Cuomo Pushing for State Takeover of CUNY, But Local Officials Concerned About Effects

Big changes may be in store for the city university system, better known as CUNY. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a state takeover of the system, but some local leaders say that CUNY could be harmed in the process. State House Reporter Zack Fink filed the following report.

Gov. Cuomo has made no secret of his desire to bring changes to the city university system, perhaps even merging with the state university system known as SUNY. But the process of achieving that has been rocky, at least according to some of CUNY's staunchest allies.

"Look, I'm concerned about Gov. Cuomo's longstanding war on CUNY," said Bronx City Council member Ritchie Torres. "And it seems to me the inspector general's report is the latest salvo in that war."

Last month, the state inspector general issued a report which found that lax spending controls have led to waste and abuse of public financial resources at CUNY.

That led to a shakeup, which included longtime Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson, an ally of Mayor Bill de Blasio, being reassigned.

But some found the report, and the subsequent reaction, hastily thrown together.

"Well, first it felt so highly rushed. Whoever heard of an interim report on a preliminary investigation?" said Brooklyn City Council member Brad Lander. "There is much, much deeper issues of corruption in many other parts of state government that do not get investigated on this kind of timeframe."

A CUNY insider said there is "no question CUNY that is a pawn in the ongoing battle between Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo."

This has been underway before de Blasio even took office.

Earlier this year, Cuomo proposed shifting $485 million in state costs to the city. Last year, he proposed consolidation of certain "back office" functions between SUNY and CUNY.

A spokesperson for the governor's office says the city contributes $32 million to CUNY, whereas the state gives $1.8 billion. Critics say no matter what, the system needs to remain intact. But a spokesperson for the de blasio administration calls the $32 million "misleading," since the city's total contribution to the system is closer to $730 million.

"The City University of New York is an engine of mobility and opportunities for communities of color," says Torres. "More than 80 percent of African American undergraduates go to CUNY. More than 70 percent of Latino undergraduates go to CUNY. And so for communities of color, there would be no path out of poverty."

In a letter to Torres, CUNY Board Chair William Thompson says, "Upon learning that a university president engaged in alleged fraud, I requested that the Inspector General for the State of New York conduct an investigation. The United States Attorney's Office has also commenced an investigation."

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