Almost 300 students from around New York state gathered in Albany yesterday as part of the annual State University of New York (SUNY) Lobby Day.
This year, students as well as administrators met with members of the legislature to encourage them to prevent proposed changes to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and encourage them to increase SUNY funding.
“The number of students that took time out of their academic schedules is telling people that we care,” said Justin Meli ’02, one of four Cornellians who traveled to the state capital.
The legislature is currently debating governor George Pataki’s budget proposal which would postpone one-third of students’ TAP financial aid until after graduation.
“This will provide an added incentive for our students to graduate and get their degrees which everyone knows leads to a better career path and a brighter future,” said Andrew Rush, a budget division spokesman for the governor.
Others, however, said that the proposal would force students to either get loans or take more student jobs, harming the quality of education.
“We look at it as the world turned upside down,” said Albany Assembly member Jack McEneny (D-104th). “In effect, it would have the students hold debt for the government instead of the reverse.”
While the student lobbyists shared optimism with McEneny that the proposed changes wouldn’t go through, others were skeptical.
“It’s hard to tell at this point,” said Molly Darnieder ’98, director of campus information and visitor relations. “We heard a few mixed messages.”
TAP provides financial aid of up to $5,000 for New York residents going to college in-state.
Nearly 2,500 Cornell undergraduates receive over $5 million in TAP money.
The proposal would reduce that spending by $1.7 million, an average $721 per student.
For other SUNY schools present, major issues included funding. Governor Pataki’s budget proposal does not increase spending for SUNY schools but maintains them at last year’s levels.
“That leaves us with a very big problem,” said Patsy Brannon, dean of the College of Human Ecology.
SUNY schools, including Cornell’s statutory colleges, lobbied for an additional $120-130 million to cover the cost of faculty and staff salary increases which were previously agreed.
“There are other growths in enrollment, inflationary needs and sponsored research grant-matching,” Brannon said.
The University is also pushing for $25 million in funding for North Martha Van Rensselaer, which is in need of replacement. Many agreed that governor’s lowered spending on his budget proposal is a result of an incredibly tight financial situation.
“What we’re facing is, over a two year span, a $6.8 billion budget gap coming from the World Trade Center attacks and the national economic recession,” Rush said.
Not everyone, however, agreed that cutting money on education was the proper solution.
“We are in a huge budget crunch but the biggest investment we can make is in education,” Meli said.
SUNY Lobby Day included organized meetings with various state government representatives, including meetings with members of the governor’s budget office, local Assembly members Marty Luster (D-125th) and the staff of McEneny, as well as Long Island Senators Carl Marcellino (R-5th) and the staff of Senator Charles Fuschillo (R-8th).
While the politics may be contested, the students were enthusiastic about their visit to Albany.
“As someone a6aihas never lobbied before, it was a great educational experience,” said Ari Epstein ’02, SUNY student assembly liaison.
Members of the department of government affairs, which represents Cornell’s interests before the government, were also enthusiastic about the students’ visit.
“We love it when they come up here,” said Talia Dubovi, legislative associate in the office of government affairs. “It makes much more of an impression on the people we meet with.”
McEneny echoed that sentiment with personal experience.
“It is always very impressive to a legislator when individuals affected by the budget come into the legislator’s office,” he said. “It makes [the issue] personal and it makes it real.”
In the coming weeks President Hunter R. Rawlings III, Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice-president for university relations and Harold N. Tanner ’52, chair of the Board of Trustees will also be going to Albany to encourage the legislature to reject the Governor’s TAP and SUNY spending proposals.
Archived article by Peter Norlander