Recent event highlights uncertain future, including immigration crisis and financial scandal By Elihu Fleury
Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.
That one sentiment summarizes the CCNY Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, December 8th. It took place in the NAC Aronow Theater, and featured Interim President Vincent Boudreau. The assembly came as CCNY faces a number of serious issues, some unique to City College, and some that affect the entire United States. The hourlong meeting was supposed to cover any topic. In the end, however, two dominated: immigration in the wake of Donald Trump, and concerns over City College’s current affairs and future direction.
IMMIGRATION: SHOULD CCNY BE A SANCTUARY CAMPUS?
Forty minutes of the meeting focused on immigration, a significant issue given the large immigrant population of City College — some undocumented. Stephanie Delia, CCNY’s local attorney from CUNY “Citizenship Now,” stressed that given the ambiguous signals of President-Elect Trump, “the legal community doesn’t have much insight as to what to expect.” However, she assured students and their families can speak with her organization confidentially, and that “we do have your back, and we will give you facts.”
Later in the meeting, the CCNY Dream Team, an immigration advocacy group, pressed Boudreau for specifics, asking if he would publicly declare City College a sanctuary campus for immigrant students, and if students’ records would remain secure.
In his response, Boudreau expressed mixed feelings about designating CCNY as a sanctuary campus, pointing to the technicalities of warrants used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which are executable only on public spaces. In that case, City College would need to start defining which spaces are private and public. He also noted that City College is “in a sanctuary state, in a sanctuary city,” and as such, records of students are already protected under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). He added that no public official can ask about immigration status in New York City, unless it directly relates to immigration status.
Additionally, he explained that certain information on student records could, in a roundabout way, indicate immigrant status. For his part, Boudreau wishes to destroy even that information, to protect students from potential harm.
Still, the discussion concerning CCNY as a “sanctuary campus” struck a much deeper chord: What future role City College will take in protecting immigrants. In his view, the “sanctuary campus” designation is more political than legal, and its power entirely depends on whether higher authorities will respect it. Thus, he felt that City College would need to answer this vital question, especially in the event of a crackdown: “Are we a ‘March On Washington’…trying to get the laws changed, or are we the ‘Underground Railroad?’” “Not knowing what we’re going to be facing, we need to prepare to be both [options],” he said, adding, “I will go to jail” for the sake of the students.
Others shared comments and suggestions. CCNY graduate Cris Mercado, a public advocate for undocumented immigrants, advised contacting local elected officials for help, including through the college’s Divsion of Governmental, Community and Cultural Affairs. Alan Feigenberg, local representative for the CCNY chapter of the Professional Staff Congress, reaffirmed his organization’s opposition to the immigration policies of the president-elect, and said, “we have to start educating each other and we have to start organizing.”
THE CCNY FINANCIAL SCANDAL
Along with the impending immigration crisis, CCNY’s ongoing financial crisis was still present on everyone’s mind.
Civil Engineering major Abu Moro asked how the college was addressing its fiscal health, particularly its $14 million debt. He also questioned the indirect costs of external research funds for the college, especially for the engineering department.
In response, Boudreau admitted that virtually all funds to the college currently have a deficit. He explained that CCNY has never operated with a concrete budget because tuition from the students (which currently comprises 70% of the college income) fluctuates, which frustrates efforts to assemble a budget. Because of this uncertainty, the college’s first priority is always to finish the year and pay the bills with available cash on hand. As such, administrators rarely know how much money they will have until March of any given year, by which time the faculty is already paid. He also explained that unexpected income – like donations and grants – further complicate the development of a budget.
He did assure that the fiscal situation is “not as bad as it was last year,” and “we’re in the process of digging ourselves out of a hole.”
THE CITY COLLEGE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER RENOVATION
Campus editor-in-chief Christian Hernandez asked about the status of the Child Development and Family Services Center. It has been closed since Summer 2015 for renovation — far beyond the predicted length of a year. He also wondered why in the coming 2017 fiscal year, student activity money will be going to a closed center that is offering no services, especially in light of a $1.6 million donation by former City Councilman Robert Jackson for the center’s renovation.
Chief Operating Officer Leonard Zinnanti explained that the design phase should end by February, and the center is due to reopen in 2018. It will have a construction budget of $2.4 million, which includes the donation. Furthermore, he stated that the funds were being placed in a reserve supervised by Juana Reina, the Vice President for Student Affairs. According to Zinnanti, this will ensure the center will have enough money to operate once it opens. Boudreau added that the center will offer the same child care services, with a “more beautiful…better outfitted” design.
DISPUTES OVER CLUB FUNDING
Environmental Engineering major Lawrence Vulis, a member of several CCNY clubs, complained of “a severe decrease in club funding over the last several years,” which seemed odd in an era of enrollment increases. Vulis said that at present, clubs are only allocated roughly 25% of the monies they received when he first joined clubs. He said further that “a lot of students were extremely concerned about this.” Vulis questioned where the funding from AEC (Auxiliary Enterprises Corporation) and SSC (Student Services Corporation), the main components of club funding, is being allocated.
USG President Safat Chowdhury responded to the question. He explained that AEC money comes from consumer services (cafeteria income, bookstore income, vending machine income), which has been decreasing. Meanwhile, SSC is based on enrollment numbers of the previous year, which also had a decrease. Thus, club membership has gone up, and the clubs are being stretched thin by last year’s numbers. The increase in the number of clubs only makes the situation worse, from 120 clubs applying for funding last year to nearly 180 this year.
He did note that an increase in funding is possibly projected for this year. The USG plans on holding a referendum later this year on the issue, to adjust SSC funding to accommodate the clubs.
Boudreau added that his policy “is to open all the books, and I encourage everybody to do that”– to the applause of the audience.
CITY COLLEGE’S FUTURE
Boudreau stated that the search for a permanent president is in progress, which might take six to eight months to complete. However, he also assured that “we’re not going to coast this year; I’m not going to just keep the office warm.” As an interim administration, his team would do their best to continue improving CCNY. “We want you to be proud of this institution today, not someday,” he said.
He also acknowledged that in the past few months, CCNY has received a great deal of bad press and “detrimental stories.” In response, he felt responsible for telling the real story of City College as he saw it, as it happens “in the classroom among the students”, which has “been uninterrupted by this transition.” He also felt that fundamental campus institutions needed work, such as Financial Aid, which in his opinion is “one of the most under-resourced, misunderstood offices on campus.”
Boudreau further said that contrary to popular opinion, the federal government has matched cuts in state aid to the college, dollar for dollar. The difference is in who receives it and how: while state aid goes directly to the college, federal aid goes directly to the student through financial aid. It’s up to the students to bring that money back to the college, he said, by applying for grants, work-study, and the like. Given that 70% of the budget depends on tuition, he said that such has become a valuable resource.
In the end, he felt his ultimate goals were to repair the image of the college, continue improving its resources, and determine where City College goes from here.