Jonathan Brophy, an undergraduate psychology major, stood in the Student Activities Center Plaza gripping a hand-made sign against the wind. The sign illustrated a sea of blue guppies, eating a slightly smaller fish wearing a crown. Brophy held it high above his head while he chanted with the crowd, “Education is a right. Fight, fight, fight, fight!”
“It gets the message across,” Brophy said about his sign. “It’s sad. Most people have no idea this is happening.”
On March 2, Brophy, a member of the Radical Student Union, joined with fellow members, as well as the Graduate Student Employees Union, or GSEU, and the Research Assistants Union, to rally in defense of public education.
The rally is part of a larger national effort. For the month of March, schools across the country will be making similar efforts, rallying at higher education public universities and colleges.
The Radical Student Union, which organized the second annual event at Stony Brook, had a list of demands for the afternoon. Zandi Homer, a fifth year political science and psychology major, read them into the megaphone for the one hundred people that gathered for the event.
The organization demanded that the university do away with department cuts and restore previous cuts in state funding.
“The message is to two groups of people: those in power and the students,” said Homer, who has been part of RSU since it formalized in October. “Although we can’t build power in a system that is cutting us off, we can still build power.”
Dave Taylor, a junior philosophy major and member of RSU, agreed with Homer’s message.
“It’s about power and solidarity in an organization,” Taylor said. “It is about getting people together to pursue goals they otherwise couldn’t achieve.”
“The students are fighting a worthy cause, but rallying on Stony Brook University main campus is missing the target,” said University Spokesperson Lauren Sheprow, adding the 10 percent proposed cut for SUNY would bring total cuts to $75 million over three years.
“Without some form of revenue relief, we cannot hope to maintain the same level of educational quality, unless we significantly reduce the number of students we serve,” Sheprow said.
But students at the rally weren’t alone in their efforts. Allegra de Laurentiis, a professor in the philosophy department, attended the rally, identifying herself as “a sympathetic faculty member.”
“I think it is an outrage,” de Laurentiis said when asked about cuts in state funding. “They are trying to use the middle class to make up for the loss of Wall Street where the state invested taxpayer’s money.”
According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, based on inflation-adjusted dollars, “New York State funding for the SUNY state-operated campuses is 11 percent higher than it was in 1991, while enrollment is 16 percent higher.”
Still, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new proposal would cut $12 million in direct state funding for Stony Brook, eliminating $55 million in budget costs to the Stony Brook University Medical Center.
Kevin Young, a GSEU member and a graduate teacher’s assistant in history, quoted the Fiscal Policy Institute in his speech to the crowd.
“In a state where one percent get 35 percent of all income in the state, when you decided to tax public education, you are making a moral decision, a political choice.”
For the second half of the rally, members barged into the SAC Auditorium where the question segment of a town hall meeting for several departments on campus was taking place.
Sarah Campbell, a graduate physics student, took the microphone. “You keep ignoring our problem, and you keep raising fees,” Campbell said to Graham Glynn, the assistant provost and executive director of Teaching Learning and Technology. “This is not a piggy bank. This is not a way to supplement our budget.”
“We are here to provide the best services for the students,” Glynn said. “I know how fees hurt. I was a poor college student once.”
Jerrold Stein, the associate vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students, was sitting in the front row of the audience and declined to comment on the events of the rally, simply responding, “Not now.”