised $11,273 and spent $531 in the past six months. Based on their donations, Ayala is also backed by several female Council members, including Margaret Chin, Elizabeth Crowley, and Helen Rosenthal. Ayala also seems to be allied with District 2 candidate Carlina Rivera; they have donated to each other’s campaigns.

So far, Ayala’s only opponent appears to be Edward Gibbs, who trails her in fundraising, even though he started campaigning as early as November of last year. During the past six months, Gibbs, a former convict turned community activist who ran for State Assembly back in 2010, raised $3,545, bringing his estimated balance to $5,562.

District 9: Harlem and other parts of Upper Manhattan - currently represented by Inez Dickens
Dickens is said to be strongly leaning toward a run for State Assembly, namely the seat currently held by Keith Wright, who promised during his congressional campaign, which he lost, to not seek reelection. Many expect the two to attempt a seat-swap.

Short of that, right now the race to claim Dickens’ seat is not much of a race at all. Only one candidate, so far, has made known his intention to run by filing with the CFB: Donald Fields.

According to his Linkedin profile, Fields is currently a managing partner at Fields & Associates, and does not yet seem to be a competitive candidate. Fields’ CFB records reveal that he has only raised $165, while having spent $20. Fields has not raised any money since the CFB’s third deadline of this cycle, which was about 18 months ago. Fields was not made available to Gotham Gazette for comment and it is unclear if he is actually running.

District 13: Mid-Bronx - currently represented by James Vacca
After twelve years of service, Council Member James Vacca will be stepping down next year. Three candidates have thus far registered with the CFB: John Doyle, Alex Gomez, and John Marano.

According to his campaign website, John Doyle has been a life-long resident of the Bronx, and is currently working as the Associate Director of Public Affairs at Jacobi Medical Center. Issues that are important to Doyle include government accountability and public safety. Doyle has raised $10,816.34 in the last six months and has raised $33,835.93 in total. He currently has $25,544 on hand, minus expenditures, according to his last filing.

Alex Gomez, according to his campaign website, has spent 20 years of his life working in social service, with “New York City's youthful offenders, and under employed and unemployed youth, young adults and adults.” Gomez, according to his filings, has raised $1,080 in the last six months, and $3,299 in total. Interestingly, Gomez has received $1,117.45 in-kind contributions; these particular contributions do not come in checks or cash, but rather as gratuitous services. The bulk of the in-kind contributions is from Gomez's sister, who created a campaign video that has yet to be released. According to Gomez’s last filing, he currently has an estimated balance of about $3,148. Gomez boasts that he is "the only candidate [in CD13 the race] to not take monies from unions, corporations, real estate developers, businesses or PACs."

According to John Marano’s campaign website, he has worked as a NYPD officer, a NYC Fireman, and served Community Board 10 as its Chairman. Marano volunteers in a number of local organizations. In terms of campaign fundraising, Marano has raised $24,855, all of which was raised in the last six months. He currently has $22,474 on hand.

District 18: Parts of the Bronx including Hunts Point, Parkchester, and Soundview - currently represented by Annabel Palma
Only one candidate has registered a campaign to replace Palma: Dwayne Gathers.

According to Gathers’ CFB filing, he has yet to raise any funds for his campaign. But, Gathers only registered his campaign with the NYC Campaign Finance Board on July 11, 2016. In a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, Gathers confirmed his intentions to run for the District 18 Council seat.

District 41: Central Brooklyn including parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights - currently represented by Darlene Mealy
Two candidates have filed to campaign for the vacancy being created by Mealy’s departure: Deidre Olivera and Boris Santos.

According to the latest CFB filings, Olivera, a community activist from Brownsville, has raised $1,838 in contributions and has an account balance of $945. Santos, a Brooklyn native and public school teacher has raised $1,940 and has a current balance of $982 after expenditures.

District 43: Southern Brooklyn including Bay Ridge - currently represented by Vincent Gentile
According to CFB listings, there are no candidates who have filed to replace Gentile. That does not mean that the seat will go vacant come 2018, of course.

Last year, Gotham Gazette reported that Justin Brannan, a former aide to Gentile who now works at the Department of Education, is a very likely candidate, and he remains a near certainty to run, though he declined to comment for this story. Gotham Gazette also reported that Linda Sarsour, a political activist and nonprofit leader, could run for the seat. As was the case at the time of the Gotham Gazette story, Sarsour remains focused on her advocacy work, which often deals with national issues. Without indicating her own candidacy, Sarsour - who is Arab American and runs the Arab American Association of New York - did recently tell Brooklyn Paper that, “Our community is having our own personal conversation about it...Someone who is Arab-American is definitely running in 2017. That is a fact.”

By Amanda Sherwin & Rebecca Oh

Note: this article has been updated to more accurately capture the nature of the in-kind donations to Alex Gomez's campaign.

Campaign Finance Filings Show Candidates for Council Seats Being Vacated Tue, 26 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Could CUNY Be Tuition-Free Again? hunter college graduation

(photo via Hunter College)

Members of the New York City Council want the City University of New York (CUNY) to return to providing a virtually tuition-free college education to local students, but major issues stand in the way.

For years, students, teachers, elected officials and education activists have led an on-and-off crusade to reduce tuition at CUNY and reinvest in higher education. CUNY was free for qualifying city students from its inception in 1847 until 1976, when a city fiscal crisis led to change. Recently, these efforts were reignited through a City Council bill that would establish a task force to propose ways to eliminate tuition at CUNY.

Brooklyn Council Member Inez Barron, chair of the Council’s higher education committee, introduced the bill in April. The committee held a preliminary hearing on the bill on June 16, during which Barron said, “College should be a right that is part and parcel of a commitment we make to provide free public education in grades K to 12.”

It is a “commitment” that was, in fact, extended to college for the majority of CUNY’s history - more than 150 years where the city university system has been an engine of opportunity for city residents, especially those from modest socioeconomic backgrounds.

Since 1976 and the institution of tuition at all CUNY colleges, CUNY has depended on a constantly shifting balance of state, city, and tuition funds to operate. Over the years, however, the state’s contribution has steadily decreased, tipping more of the financial burden to its 270,000 degree-seeking students in the form of rising tuition costs.

According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, state aid accounted for 68% of total CUNY funding in 1989, but only 48% by 2006. Conversely, tuition funding rose by 20% during the same time period. Today, tuition revenue accounts for 45% of CUNY’s funding - a far cry from the university’s original namesake, the “Free Academy.” As of Fall 2016, full-time annual tuition rates are set at $6,330 for CUNY’s 11 senior colleges and $4,800 at it’s seven community colleges.

Elected officials have made intermittent attempts to reverse the trend of state disinvestment, including a City Council resolution calling for increased state funding and a state Maintenance of Effort (MOE) bill to baseline CUNY financial support. These calls have gone largely unanswered, as CUNY’s resources have become more and more strained. Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to shift more CUNY costs to the city in his last budget proposal, but was unsuccessful in the final agreement with legislative leaders. The governor is insisting on reductions in administrative costs, which he says are out of control.

Now, Council Member Barron has introduced the ambitious notion of eliminating tuition entirely. Her task force bill has a total of ten sponsors in the 51-member Council. If passed and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a 13-member group would take on the challenge.

Financially, free tuition at CUNY may not be entirely out of reach.

According to University Executive Budget Director Catherine Abata, who also testified at the initial Council hearing on the bill, tuition revenue made up $1.5 billion of CUNY’s $3.2 billion 2015-2016 budget. Abata said that excluding state and federal financial aid (which includes loans), students end up paying $784 million of that amount in out-of-pocket tuition expenses. This includes both undergraduate and graduate students. Eliminating tuition at CUNY would essentially necessitate at least $784 million in additional annual CUNY funding from other sources.

At the hearing, City Council Member Jumaane Williams expressed frustration with the reluctance of city and state budget-makers to provide this amount, saying, “look at our budget, and it shows you what’s important. Basically for the city and the state and the federal government, $800 million is not important enough for everybody to have free access to education.”

One reason for the government’s reluctance could be that despite CUNY’s lack of funding, affordability is still a major point of pride for the university. In fact, 66% of full-time CUNY undergraduate students already attend tuition-free, thanks to a combination of financial aid and scholarships, according to CUNY’s website. Some policy experts warn that a free-tuition policy would only benefit the remaining percentage of students that don’t receive any aid; presumably, students who are able to afford their tuition out-of-pocket, though there are several other factors that could disqualify students from financial aid.

Since President Obama first announced “America’s College Promise” early last year, the free higher-education movement has gained momentum on a national scale. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made free public college one of his campaign pledges when he was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, outlining on his website how the initiative could be funded by imposing a tax on Wall Street speculation.

Sanders even compared his plan to CUNY’s historic period of free tuition. It is unlikely, however, that a tax like Sanders eyed will be used to fund CUNY tuition in New York City, given de Blasio’s failure at securing Albany passage of a tax on upper income earners to fund his universal pre-kindergarten program. Eliminating tuition would likely require a budget commitment from the city and the state. To fund pre-K in New York City and around the state, Gov. Cuomo and legislators allocated the money without raising taxes. To fund the MTA capital plan, both the city and the state recently agreed to kick in billions of dollars more than previously planned.

According to Kevin Stump, Northeast Director of Young Invincibles, a national nonprofit focused on empowering young people, “This last [legislative] session made very clear that Governor Cuomo isn't really interested in maintaining his support and investing in CUNY. He doesn’t really see it as an anti-poverty tool and an economic opportunity tool, like some of us do."

In early January, Cuomo outlined his Executive Budget plan, which showed that the city was to now cover 30% of CUNY’s senior college operating costs, totalling $485 million, with the rationale that city representatives currently make up 30% of the CUNY Board of Trustees (he also said that the city is doing much better financially than it was decades ago). After significant public pushback, Cuomo stated in March that he would work with the city to find “efficiencies” in the budget that would account for the $485 million and “not cost CUNY a penny.”

The state has provided the majority of CUNY’s senior college funding since 1976. On March 16, Director of State Operations Jim Malatras essentially withdrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, saying in a statement that “the $1.6 billion in aid [CUNY] receives has not changed, and will not change under this budget.” Nevertheless, Cuomo’s shake-up, which many viewed as an effort to hurt de Blasio, left doubts about the state’s future commitment to CUNY.

While several hundred million dollars per year is not that significant a portion of the state ($147 billion) or city ($82 billion) budget, the task force established by Barron’s bill, should it pass, would face a number of obstacles in restoring free tuition. Any path returning to a tuition-free CUNY would likely be a long one.

Since its establishment as the “Free Academy” in 1847, CUNY has strived to achieve its mission of providing all New Yorkers with accessible and affordable higher education. For almost 130 years, CUNY provided full-time students with qualifying academic merit the opportunity to study tuition-free at any of its institutions. At first, CUNY mainly consisted of four-year colleges like Hunter, Baruch, and City College. In 1957, CUNY established its first community college in the Bronx, and continued expanding from there.

Historically, economically disadvantaged New Yorkers, especially those from communities of color, have viewed a degree from CUNY as a tool toward advancement. A college education means career options, higher lifetime wages, and opportunity for socioeconomic mobility. CUNY is home to thousands of first-generation college students; 42% of the student population according to a 2014 CUNY survey.

After multiple student uprisings calling for increased diversity in the CUNY system in 1969, CUNY officially instated an Open Admissions policy, meaning that any student who graduated from a New York City public high school could matriculate for free. This led to a dramatic rise in attendance, coupled with a shift in student demographics that made it more closely reflect New York City’s diverse population. This period was short-lived, however, as seven years later, in 1976, the city experienced a major fiscal crisis. After being bailed out by the state, CUNY instituted tuition for all students for the first time, and enrollment slowed.

Tuition Today
According to the Independent Budget Office, “While tuition charges at private institutions generally rise each year, tuition levels at CUNY have followed a less regular pattern, with a sharp increase often followed by several years with no change.” In 2011, the New York State Legislature attempted to remedy this situation by passing a bill known as SUNY 2020, which authorized both SUNY (the larger statewide public college system) and CUNY schools to increase tuition by $300 annually for the next five years, while the state guaranteed not to reduce funding for baseline operating costs from the prior fiscal year.

The bill was not renewed during this past state legislative session, expiring July 1 and resulting in a welcome one-year tuition freeze at CUNY, but leaving ambiguity in the state’s future level of financial commitment. Currently, annual tuition for those enrolled for Fall of 2016 will remain at $4,800 for CUNY community colleges and $6,330 at senior colleges, according to the university’s website. These costs can be mitigated by financial aid.

On top of tuition, there are a variety of additional expenses incurred by students when pursuing a college degree, of course.

Students who attend college full-time, or even part-time, must account for food, books, transportation, and housing. According to the CUNY website, these additional expenses amount to $9,592 for CUNY in-state students living at home, and $20,295 for in-state students not living at home. Federal Pell grants and the State’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) provide aid to needy students, but they often fall short of covering every necessary expense. Currently, the maximum annual TAP award is $5,165, and maximum Pell Grant is $5,915. While Pell Grants can be used to cover additional expenses, TAP exclusively covers tuition, and is heavily guarded by a host of recipient qualifications.

According to Amanda Roman, a political science major at College of Staten Island, a CUNY school, and member of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), “Programs like TAP don’t cover full college costs for many, and have not kept up with the needs of all student types, beyond just the straight-from-high-school-to-college full-time student.”

Stump explained further, “While TAP does need serious dollar investment, it also needs some serious structural changes to it as well.” For many categories of students, TAP aid is virtually out of reach. This includes undocumented students, which legislation known as the DREAM Act is aimed at reversing - it would allow financial aid to all students. Gov. Cuomo has expressed support for the DREAM Act and the Democrat-controlled Assembly has passed it multiple times, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not consented.

TAP is also withheld from most part-time students, who made up over 100,000 of CUNY enrollment as of Fall 2015. Part-time students must first attend school full-time for one year before being TAP eligible; an often implausible requirement, considering many part-time students are older and returning to school while working.

Significantly, TAP has not kept up with the annual increases in tuition laid out by SUNY 2020, creating what stakeholders refer to as the “TAP gap”: the difference between the tuition rate and the maximum amount of TAP aid provided to the neediest students. CUNY has been required to cover this gap, draining its resources even further.

According to Stump, “Last year alone, CUNY lost nearly $50 million because they had to fill the TAP gap,” using money that was supposed to be allocated for new programs and academic initiatives at the university.

Along with state and federal grants, students rely on loans and income to cover education expenses. In the Fall of 2014, CUNY reported that 30% of students in both senior and community colleges work more than 20 hours a week to afford school.

James Hoff, professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, testified at the June 16 hearing that many of his students “struggle to find time to study for my classes because they are forced to work 30 to 40 hours a week at minimum wage jobs just to pay for tuition and books. I have watched students take on huge course loads that they were unable to handle because they could not afford to pay for additional semesters.”

As the national student debt bill approaches the trillions, CUNY boasts that 80% of its students graduate debt-free. Council Member Barron, however, argues that the assertion of graduating debt-free “raises the question of what percentage of students never graduate, but nonetheless leave CUNY burdened by student loans.” According to an IBO report, “slightly less than a third of students don’t enroll in the fall after their first year.” Many students either drop out, or at the least, take much longer than expected to complete their degree.

In the Fall of 2015, CUNY reported that students were taking out $202 million in federal student loans. A proposal to eliminate tuition would need to carefully consider how this amount should be factored in.

The CUNY tuition task force bill
At the City Council’s full-body Stated Meeting in April, Barron first introduced her bill, Intro 1138, which is summarized on the Council website as such: “This bill would establish a task force to analyze ways to eliminate tuition at the City University of New York and to develop proposals on the role the City can play in working toward that goal. The task force would consist of 13 members, including representatives of the Public Advocate, the Office of Management and Budget and the Speaker, as well as CUNY students, faculty and advocates.”

The Committee on Higher Education’s first hearing on the bill, on June 16, included a full public seating area and testimony by four different panels of individuals representing a variety of groups and perspectives. According to the bill, the task force’s main objective would be to produce a detailed report presenting “an analysis of existing and potential sources of revenue that could replace tuition at the City University of New York, obstacles preventing the elimination of tuition, recommendations for how such obstacles should be addressed and steps the city should take to address them.”

The report would be due six months after the creation of the task force, yet speakers and Council members at the hearing wasted no time delving into the many implications that eliminating tuition would have for the future of CUNY. At the hearing, the most hesitant stakeholder appeared to be the university itself. James Murphy, Senior Enrollment Dean at CUNY, presented a host of potential issues that could result from the sudden elimination of what is currently the university’s largest source of funding.

What ‘Free Tuition’ Actually Means
As Murphy said at the hearing, “affordable to different people means different things.” Before the city or state can even consider investing in free tuition, the task force would need to nail down exactly which students qualify, what expenses would be covered, and how long tuition assistance would be provided, just to name a few concerns.

Many wonder which CUNY colleges, community or senior, should benefit from the initiative. There are advantages and drawbacks to both.

According to a report prepared by the city’s Independent Budget Office, the cost of eliminating tuition at CUNY’s seven community colleges would be $138-232 million per year, depending on factors like limiting the number of years covered or exclusively covering full-time students. Importantly, the IBO estimates assume that a tuition-free program would be structured around existing federal and state aid, which comprises the majority of tuition revenue for CUNY’s community colleges and is currently awarded to about 60% of students.

Another concern is the low readiness and completion rate of students at CUNY’s community colleges.

According to the IBO report, “Two years after initial enrollment, just 4 percent of students have earned their associate's degrees.” With such a trend, moving to free tuition may come with a semester limit for students and new efforts at increasing graduation rates.

Lisa Richmond, Executive Director of Graduate NYC, a citywide college readiness and completion initiative, says that college readiness is already “a huge goal of the public school system in New York.” According to Graduate NYC’s 2016 report, 47% of public high school graduates are college-ready, with the goal of increasing this number to 67% by 2020.

Richmond explains that “The college completion equation is certainly about preparedness, affordability, but it’s also about persistence and completion in other ways. In being able to get the classes that you need, and get the advisement to understand what courses you need.” It is these resources that may continue to hinder students on the path towards graduation, despite the possibility of free tuition.

At the Council hearing, Murphy, the CUNY enrollment dean, lamented the lack of resources, like academic counselors, for even the current student population.

CUNY’s Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs (ASAP) is an oft-cited model of success in speeding up graduation rates, and is the closest initiative to a free-tuition policy that the university currently employs. According to a CUNY internal analysis of the program, the average three-year graduation rate for community college students enrolled in ASAP is 53%, compared to 25% of CUNY students not in ASAP and a 16% national average.

What sets ASAP apart, they found, is the level of resources provided to students beyond free tuition. These resources include subsidized Metrocards, textbooks, and intensive mentoring and career services.

According to the IBO report, “an increase in graduation rates resulting from a more modest program that only offered free tuition could also produce fiscal benefits,” however, the report “emphasizes the importance of the full range of services offered” by ASAP that exceed a tuition-free policy.

While solely funding CUNY’s community colleges has a more feasible price tag and would benefit the neediest students, concerns mounted at the Council hearing over what Harold Stolper, Senior Economist at the Community Service Society of New York, called “under-matching.” According to Stolper, “even for low-income students who are sufficiently prepared to succeed at four-year colleges, the perception that this path is unaffordable reduces the incentives to apply to more selective colleges.”

If tuition were eliminated only at community colleges, the city may experience highly unbalanced enrollment rates between CUNY’s two- and four-year colleges. Stolper claimed that this trend already exists on a smaller scale: between 2008 and 2014, he said, “enrollment growth among the lowest income aid applicants was relatively slow at four-year colleges where price rose the fastest, while enrollment grew much faster for these students at two-year colleges where price growth was minimal.”

Including CUNY’s 11 senior colleges in the deal, which, according to Abata’s estimates, would increase the bill to around $784 million per year, poses its own challenges concerning enrollment rates.

City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, of the Bronx, said at the hearing, “Many of our colleges are literally bursting at the seams because of enrollment.” Even with its cost, CUNY remains the most affordable choice for higher education within the city; many students receive partial tuition assistance, and 66% of full-time undergraduate students attend CUNY tuition free. Should CUNY eliminate tuition for all students, however, people from all across the country may also flock to CUNY schools to take advantage of the chance to live and study for free in New York City.

Murphy explained, “A lot of these individuals come from communities in more affluent parts of the country, where they have one counselor for every 50 students [the rate is much more lopsided in New York City], and they just get their admissions applications out sooner.” Many are concerned that these students would effectively shut out local New York high school graduates, for whom the policy is primarily meant to benefit in the first place.

Ideally, a program that eliminates tuition would benefit as many students, in and out-of-state, as possible, without overextending resources from CUNY and the different levels of government contributing funding. This balance may very well be impossible to achieve.

More presently, CUNY has been facing existential crises.

From professors who have gone years without a raise to reports of leaky hallways and rodent-infested classrooms, CUNY has more than its fair share of challenges, in part due to government disinvestment. As the New York Times reported in a May, state government funding for CUNY has dropped by 17% over the last eight years, resulting in budget cuts to many CUNY programs that affect students, professors, and staff. According to the Times, the number of adjunct faculty members, who are paid less and receive almost no contractual benefits, has risen by 23% since 2009.

Stephen Brier, a Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center and co-author of Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education, cautioned that “those endemic problems cannot and will not be solved by instituting a free tuition policy alone, however desirable that policy would be.”

According to Murphy, “Over the past eight years, CUNY enrollment has increased by 30,000 students, and we do not currently have the faculty or space to significantly increase enrollment any further.” A free-tuition policy may very well necessitate additional infrastructure, staff, and student resources.

Michael Fabricant, First Vice President of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents over 25,000 CUNY employees, recommended that the task force add the goal of examining “existing and potential sources of revenue that could provide resources beyond replacing tuition, given the university’s serious and long-term underfunding.”

Is Free Tuition the Right Battle?
Some argue that free-tuition initiatives won’t benefit students in need, and ultimately gloss over foundational changes that need to be addressed first in the higher education system. Preston Cooper, policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, said, “I really don't think asking whether we should change who pays for college is the right question to be asking. It’s how much we should be paying for college in the first place.”

According to Cooper, federal aid and tuition are caught in “a vicious cycle” in which increases in maximum federal aid encourage administrators to raise tuition, inflating the cost of attendance. Cooper worries this cycle could be further inflamed by the establishment of free tuition, with CUNY “tuition” increased to try and capture additional aid from the state and city. The dynamic could prove costly and even prohibitive were a free-tuition program to be introduced that excluded out-of-state students.

Another issue inherent in free tuition is what Max Eden, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, calls the “substitution effect,” where middle-class students, who may be able to afford college elsewhere, decide to go to CUNY to take advantage of free tuition, edging out lower-income students who view CUNY as their only option. This could decrease socioeconomic and other measures of diversity at CUNY - as of Fall 2014, 39% of undergraduate students had a household income of less than $20,000. Experts stress that it is this specific group, and not the entire population, that a targeted financial investment must be made towards.

According to Eden, “The government is involved in higher education to help solve a problem: that it might not be provided for kids with limited economic backgrounds. If, and when, it goes above and beyond that, to trying to subsidize everybody, that will not only have financial costs. It will have a cost to the reason the government got into it in the first place.”

Next Steps
Moving ahead, it is to-be-seen whether the bill to create the tuition-free CUNY task force gains momentum, is passed by the Council and signed by the mayor. If it is enacted and the task force is formed and makes its recommendations, it would essentially then cease to exist, once again leaving the free-tuition discussion with state lawmakers and CUNY administrators.

For now, CUNY has pressing needs. Fabricant, of the CUNY employee union, says, “We need to remember that public higher education is a public good that the State of New York needs to recommit substantial economic resources to.”

by Amanda Sherwin, Gotham Gazette

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Could CUNY Be Tuition-Free Again? Tue, 19 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Officials Discuss Gender Equity, Sexism at ‘Diversity’ Conference on diversity panel

The "On Diversity" panel; photo via William Alatriste for the City Council

What are "women’s issues"? When should men recognize their privilege and stand down? Speak up? How do women in public life talk about everyday sexism and engage men in that dialogue?

These were just a few of the questions asked on Tuesday during one panel discussion at City & State NY’s annual “On Diversity” conference. Elected officials, business professionals, journalists, members of academia, and others gathered to discuss issues of race and gender in public life, especially related government and doing business with it.

City & State columnist Alexis Grenell moderated the panel discussion on gender equity, norms, and policies with New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member Dan Garodnick, State Assembly Member Nily Rozic, and Michael Kimmel, professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook College. The discussion revolved around gender equality both in the workplace and the home, as well as how gender issues are defined within government, the press, and the broader public.

Grenell started the conversation by quoting Professor Kimmel himself: “White men are the single greatest beneficiary of the [greatest] affirmative action of the history of the world. And that’s called the history of the world.”

Kimmel jumped in to discuss the traditional belief that men don’t have a say or a place in conversations on gender. “We think that gender - the word gender itself - is a woman’s issue," he said. "When you hear the word gender, the word, what comes into your mind usually is women. Most men don’t think that gender really matters to us.”

While the discussion addressed what is often a divide between men and women on certain political issues and how they are framed in public discourse, the dynamics of the discussion itself also reflected these issues. In a conversation fraught with potential landmines, the three elected officials on the panel spoke from differing personal experience, but all with a largely common perspective. Throughout, Garodnick and Kimmel - the two men on the stage - stressed the importance of redefining women’s issues as gender or family issues and the importance of recognizing men as stakeholders within the framework of these issues. The women - Grenell, Rozic, and Mark-Viverito - agreed.

Meanwhile, Mark-Viverito and Rozic also focused on the importance of having women in elected office and that of including women’s perspectives when discussing issues that directly affect women. Mark-Viverito is the first Latina to be Speaker of the City Council; Rozic was the youngest woman in the Assembly when she was elected.

“How do we include, get more women into politics - because our perspective is essential - but do we give men the toolkit to understand when to back off a little bit of that privilege, right? So when do men have to stand down when a woman is speaking, perhaps? And also maybe when do we not include men enough when they should be stakeholders? So how do we walk that fine line?” she asked the panel at one point.

Kimmel discussed the role men have as stakeholders when it comes to what are traditionally referred to as women’s issues, such as paid parental leave, reproductive rights, and sexual assault on college campuses. He emphasized the need to redefine the issues to include men by saying that “we cannot fully empower women and girls unless we engage boys and men.”

Garodnick discussed his experiences with gendered expectations and stereotypes. He recalled the period in which he took paid parental leave, and despite being fully engaged in the parenting process during that time, he said he also felt pressure to project a certain image to his colleagues and peers while doing so, namely that he was still busy with work while on leave.

Agreeing with Kimmel, Garodnick emphasized the need to change the perception that certain issues are strictly women’s issues when, in fact, “they’re family issues, they’re societal issues, they’re economic development issues. These are big picture issues.”

Kimmel also called for the politicization of the familiar relationships men already have with women. “We don’t enter [the conversation on gender issues] as men,” he said. “We enter as sons and as fathers and as husbands and as partners...every man in this room knows what it feels like already to love a woman and want her to thrive. We need to just make that political, public.”

While Mark-Viverito and Rozic both acknowledged the importance of men recognizing their place as stakeholders on certain issues, they both maintained that having women in positions of power and continuing to challenge sexism present within government and the workplace in general are the most effective ways to achieve gender equity.

Rozic discussed the sexist assumptions that continue to pervade the culture in Albany, where the state Legislature she is a part of conducts its business. She recalled incidents of sexism, including an occasion when she was denied access to the Assembly floor during a roll call vote by a Sergeant in Arms who assumed, because of her gender in combination with her age, that she was not an Assembly member despite her having been in Albany for several months. Rozic also discussed multiple occasions of having been mistaken as male colleagues’ staff member, girlfriend, or wife when standing next to them during a conversation while in the workplace.

“Believe it or not, Albany is a little backwards,” Rozic said wryly early in the discussion.

“It is a very fine line maneuvering gender, in particular as a young woman, because I face...a dose of sexism but also ageism, which is a lethal combination at times,” Rozic said. “When I got elected, I was the youngest woman ever elected to the state Legislature, I get that. With that comes a lot of responsibility, but it also comes with a challenge of understanding what leadership looks like, and sort of, countering what leadership is supposed to look like.”

While Garodnick spoke from recent personal experience in taking parental leave, Mark-Viverito also discussed her personal life and choices.

“I am a 47-year-old woman who does not believe in traditional marriage...And I don’t have children," she said, framing her other comments. "I made a choice in my life that I wasn’t going to have children, and the expectations or the approach that I get as a woman, right, is that somehow I’m supposed to be in that box: 'You have children, right?' And when I say "no, I made a choice that I’m not"...So I never approach a woman from the assumption that she has children because I know my own experience...And you ask, 'do you have children?' You don’t assume that they have children."

Mark-Viverito said it is essential to break down normative expectations of women. It is "not only my responsibility," she said, "it’s also men, our allies.”

The Speaker expanded the conversation to sexism faced by women in positions of power by discussing the sexism she has experienced during her career, especially in that role leading the City Council, perhaps the second most powerful position in city government. She said that the media’s perception of her decision-making and independence is indicative.

“I feel that still when you talk about issues and decisions, I still get a little bit appalled at times at the perspective of the press, that there’s this assumption that when a tough decision has to be made, somehow I made a decision, I’m in the pocket of the mayor, right?” Mark-Viverito said, referring to how the media has portrayed her working relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio was influential in Mark-Viverito’s ascension to the position of speaker and there has been an ongoing narrative in news articles and political discourse that Mark-Viverito is not independent from the mayor. The speaker and her allies push back that her collaborative leadership style can be misinterpreted as weakness or a lack of independence.

“I couldn’t possibly have arrived at that decision on my own, right?” Mark-Viverito said Tuesday. “A controversial, difficult decision - somehow I had to be forced into that because I could not have made that decision on my own. That’s sexist...And when I say it’s sexist, what do I get back? ‘Oh you’re always throwing the sex card around’ or ‘the sexism card around.’ Right? ‘The women’s card,’ ‘the race card,’ whatever it is, and it’s usually men saying that.”

by Libby Wetzler, Gotham Gazette

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Officials Discuss Gender Equity, Sexism at ‘Diversity’ Conference Wed, 20 Jul 2016 04:00:00 +0000