In ongoing campus discussions about NYSUNY 2020, critics have claimed that the tuition plan is discriminatory and an expression of institutional racism. This charge is controversial, inflammatory and simply wrong.
Arguments which take advantage of issues of race and class when they are not in fact relevant undermine those issues’ actual importance and threaten our ability to maintain a thoughtful, communal discourse.
Those who criticize the NYSUNY 2020 policies have essentially two arguments. First, they argue that the plan unfairly benefits disciplines with a lower representation of minorities and women. Second, according to the plan’s critics, minorities will be further targeted by its effects on tuition, financial aid and several Binghamton services for disadvantaged and underrepresented students.
Both of these conclusions stem from shoddy reasoning and should be seen for what they are: gauche attempts to affect policy by misappropriating issues of race, class and gender.
The NYSUNY 2020 plan, approved by the state legislature in March of 2011, is a prudent and calculated response to the drastically changing financial climate. Some of its components should not come as a shock. For instance, it seems entirely reasonable for the University to increase the allocation of funds to STEM fields — that is, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The racial makeup of these disciplines is irrelevant.
What does matter is the fact that the economic plan is intended to improve not only our school, but the state’s overall economy and job market. As Governor Cuomo said at the time of the bill’s passing, “NYSUNY 2020 brings our economic development goals together with the world-class SUNY system in a way that boosts higher learning and creates good paying jobs all over New York.”
The University’s decision to direct its funding in this way therefore makes sense and should satisfy even liberal arts majors. If the STEM fields are the most valuable economically, malnourishing them financially would be a great disservice. As a student of philosophy and English, am I thrilled about the ways in which the University directs its funding? Certainly not. But I understand why it is necessary.
There is room for legitimate criticism of the plan. One could examine the context in which it was drafted: a hemorrhaging economy at the depths of the recession. In our current, slowly improving financial climate, does the plan’s appropriation of funds make as much sense? What about our expected economic trajectory?
These are legitimate questions to ask. But those who level charges of racism at President Stenger, for a plan he inherited, no less, are sadly misguided.
The plan mandates rational increases and adjustments to the tuition of all SUNY and CUNY students. It will also affect services such as financial aid, and the array of social and academic support services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The general increases to tuition make sense because it is important for Binghamton to remain competitive, among other state schools and private schools alike. Further, as President Stenger shared in a letter to the editor on March 12, the “new tuition policy enacted by our state will actually increase access to Binghamton University for students who are from financially disadvantaged families and who are historically underrepresented in higher education.”
In this plan, values such as race, gender and ethnicity are immaterial. The central values which in fact make up the heart of NYSUNY 2020 are these: how can we balance accessibility with growth? NYSUNY 2020 is that plan.
For each of these reasons, attempts to subvert NYSUNY 2020’s tuition policy through racial arguments should be seen as nothing more than gestures of reckless impudence.