Comedian Stacey Prussman is among several mayoral candidates who responded to The Envoy’s survey on CUNY policy. The following are Prussman’s raw answers to the survey. To read the article summarizing and explaining 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 believe CUNY’s community colleges are just as valuable as the senior colleges and should be approached with the same free tuition goal that I have for senior colleges. Community colleges provide access to job training and opportunities for people that have no need nor desire to go to a four year school and it’s a shame that they are treated like “lesser” schools. I would publicly stick up for their value and the importance of the students who attend them.
2. What role do you believe the state should play in funding senior colleges? Should such colleges be tuition-free?
I want to make the entire CUNY system have free tuition for city residents like it did in the 1970s. But any tuition reduction program would have to not only pass the CUNY control board and the Board of Trustees, but have either city-only funding and control of CUNY or have state buy-in to the concept. I would be a tireless advocate of getting city control over CUNY again so that we don’t need state buy-in to make our own decisions, and when we have control over our colleges from the state, I would prioritize reducing tuition over time to ease into an eventual result of free college that won’t produce a financial shock to CUNY finances. Among the ways to do so is to advocate for raising out of state tuition to help cover the cost of city resident tuition. But more significantly, I would use the mayor’s office as a bully pulpit to call out the regressive restrictions on the Excelsior Scholarship program that require course loads and timelines that aren’t practical for working class students. There is no excuse for a free college program to exclude those with the most need for free college. To be forward, the process to get to free tuition for city residents is not simple or quick. Politicians who run on the promise of just “making” CUNY free are short selling what it takes to actually get there. When a Democratic majority can’t even avoid cutting baseline CUNY funding, we have a breathtakingly long path to go. In the meantime, my answers to the other questions explain how I’d work to make the financial burdens CUNY places on students be alleviated within the framework we currently have.
3. How would you expand job opportunities for CUNY students and graduates?
It is my belief that empowering students to bring their demands for improved employment programs to the board directly in the form of elected representation is the pathway to better CUNY employment. I would always advocate for more cooperation between CUNY colleges and the private sector to build bridges for increased employment, and the CUNY Crisis Intervention Program I outline in the mental health question would employ CUNY students. My plan to safely reopen the economy would create an environment for more overall employment of all people. But frankly, CUNY students shouldn’t be forced to lean on the 5/17 members of the CUNY Board of Trustees that the mayor appoints as a mechanism for change when we can fight for a democratic Board of Trustees. Each CUNY school has its own needs for improvement of their job training and job placement programs, and it should be the students and teachers of those schools who have a direct say in those improvements instead of the mayor.
4. Would you expand mental health and wellness funding and services for CUNY students? If so, how?
I’d continue the new CUNY attempt to expand the number of counselors and remote psychology services, but put a focus on hiring counselors with experience handling issues of poverty, disabilities, and discrimination. I’d also focus on recruiting psychology graduate students to help boost our counselor numbers, particularly those in the CUNY system that need internship credits, and expand peer counseling programs for undergrads with an interest in psychology. As someone who’s spoken on mental health and wellness on public and private colleges for over 15 years, I’ve seen how private schools with adequate funding for mental health services produce students with better mental health and academic success. I still speak with several students that I’ve counseled with during my time as a lecturer, so this issue is deeply personal for me. It is unacceptable that mental health is treated as an additional, almost luxury expense. It is a cornerstone of success and must be prioritized as such. Additionally, a democratized CUNY board will allow for students to have a direct say in the prioritization of mental health instead of being forced to ask politicians and their appointees to listen to them.
5. How would you support CUNY students experiencing food and/or housing insecurity?
As mayor, I’d prioritize expanding access and knowledge of the programs that exist to help food and housing insecure students, and I’d develop a CUNY Crisis Intervention Program staffed by CUNY students and graduates to provide food and housing assistance to matriculated students in crisis with dire need of housing and food support that aren’t being met by current programs. Hope Center’s Real College Survey of 2018 says 68% of CUNY students suffer from food and housing insecurity. There’s a broad array of public and private services to combat those problems, but the survey also shows that an incredibly low amount of CUNY students suffering from these problems ever access these services. The Healthy CUNY Q and A on Food Insecurity says students don’t think they need help, think that they are eligible, or know how to access the services. The Crisis Intervention Program would act as an agent to coordinate all food and housing needs for at risk students to get them access to the programs that can help them. We can also use the publicity of the new program as a platform to educate people on existing programs while allowing for food and housing insecure students to find a path to food and housing security that can keep them out of directly joining the mainstream welfare system.
6. How would you decide who to appoint to the CUNY board of trustees?
A December 2020 article in The Envoy argues, “Instead of being a board of political appointees, the board of trustees should be a group of students and professors who are democratically elected.” I agree, the CUNY Board of Trustees should be a group of students and professors that are elected by the residents of New York City. Achieving this basic democratic goal would, unfortunately, require approval by the control board that oversees CUNY. Until approval is obtained, I’d commit to appointing the winners of borough by borough citywide elections for a CUNY Trustee to represent each borough. Governing bodies should represent and be derived from the consent of the governed. There is no excuse for excluding the CUNY board from that principle. Students should have a voice in their own educational future. My time at the John Dewey High School afforded me that opportunity, and I’ve always found it unacceptable that such an idea is treated as a privilege rather than a right.