Thursday, January 12, 2017

NYC Council Committee on Higher Education: on infrastructure disrepair and decay at CUNY

Top, Bowen, Bink, Davis, and Farrell testifying.
Bottom CUNY Rising.

Today, I went to city council to hear my colleague Cindy Bink testify along with Barbara Bowe, James Davis, and Robert Farrell, of the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY.   For many of us, education equals power; it helps us beat off ignorance and bigotry.  In the age of Trump, we are more committed to it than ever.

Innez Barron chaired the hearing.  She introduced the session mentioning that this year is the 50th anniversary of her graduation from Hunter. The whole room applauded.

She recognized the good work advocates at CUNY were doing, specifically referring to the social media campaign waged at Brooklyn College, in which faculty, staff and students posted images of campus disrepair on social media.  Barron also recognized the efforts of the CUNY Rising Alliance.

James Vacca followed noting that tuition at CUNY would be free again some time soon, especially given the Governor's proposal.  This will increase student enrollment and the need for infrastructure.

Ydonis Rodriguez followed emphasizing that all of the City Council appreciates and hopes to support it.  "Thank you," Ydonis began.  "We are all CUNY graduates, its the path to opportunity for the middle class in New York."

Representatives from CUNY testified that there are now 270,000 students at CUNY with an increase of 50,000 students in the last decade, the enrollment of Columbia and Fordham combined.

Barbara Bowen followed: "We all hope that the governor's proposal will create an inflow of students.  Yet, this will further exacerbate the issue of crumbling infrastructure and the need to support the students and new faculty to teach them." 

Bowen identified a two billion dollar gap in funding at CUNY which will need to be addressed.

"The disrepair of the buildings sends a clear message to the students. When a student walks into a room and sees a bucket with a mop holding up the ceiling, it says to the students: you don't matter.  It says you do not deserve a priority environment.  Much of the disrepair and underfunding is also rooted in historical racism. When  I go to other schools, my alma mater, Oberlin, you do not see this disrepair.  The buildings say to the students: this is a place for you to learn and thrive. Students don't get that message at CUNY.

Cindy Bink, my colleague at City Tech, testified:

Thank you for allowing me to speak today on the topic of “infrastructure disrepair and decay at CUNY”. My name is Cindy Bink I am the Director of Counseling Services at NYC College of Technology in Brooklyn.  While my job is to counsel students, I also serve as a delegate of the Professional Staff Congress, representing Higher Education Officers. We serve in areas such as Tutoring, Financial Aid, Admissions, Registrar, Bursar and Student Affairs.

Our college administration reports that they do not have funds to repair or maintain our buildings. Several years ago the CUNY Central Office stopped providing funding for repairs and maintenance in the yearly amount of between $300,000 to $400,000. The college administration also reported that they do not have funds to hire more staff to clean and repair. This is a concern as a new building is about to open and the current conditions of our older buildings are so deplorable. Some of the ongoing problems we have observed include the following areas.

Heat and AC Systems Malfunctioning- Regularly some offices report temperatures above 90 degrees. This occurs in both the winter and summer.  Other offices are so cold employees wear coats and hats. Employees are becoming sick and others have resigned as a result.

Bink, second to left, testifying.

Plumbing Problems- Sporadic and ongoing pipe bursting and water damage are a major concern. Some employees place garbage bags over their desks at night because flooding has often damaged student documents. Employees worry about breathing in mold spores because their offices have been flooded so much.  A foul stench on a lower level floor reoccurs every time it rains.  In one office a plastic ceiling tile was designed to collect brown water from a permanent leak that could not be repaired. Water pours into the office when the cafeteria located on an upper floor is washed. The brown liquid is funneled into a repurposed water bottle on the floor. This is the same office where for years a sticky black oozing liquid came up from the floor under an employee’s desk. In a Dean’s conference room, a leak had occurred for years causing a stalactite to grow. Some of these issues have been repaired but others appear daily.

Rats- Over the past 5 years rats have appeared during counseling sessions causing a major disruption to our services and a terrible challenge for any student attempting to obtain mental health services. Rats have chewed through phone lines and jumped out from a counselor desk drawer.  A recent repair may, or may not have solved this issue.  

Minor Construction - Lack of funds is delaying the construction of a small wall for a Veterans Mental Health Service Corp office, part of the Mayor’s Mental Health initiative.  As a result, Veterans may lose additional mental health services at a time when it is most needed.

While I am only a counselor and do not know the financial intricacy of the university, I see every day what is happening at City Tech. We want to work and help students but these conditions distract us from our task. We ask you to explore and review the needs of our college and provide support where needed through the “CUNY Rising” funding request. Let us also know how we can better advocate to resolve these problems. Thank you.

Rising temperatures, a leaky roof, and a mouse hole at City Tech.

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