“Fund SUNY now.”
This was the cry of the Plattsburgh chapter of United University Professions, who rallied Wednesday afternoon in Amite Plaza at Plattsburgh State to spread a message of neglect and underfunding.
UUP Plattsburgh Chapter President Kim Hartshorn is a theater professor at PSU. As an active member of the union for more than 10 years, he believes funding has been cut for decades.
“We are at the end,” Hartshorn said. “We can take no more. There’s nothing left to go.”
The purpose of UUP’s rally was “to urge state legislature to make a real financial commitment to SUNY to begin reversing the damage done by Great Recession-era cuts and years of flat funding for the state university.”
According to Hartshorn, many SUNY campuses, including PSU, are struggling to close budget deficits caused by a lack of state funding. PSU is currently at a $3 million structural deficit. While there have been reserves to keep the budget afloat, Hartshorn said that deficit could eventually become cumulative.
“It’s like you’re writing checks for your expenses, and you’re $30, $40 [or] $100 short every month, but you have some money in the bank,” Hartshorn said. “So you’re not actually broke yet, but eventually, the bank is gone and then your debt starts to accumulate. That’s where we are right now.”
In addition to increasing state funding to SUNY, UUP wants the state to close the “TAP Gap.”
The gap represents the difference between full SUNY tuition and what New York awards TAP-eligible students. UUP wants New York State to allot $72 million to close the gap across all SUNY campuses.
Hartshorn said PSU’s TAP gap currently pays $2.1 million per year in student tuition, money that makes up two-thirds of the college’s structural deficit.
“[The deficit] is equivalent to 60 associate professors,” Hartshorn said. “We’re missing out on more than $2 million in potential revenue if the state would just cover TAP at the state tuition level.”
As snow began to fall, about 30 people gathered in front of the Angell College Center for the rally. While some were union leaders and community members, others were PSU professors and students.
PSU professor Wendy Gordon touched on another gap in the system that exists within NYS’s Excelsior Scholarship, speaking from personal experience as a mother who “doesn’t make enough [money] to not qualify” for additional funding for her son to attend a state university.
“Every semester, when my son receives an Excelsior Scholarship, SUNY New Paltz is being shorted by $600 of tuition, because the school is not allowed to charge him more, and the state won’t pay them more.” Gordon said. “Multiply that by the thousands of students that receive Excelsior. It’s an even larger problem.”
Gary Kroll, history professor and faculty senate chair, said the history of SUNY outlines a clear path to success.
“When the state takes [an] invested interest in educating its citizens, everyone wins, economically and socially,” Kroll said.
Even PSU sophomore MacOlivier Lalanne joined in on the rally’s cause. As a political activist since high school and a TAP student, Lalanne traveled to Albany to testify at the Joint Legislative Public Hearing on the 2019-2020 Executive Budget Proposal in their joint testimony on higher education. Because Lalanne was at risk of losing his financial aid over Excelsior and TAP issues, he hopes UUP’s cause will resonate with the thousands of students like himself.
“Despite where they’re from or where they are, [students] should urge their lawmakers to fund our education systems,” Lalanne said.
Email Emma Vallelunga at cp@cardinalpointsonline,com