Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales is among several mayoral candidates who responded to The Envoy’s survey on CUNY policy. The following are Morales’s raw answers to the survey. To read the article about all of the mayoral candidates’ survey responses, click here.
1. What role do you believe the city and state should play in funding community colleges? Should such colleges be tuition-free?
I’m supportive of Free CUNY’s recommendations to amend the NYC charter to ensure that tuition at CUNY is free and resources around education from transportation, housing, books, supplies, are also reduced in pricing and subsidized to make it easier and more accessible for students to attend. It’s well-within the realm of possibility to make this happen with budget reallocations and the creation of more funding revenues. Currently, public funding from New York City already covers more than a third of CUNY community colleges’ operating budget. Student tuition and state funding make up the rest — which can also be achieved by advocating for budget equity from New York State to ensure and guarantee more funding for CUNY too.
2. What role do you believe the state should play in funding senior colleges? Should such colleges be tuition-free?
I will be advocating fully for budget equity from New York State. Right now, New York State already covers 60% of the operating budget for CUNY senior colleges and their entire capital budget. The increase in expenditure to fund senior colleges is a morally right and just thing to do — but also a smart decision too. We see a $3 return for every $1 invested in CUNY and by guaranteeing the right to tuition-free higher education, we’ll be giving so many New Yorkers a head start in life.
3. How would you expand job opportunities for CUNY students and graduates?
I’m working to expand job opportunities for all of New York City and believe in a municipal level jobs guarantee based on a green jobs agenda. By finally investing in lowering carbon emissions in NYC, we can invest in thousands of jobs while also working to combat climate change. The recruit for these jobs can be based around equity with hiring New Yorkers from neighborhoods most impacted by climate change and also prioritizing and centering CUNY students and graduates too.
4. Would you expand mental health and wellness funding and services for CUNY students? If so, how?
I fully support the New Deal for CUNY (S4461) that establishes new minimum ratios of mental health counselors, professors, and advisors to students. Currently, there is 1 mental health counselor for every 2,700 full time students enrolled in CUNY. The current ratio is disgraceful and we owe it to students to give them every tool that is needed to succeed. I will work with our representatives in Albany to guarantee the passage of this bill as a step toward where we need to go.
I also believe that healthcare as a right for all New Yorkers must include evidence based holistic and inclusive mental health services. We must also work to destigmatize mental health through community efforts that center lived experiences and social needs. On a citywide level, we will work with community organizations, mental health advocacy groups, and prioritize city resources into public employment that work in tandem with an expanded disability rights initiative that includes pathways to meaningful employment and access to social security. This means making sure public healthcare programs like medicare and medicaid have adequate budgets to cover mental health and other support systems. The city must also advance a campaign to destigmatize mental illness at large in order to humanize those suffering from various conditions and normalize the realities of public health challenges that affect our communities. I will work hard to expand access to mental health services for all New Yorkers and that includes CUNY students.
5. How would you support CUNY students experiencing food and/or housing insecurity?
An integrated and holistic approach to food justice involves a reshaping of NYC policies that understands the role of large scale poverty reduction, secure housing, the reduction and eventual elimination of unemployment, and access to nutrition. I would reduce barriers to food assistance as well as investment into more direct community food production involving community urban gardens, waste reduction systems, food upcycling, supporting local farmers and education for minority urban farmers, and finally expanding food and consumer cooperative and mutual aid systems in service of the most food insecure. I would advocate for CUNY to be a partner with these different projects to provide within and outside of the CUNY system. I would also like to create a system in which CUNY students benefit from access to affordable and/or free healthy food and full meals.
Students should not only be guaranteed housing, but should be given choice in where they live. Housing that is decent, affordable, and close to school should be available as a resource for success. This can be done by reworking and renovating existing dorms and dealing with the affordability crisis citywide. We can assure affordability and sustainability by implementing vacancy taxes, purchasing land long held by speculation, placing them in community land trusts for safe keeping, and creating contracts that prioritize non-profits who will hire unionized workers and supers from workers collectives (especially in immigrant neighborhoods). Comprehensive and community-led rezonings should be how we move forward and students should be consulted as a part of the affected community. Additionally, we will increase more protections for tenants, especially those that are vulnerable including low-income students.
6. How would you decide who to appoint to the CUNY board of trustees?
It is time to seriously rethink the requirements for who can sit on the CUNY board of trustees. Many of the appointed board members have had little to no experience in higher education or workers rights advocacy, and instead are just pawns for the private sector to have a say in public services. This frivolity has led to constant tuition increases while adjunct professors are paid abysmal wages. As mayor, my choices for board appointees will be grounded in the principle of returning decision-making power back to the people, in this case, students. As always, I would be open to hearing student and faculty group’s opinions on potential appointees. Ultimately, I would choose people that have the students, faculty, and the quality and price of education as their first priority. I would also choose appointees that are in full support of making CUNY free again.