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NYS Reps Face Backlash From Student Organizers

Shareema Abel spoke at a presentation that aimed to break down the newly passed state budget. PHOTO/ M.A. Rahman
Shareema Abel spoke at a presentation that aimed to break down the newly passed state budget. PHOTO/ M.A. Rahman

By M.A. Rahman

Published: April 25th, 2018

Shareema Abel, a special counsel for ethics, risks, and compliance for the Governor’s Office, touts the Governor’s accomplishments and set expectations in this year’s state budget. 

On Tuesday, April 17, in Ingersoll Hall, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office presented and provided a breakdown of the newly passed $168 billion state budget and where City University of New York (CUNY) students and faculty can expect funding will be allocated to.  

At the meeting to discuss the bill, Abel’s glowing characterization of the state’s FY 2019 bill did not parallel well with room full of students devoid of excitement.

“Our model is all arrows are pointed up, we’re going upward,” Abel remarked concluding her presentation.

Afterwards, Abel found herself besieged by questions from several members of notable campus organizations—including NYPIRG, PSC faculty union, and CLAS student government—concerned with the state’s responsibility in improving campus life.

“You say everything is going up, but that’s frankly not true,” one member said to Abel.

“Under Governor Cuomo state funding has decreased by 3.8%” an unimpressed Professor Ken Estey said. Estey is an assistant professor of political science at Brooklyn College. “You said you can be in contact with the governor, the governor’s office, and your colleagues. Have them come on down from Albany and take a look around Brooklyn College and see that the place is falling apart,” he said.

Other meeting members confronted Abel for what they felt was a case of ineptitude on the part of the state and governor for falling short on fulfilling a number of student demands, including remedying current infrastructure woes plaguing CUNY.

Kay Miller, a student trying to obtain her MFA in theatre, raised a poignant point regarding the state of Brooklyn’s theatre program. “How can a theatre major properly complete their degree when the theatre they’re due to study and perform in is currently four years overdue?” she asked.

According to Abel, issues pertaining to class availability, construction of new facilities, and student activity fees should be redirected to CUNY.

Drawing ire from students dissatisfied with responses like this, CLAS president Nissim Said rebuffed Abel’s assertion of lacking responsibility.

“The majority of the board of trustees are directly appointed by Governor Cuomo. When he talks about CUNY inefficiency, who do I blame other than the person who put the majority of the seats in charge?” Said retorted.

Pressed on why Governor Cuomo elected to veto last year’s Maintenance of Effort Bill, which would have allocated $157 million for CUNY to include infrastructure cost, Abel admitted that she did not have a specific reason as to why Cuomo did so, offering instead to speculate on his intentions.

“If you’re going to speak to college students, they obviously care about our higher education, so for him to send someone from his civil rights department who didn’t have the answers to higher education’s specific questions just seems a little unproductive,” Smitha Varghese, the NYPIRG State Chairperson, said.


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