Students ask politicians to support SUNY funding initiatives

On March 23, the Student Association sent a bus of eight students to Albany to meet with members of the state legislature and advocate support for allocating state funding to the SUNY systems.

SA Vice President junior Nicholas Kaasik scheduled meetings for each participating student with the representatives of his or her respective home district. "We also wandered into any of the open office doors," he said.

Kaasik said that he and the other students hoped to show their representatives that "the cuts to the SUNY system are unsustainable … the SUNY system will fail if it is continued to be forced to operate with no additional sources of revenue."

"We wanted to show our representatives what we have seen Geneseo lose during our time here," said senior SA Director of Academic Affairs Brian Hartle. Hartle said that the state legislature tends to consider the programs and opportunities targeted by cuts as "the fat that can be trimmed away … but that fat is the flavor of our education."

Several of the students asked their representatives to support the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, proposed by Gov. David Paterson, which proposes expanding the fiscal autonomy of SUNY schools and transferring substantial budgeting authority from the state legislature to the colleges themselves.

Kaasik conceded that the act "is contentious" - some who oppose the bill have argued that differential tuition rates could lead to pricing lower income students out of the system. Kaasik said that the act includes effective safeguards against this outcome such as capping tuition increases and mandating justification of any raise in tuition.

"Overall, [the act] is the lesser of two evils," Hartle said. "Either we see the elimination of programs and a widening of the student-faculty ratio, or we get this legislation passed that will allow [SUNY schools] to maintain the quality of the institution.

United University Professions, the union that represents SUNY faculty, has officially rejected Paterson's bill. Kaasik said that he and other students hoped to show representatives that UUP "does not speak for all of us."

The students also met with Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, and asked her to support both PHEEI and the redirection of Bundy Aid funding to the SUNY system. The Bundy Aid program, established in 1968, provides roughly $45 million in unrestricted financial support to private postsecondary institutions in New York State. Kaasik described it as "an indication of the bizarre dysfunction in the New York State government."

According to Kaasik, Glick refused to support either proposal.

"It is necessary to keep trying because, as President [Christopher] Dahl has said, the question is increasingly becoming not what SUNY will look like, but whether there will be a SUNY," he said.

This is not the first advocacy trip in which Geneseo has participated. Though attendance has been meager, Kaasik said that it is hard to recruit students to travel to Albany on Monday through Friday, when the legislature is in session. He said he hopes that students "know what's at stake" and will be "emboldened to take action … angered enough to advocate."