Faculty members have been walking around campus with red and white, “I voted,” strike authorization stickers over the last week – while President Gould said her biggest challenge at the college was a financial one.
“My biggest disappointment in these seven years has been the lack of a ratification of a well-deserved contract,” Gould said. “One could say that the biggest challenge in CUNY, as well as Brooklyn College, is the financial challenge. It’s real, it’s probably not going away….”
She is by no means the only one struggling with finances at Brooklyn College. Over 5,000 members of the Professional Staff Congress have already pledged to vote yes for a strike authorization after six years without a faculty contract. From May 2, to May 11 at midnight, votes were collected all across CUNY campuses.
The union is expecting to negotiate with the City University to reach an agreement to present to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to Barbara Bowen, president of the union, in a press release. The union hopes to come to an agreement before mid-June. If a strike were to occur, the faculty would wait until fall.
“This represents our last best opportunity to shake the conditions in which our contract negotiations are being conducted,” Professor James Davis said to a large crowd in the Whitman Theater on Tuesday after he thanked Gould for her service to the College. “The culmination of months of escalation and the contract campaign…this vote is about challenging the manufactured austerity imposed on the university.”
Davis reminisced to past protests, lobbying efforts, spreading the message to students, sending emails to Albany and faculty members getting arrested for their ideals.
“It may seem as though we exhausted all avenues here to secure a decent contract, but we still have this important weapon at our disposal,” Davis said.
It has not been a year without protest. When Cuomo proposed a nearly half billion dollar budget cut to CUNY and increased tuition in January, the faculty union and University Student Senate mobilized faculty and students throughout New York.
“There’s certainly been a lack of investment in the last few years, probably the best example or best way to describe it is the $637 million that CUNY would have had if the budget had grown along with the state budget,” Fran Clark, the communications coordinator of the union said.
The 2008 recession shrank the New York budget and agencies were cut, including CUNY. The economy eventually recovered, causing the state budget to grow; however, the CUNY budget did not follow, according to Clark. If the budgets grew together, $637 million would be in the pocket of the City University.
The budget cuts in New York however, are relatively mild compared to other states that Gould has worked in, including Ohio and California. “I know what really big budget cuts looks like and I’ve had to respond to those…,” Gould said. Even though she has dealt with worse, Gould said that any portion of a cut still hurts. “You still feel the pain when you have a four percent or a two percent budget cut,” she said. “It’s still real and when you aren’t hugely well resourced to begin with, it feels challenging, because it is challenging.”
Gould believes that incoming President Michelle Anderson will have similar financial challenges ahead of her, as many heads of colleges do.
In April, the state declared a budget that would not follow through with Cuomo’s proposed budget cut and did not increase tuition. An increase in tuition however, is a method of funding for Brooklyn College.
“If you are not getting more funding from the state and if the student tuition is not going up, where are you going to get additional resources to cover mandatory costs if the state doesn’t do it and to add additional salary dollars to your faculty and your staff?,” Gould said. “There are only so many ways you can slice the pie,” she said. Many resources are required to solve these issues and make everyone involved happy, Gould said.
On the union website, a string of videos from faculty all over the university showcase the emotions felt across the state.
“We feel as faculty that we’re not respected, we’re not regarded, we’re putting in so much effort and so much of ourselves in giving everything we can,” Veronica Manlow from the business management department at the college said on the union website. “I think also there’s a lot of disrespect for students when you look at the overcrowded classrooms, the conditions of the facilities,” she said. “I think it’s really a kind of symbolic violence, a sense that they feel that they’re not important.”
In the same video, Professor Hersh Friedman sent out a similar note. “To not to give you a faculty contract, a raise for almost seven years, is a lack of compassion,” Friedman said.
The battle between the state and the City University has spurred protest in the streets and mobilization on college campuses culminating in this strike authorization vote.
“This contract is long overdue and yes, richly deserved, not only for ourselves but also for our students and our future colleagues,” Davis said. “If we do wind up having to walk out of this place that I know we all hold so dear, I’m confident that we will have each other’s backs.”