BUFFALO, N.Y. – A Town Hall meeting warning about the dangers of New York Governor George Pataki’s proposed budget to students and workers in the state’s higher education system, State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY), was held at Buffalo State College on April 4. It capped off a day of activities that were part of the National Student-Labor Day of Action. The Student-Labor Day of Action commemorates the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was supporting striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. at the time.

The Day of Action was organized on over 100 campuses to show students’ concern for social and economic justice. “Today, across the country and here in Buffalo, students and labor are standing together as one. Together, along with allies in our community, we are keeping alive Dr. King’s dream of a just society through the actions today,” said Robert Mootry, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

The meeting focused on Pataki’s proposed cuts to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), cuts to the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and on the increasing use of part-time faculty.

Mary Carney, project coordinator of the New York Public Interest Research Group at Buffalo State, said Pataki’s proposal to hold back one-third of a student’s TAP award until the student graduates is a “gimmick to help balance the budget at the expense of lower income students.” She also criticized the “bare bones” budget for EOP and other opportunity programs that provide academic and economic support to academically and economically disadvantaged students.

Michelle Hope, a student, said her EOP funds have been cut in half, requiring her to work more hours, making it hard to spend time on her studies.

Dr. Fred Floss, of United University Professions, pointed out that 80 percent of Buffalo State students already work 32 hours a week. In addition to cuts to TAP and EOP, he also criticized the inadequate funding of SUNY and CUNY. This has resulted in, among other things, over the last 6-7 years, 1,000 full-time faculty being replaced with part-time faculty. On the Cortland campus, over 50 percent of the faculty are part time, and in some of the colleges in the CUNY system 78 percent are part-time faculty.

Floss said he has friends who teach one course at four different colleges a semester and only make $12,000 a year without benefits. This is also a bad deal for students, who lose regular contact with their professors.

Ron Brown, legal counsel to Assemblymember Arthur Eve, likened Pataki’s proposed budget cuts to 1963 when Gov. George Wallace of Alabama stood in the doorway of a school building to prevent African-American students from entering.

State Senator Byron Brown urged everyone to contact their legislators to let them know how they feel on these issues.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org