By Matt Hirsch
Reporting Assistance by Gabriela Flores
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul passed a budget allocating $965.8 million to repair and maintain CUNY facilities on Apr. 9. During state budget talks, CUNY faculty and students took to social media to share the broken facilities on their respective campuses.
“The $965.8 million capital increase for new construction, improvements and critical maintenance in the NY State budget last month for FY 2023 was historic and represents a critical commitment to the University and its campuses,” said Brooklyn College Media Relations Manager Richard Pietras in a statement to The Vanguard.
PSC-CUNY, the union that represents the faculty and staff of CUNY, has organized trips up to Albany to lobby for the New Deal For CUNY, which proposes free tuition and other budget increases. One of the key issues that they’ve continually advocated for is the repair and maintenance of CUNY campuses.
“I think that we continue to have long-standing infrastructure needs,” said PSC-CUNY Brooklyn College Chapter Chairperson and BC Professor, Carolina Bank-Muñoz. Since she started at BC in 2004, Bank-Muñoz has taken notice of not only the degradation of facilities but also the equipment available to faculty and students.
“I think that the combination of the pandemic relief funds and the Hochul budget will definitely improve some of these infrastructure challenges, but they’re not gonna solve them wholesale,” said Bank-Muñoz. “We definitely need to keep fighting for more funding for CUNY so that our buildings can not just be fixed, but […] we’ve got to keep up with the times.”
Before #CrumblingCUNY, the Instagram page cuny_brokelyn_college first showed examples of the broken infrastructure CUNY students, faculty, and staff encounter daily. During the spring 2022 semester, the Instagram page shared eleven posts with “documentation of anything that is in a state of disrepair at CUNY Brooklyn College,” according to their bio. The page has been active for over four years. And now, #CrumblingCUNY on Twitter is the most recent platform where university members share disrepair across all of CUNY’s campuses.
“One of the things that we’ve been working on is in terms of getting a better system [to report broken facilities on campus]. The way that it works is that you file a report, and you’re supposed to hear from somebody in Facilities. That can take some time,” Mobina Hashmi, a Brooklyn College Television, Radio and Emerging Media professor, told The Vanguard. “Or when you do hear from them, it can be just like, ‘Oh well, we can’t really do anything about this, because it’s not an easy fix.’”
A Brooklyn College Facilities staff member who identified themselves to The Vanguard as Linden Johnson said that a lack of available staffers has made their job difficult.
“The staff here is working really hard. It’s just a matter of, in my personal opinion, just a matter of the lack of people. Not Facilities per se, but trade workers, custodial workers, things like that,” said Johnson. “We don’t have a lot of people here in the office because of COVID stuff, but that’s slowly going back to normal.”
Hashmi, who is a PSC-CUNY Delegate for Brooklyn College, noted that when she was hired in 2006, morale was high. But after the great recession in 2008, the optimism that these issues would be addressed slowly faded. Consistent hikes in student tuition with no tangible improvements to facilities exacerbated the issue.
“Some of that optimism that we will be able to sort of fix some of those things or achieve some of those changes has sort of gradually drained away,” said Hashmi. “We don’t even talk about things like leaks, tiles, peeling paint, broken water coolers, one stall out of three not working, because that’s just how it is.”
She mentioned that part of the reason that optimism drained was that she and her colleagues felt their requests to the administration fell on deaf ears. This led to them pushing the “brokelyn college” hashtag.
“We were part of starting a campaign with the hashtag ‘brokelyn college.’ And the thing is, that got a response from the administration. Not because we had been saying for years that these are issues, but because suddenly there was bad publicity,” said Hashmi. “So if you’re going to talk about broken infrastructure, certainly the communication infrastructure, in terms of the administration’s responsiveness to student, faculty, staff needs and concerns, that is also broken.”
The new budget may finally bring much-needed repairs and upgrades to campuses across CUNY. But Bank-Muñoz wanted to make it clear that this small victory doesn’t end the ongoing fight for a better CUNY.
“It’s really important for us to keep up the pressure and to keep showing legislators and the governor that CUNY needs more investment. They’re not on our campuses. They don’t come to our campuses and they don’t experience what students, faculty, and staff experience,” said Bank-Muñoz. “I think that’s one of the reasons why those social media campaigns are really important because it kind of shows people what the ground conditions are on the campuses.”