SUNY New Paltz students and faculty members rallied in front of the college’s Humanities Building Wednesday, March 24 in opposition to the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA) and the recently proposed $152 million in cuts to education funding.
The crowd of students and SUNY professors chanted slogans like “One, two, three, four, we can’t stand these cuts no more.” Musicians playing pro-union songs performed before the keynote speakers.
PHEEIA would give the SUNY board of trustees the ability to raise school tuition without state legislative process, according to an announcement by Gov. David Paterson. The governor explained the bill would give SUNY “the flexibility and freedom to drive development both on campus and off.”
Ariana Basco, New Paltz NYPIRG project coordinator, disagreed and said, “If the bill goes through, it would essentially privatize SUNY. We have to make it stop.”
Other speakers at the rally included Eve Stern, a New Paltz student senator who expressed her fear that the bill would lack any system of checks and balances and would give SUNY students no power to oppose tuition hikes.
In sharp contrast the SUNY Student Assembly announced its full support of PHEEIA, calling it an answer to students’ cries for rational tuition policy.
Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill (D- Ulster, Dutchess), an alumnus of SUNY New Paltz, expressed his support for the rally and shares the same view as those opposed to the proposal. Cahill mentioned that previous bills similar to PHEEIA, which he described as SUNY flex plans, have been rejected in the past.
“This plan would effectively end the SUNY system as we know it,” said Cahill. “I don’t think that’s something to
do to the greatest state university system in the world.”
Sen. John J. Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope) called the rally a good thing but had mixed feelings about PHEEIA. Bonacic said an important part of the bill was that it would prevent the Legislature from moving money and tuition increases from SUNY into the state’s general fund.
Conversely, Bonacic sided with students and faculty of New Paltz who oppose PHEEIA.
“I think fear of the board of trustees having sole control is a legitimate concern,” Bonacic said. “I think there should be safeguards to make sure students who cannot afford tuition receive proper access to higher education.”
Overall, both Bonacic and Cahill said PHEEIA would not pass in either the state Senate or the Assembly.
Peter D.G. Brown, vice president of academics for UUP, distinguished professor at SUNY New Paltz and an organizer of the rally, felt unsure of the situation.
“I’m not optimistic that we can stop further budget cuts, but I would say I’m cautiously optimistic that we can stop this empowerment act,” Brown said.
Save our SUNY Rally Video
Videographer: Dan Butler
Edited by: Lindsay Cooper and Michael Grob