CUNY orders colleges to slash budgets, implement hiring freeze: memo

By Cayla Bamberger
New York Daily News | Link to Original

The City University of New York has ordered colleges to slash budgets by an average of at least 5 percent and implement a hiring freeze, according to an internal memo obtained by the Daily News.

The cutbacks, ordered by CUNY Chief Operating Officer Hector Batista, will likely be felt most sharply by students, faculty and staff and could lead to larger class sizes, increased fees and reduced library hours, among other changes.

Each of the system’s 25 campuses will be required to develop plans that cut costs and increase revenue by March 3. Colleges closing out the fiscal year in a negative position, including many of the community colleges, will need to cut more.

“CUNY students deserve a quality education,” said Salimatou Doumbouya, CUNY Student Trustee and chair of the University Student Senate. “This quality education will be lost with a decrease in the amount of lecturers and professors. We are already seeing this with the drastic amount of students who are having troubles with registering for class.

The cuts come as CUNY is in a tight spot. Federal pandemic aid to the public college system is running out, while Mayor Eric Adams cut city funding and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget proposal did not meet CUNY’s funding request. Students could also face 3 percent or lower tuition hikes next year, if included in the state’s final budget.

At the same time, student enrollment took a nose-dive during the pandemic and has yet to bounce back. Enrollment has fallen by more than 10 percent over the past couple of years to fewer than 243,400 students in fall 2021.

CUNY has lost more than 350 faculty members over that time, data show.

“The City University of New York continues to look for cost-saving measures without cutting student services, efforts that will become increasingly important as federal pandemic stimulus money dries up,” said CUNY spokesperson Joseph Tirella, who pointed to enrollment-boosting initiatives already underway like an outreach program for former students to complete their degrees and advertising campaigns.

While the full impact of the cuts will not go into effect until next school year, the system’s budget crunch is already being felt in a number of ways.

A writing center at Hunter College previously staffed with three full-time faculty is now run by two part-time adjuncts, who barring new hires could remain in those roles.

At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, chair of the political science department Susan Kang told The News she had to cut sections of required classes this semester, forcing professors to over-enroll classes and students to scramble for other ways to finish their coursework.

“The directives don’t match the realities — our students need these classes so they can graduate, so they can succeed,” said Kang, an associate professor of international political economy and human rights. “A lot of them are the first in their families to graduate from college, and they want to walk [at the ceremony] this spring.”

Lehman College librarian Robert Farrell said colleges across the system will need to reduce library hours. The Bronx campus already has needed to rid of 24-hour schedules during finals season as a result of previous cuts.

“That’s as direct an impact as you can imagine on our students, who often have no other place to go to do work,” said Farrell, coordinator of information literacy. “Our students live complex lives — family lives, work lives. College libraries throughout CUNY have been refuge, a quiet place to concentrate, to meet with their classmates.”

Farrell added that cutbacks over the years have meant fewer funds for textbooks and other resources.

“A lot of the costs of materials have been offloaded onto the shoulders of students,” said the librarian. “Technology fees probably will have to go up, and that will negatively impact already financially strained students.”

The fee is $125 per full-time student this semester.

“Students are struggling with non tuition expenses and these expenses make it harder and harder to be a full-time student which results in the unfortunate effect of many having to choose alternatives instead of attending school,” said Doumbouya, who attends the New York City College of Technology.

The main gate of The City College of New York in Manhattan.
The hiring freeze includes carveouts for more than 500 new positions funded in last year’s state budget. College presidents and deans can also sign off on requests for exemptions through a centrally managed vacancy review board.

“Reaching the fiscal year 2024 targets will require courage, creativity, perseverance, and discipline,” read the internal memo. “Overcoming the financial challenges at each college is a campus wide, shared goal and identifying and achieving savings while also ensuring continued excellence can happen only through close collaboration among the leaders and members of the campus community.”

A similar directive last year is projected to shrink the CUNY’s structural deficit by 17 percent to $194 million, Batista said.

Though presidents and deans could propose “one time” measures at the time, this year colleges will have to come up with long-term savings and revenue sources, according to the memo.

“The university is looking for additional savings,” said James Davis, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY faculty and staff union, “and our members are saying where are we supposed to cut? There’s no place left to cut.