Thirty-three good people stood up for our future

When I was young, people who were committed to a cause did something about it. Recently, 33 outstanding, committed people were arrested for protesting outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office. They were students, union leaders and professors who just couldn’t stand to see what is happening to the City University of New York. They are not alone in their concerns. The State University is also on the chopping block. Once the gateway into the middle class for many, CUNY and SUNY have been left gasping for breath because of draconian cuts in recent years. Parents who were counting on these two institutions to give their kids a chance in life are worried, and justifiably so. I attended Hunter College between 1959 and 1963 at no cost to my parents who did not have much. I owe a great deal of the rest of my life to the education I got there. I was pretty proud when Hunter put me on their Wall of Fame.

Sheldon Silver, the speaker of the Assembly, told me that his brother was the first one in his family to go to college. He went to Baruch College, a part of the city university. His family, too, had a better chance in life because of the city colleges and he would not allow anything to happen to CUNY and SUNY. Clearly, legislator Silver is in the fight of his life with Cuomo who will not even agree to continue a law insisting that millionaires pay a few bucks more in their income tax. That would go a long way toward finding more dollars to even things out between the rich and the far less rich. Cuomo has a 76 percent approval rating while Silver and his legislature are lower than a hounds belly in their approval numbers. I hope the parents in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Long Island remember who was helping them and who was selling out to curry favor with the rich.

When I went to Hunter, there was absolutely no tuition — nothing, nada, nunca. Today’s CUNY and SUNY colleges may be a relative bargain, but every time the tuition is raised or it gets harder to be accepted because the colleges can’t serve the same number of kids, some broken-hearted young person who might otherwise have found a place in society will be left out. The other night I gave a talk at the John Jay College and I watched the students filing in and out of the institution. They were truly a rainbow. They were every color and representative of New York’s ethnic tapestry. Their clothes weren’t much but they had made it this far. Their high school averages were high enough to get them in. You could see the intensity in their faces. They were on the success track. It made me both sentimental and sad because I knew what they were facing.

So what makes 33 good people from the City University travel to Albany and allegedly block access to the governor’s office? What made Gandhi do it? What made the folks in Selma do it? Why do people who protest unneeded wars that cost thousands of lives do it? Why does Pete Seeger at age 92 get out in the cold every weekend and hold up a sign that says, “Bring them home?” So these good people got arrested. They will probably get a slap on the hand, if that, but you never know. Would you do it to make sure that your kids had a chance? This stuff is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts. It takes principles.

I have taught at the State University for over 40 years and I always ask the kids in my classes how many are the first person in their families to go to college. In most classes, a majority of the students raise their hands. In the same classes, I’ll ask who has college loans to help pay their way. In most classes, every hand goes up. Our young people are our future, not our millionaires. Trust me — those with the most just don’t understand what is at stake. I hope you do. When the CUNY thirty-three go before the judge, I hope I can be there to applaud them for their guts.

Originally published by the Legislative Gazette, 3/29/11

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2 Comments on “Thirty-three good people stood up for our future”

  1. Glaisne Says:

    I was a SUNY kid. I graduated the year of the one millionth SUNY graduate. Back then I remember how everyone said how good SUNY was how it was the pride of New York State. When I was attending college I remember a delegation of Koreans were visiting my SUNY college. They were touring SUNY campuses because they wanted to model their public university system after SUNY. Why? Because it was generally acknowledged then that SUNY was one of the best public university systems in the world. IN THE WORLD. I was able to get a college education because of tuition assistance like PELL grants and TAP and the EOP program. I did not graduate in debt. And because of my SUNY education I got into graduate school and got my master’s degree and I now have a good job. If it were not for a good public education when I was growing up, and a SUNY system to attend college I would still be living in poverty like I did when I was growing up. Yet conservatives want to vilify teachers, public education, and public universities. They want to cut or eliminate public investment into universities, student aid and public education. All so millionaires and billionaires can have tax even more breaks! This what a nation does when it is committing suicide.

  2. Harvey in Scotia and NYC expatriate Says:

    Alan it’s time to review your “love affair” with Mr. Obama, to see beyond the infatuation. I voted for him to, felt the energy after 8 years of Jed Clamfet and the Beverly Hillbillys. Than I saw what was real and being marketed like a bar of soap. The later being the newly elected President. He made 2 excellent cabinet choices, the DOE and State Secretaries. Then I saw the awlful inept White House Staff. just a bunch of yes people. I thought after Election day this Country would awaken to a massive new energy policy. Instead it was like a little boys shouting at adults. I wanted change with intelligence all I got was a tremendous increase in the cost of energy. When there was a horrible spill in the Gulf I saw the reaction of an elitist who never had to work to earn money for gasoline. In a major recession he quickly caused the elimination of thousands of American jobs providing domestic energy production without balming the federal inspectors who were just a little incompetent inspecting Gulf oil rigs. Then no energy policy and he put his hand on our Noble Prize winning DOE Secretary preventing solutions, like intensive funding for alternative energy production. Instead Mr. Obama talked but never knew how to do the walk. he instead took our dwindling national wealth and increased spending on the military industrial complex in Afganistan. Yesterday was the intelligent demise of the spokeserson of our enemies. Yet his speech whiuch had to many “I,” and not many “We,” came from skillful reading from a teleprompter not from his heart. I detest our national enemies but also know that Confucius said those that plan revenge should prepare two coffins. Alan, you should become realistic and understand that this uninhibited military spending will not only bankrupt this great nation. But my worst fear is that it will cause a tremendous economic depression. The American People will look for stability combined with law and order. The Obama Administration will look like the Weimar Republic and the result will not be pleasant. If you want to use your remarkable knowledge of human events and political dynamics than re-read “It Can’t Happen Here,” by Upton Sinclair, because it can.

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