The City University of New York (CUNY), the nation’s largest public university system, is set to re-open for faculty on Aug.16. While questions still remain regarding the system’s readiness to open safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pandemic itself has exposed many underlying problems in this important institution. The temporary federal funds that CUNY is currently using to prepare their facilities for opening and to forgive student loan debt is just a band aid on a larger problem — the need to fully fund this institution with 275,000 students and make it free.
“We need to invest in free higher education for all New Yorkers, and fully funding CUNY is the first step,” says Cathy Rojas, an open socialist, who is running for Mayor of New York City.
Rojas, daughter of Colombian immigrants and a city school teacher, is officially qualified to be on the November ballot for mayor under the Party for Socialism and Liberation. She is the only socialist running for mayor.
The candidate addressed the Comeback Program, which uses federal COVID relief funds to provide up to $125 million in debt relief to at least 50,000 CUNY students. Many students and recent graduates lost their jobs and are currently facing food and housing insecurity, so cancelling student debt is a much-needed step for their recovery.
According to Rojas, “The CUNY Comeback Program is an important step in forgiving student loan debt. It also demonstrates the need for larger structural changes to make CUNY affordable to all. The very fact that CUNY students have accumulated at least that much money in debt shows how much we need further and sustainable action.”
CUNY serves mostly working class and many low-income New Yorkers, and is one of the most diverse public education systems in the country. The student population is 30% Latino, 25% Black, 23% White, and 21% Asian and Pacific Islander. And although these federal funds provide temporary relief for the student body, for the 2022 fiscal year, the city actually decreased CUNY’s budget by $67 billion. “It is vitally important that the city work together with the state to make the student loan debt program permanent and make future education at CUNY free,” said Rojas.
In addition to making sure that students are taken care of, faculty and support staff must receive fair pay, according to the candidate, and every health protection during a reopening. The Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, which represents approximately 30,000 faculty and staff, has several demands for the school to reopen safely, including accommodations for remote work, ventilation standards, and easily accessible reopening plans and inspection reports. A fully-funded CUNY can work with faculty unions to ensure that these safety requirements are met.
In the richest city in the world, we absolutely have the resources to make CUNY free, ”Rojas said. “In a world where a college degree has become an increasing necessity to obtain any entry level jobs, tuition should not impede a young person from pursuing post-secondary education. CUNY should be free for all NYC residents regardless of their income or legal status!”
Contact the Cathy Rojas for Mayor Campaign at: rojas4may.nyc