of learning: A student deals with tuition payments at
the UAlbany bursar’s office.
Photo: Alicia Solsman
and King claim their new SUNY tuition plan guarantees predictability,
but critics say it only guarantees tuition hikes
the advice of State Univer-sity of New York Chancellor Robert
King, Gov. George Pataki has made a tuition increase for SUNY
part of his new executive budget.
Pataki has also adopted a new idea of King’s about increasing
tuition in the future based on national average costs, and
wants a restructuring of the Tuition Assistance Plan.
suggested an initial $600 increase for the school year 2005-2006
as well. The New York Public Interest Research Group reported
Pataki is requesting slightly smaller hikes of $500 for SUNY
and $250 for CUNY.
King says the goal for the future is to protect students from
“large unpredictable increases” by supplying regular, predictable
increases based on the Higher Education Price Index. The HEPI
is similar to the Consumer Price Index, only it is based on
the spending of institutions of higher education rather than
consumers. The tuition for each freshman class will be the
previous year’s price multiplied by the HEPI. That rate will
then be frozen for the class, so students will in theory pay
the same rate the whole time they are in school.
Some SUNY presidents supported King’s plan. “This tuition
proposal addresses one of the biggest financial variables
that families face. It is a fair and rational policy that
should be well received because it will allow families to
more accurately plan and budget what it will cost for their
sons and daughters to attend college,” said SUNY College of
Technology at Delhi President Candace Vacko.
The proposal does not address the number one financial variable,
however: state budget support. While the tuition rate may
be frozen in respect to SUNY’s budget, the plan does not account
for what happens when the state does not make good on its
portion of funding for SUNY. If SUNY is not allotted the amount
of money it needs to hold the tuition line, the difference
will still be passed off to the students, so in the end, tuition
may still be raised by unpredictable amounts.
a disaster,” said Assemblyman Ron Canestrari (D-Cohoes). “The
only predictability is that they’ll pay more each year.”
Canestrari said the plan places a greater burden on students,
and holds the state at less of a commitment to fund higher
education. “If the state fails to fund the budget, it’s passed
on to tuition,” he said. NYPIRG reports that between 1990
and 2000, average college costs rose 97 percent, while state
support decreased by 22 percent. During his time in office,
Pataki has repeatedly proposed cuts to aid and programs that
provide support for students.
Pataki also wants changes made to TAP, a program that helps
about 60 percent of full-time students in New York pay for
school. TAP gives students up to $5,000 per year to pay tuition,
but does not help cover the cost of books, housing, or other
expenses. The proposed increase of $500 for 2005-2006 would
put tuition at $4,850, just barely under the $5,000 TAP limit.
Pataki’s new approach to TAP would give participating students
half of their awarded money during college and the other half
when they finish.
The governor said the proposed TAP structure is supposed to
act as an incentive for students. NYPIRG disagrees, arguing
TAP is already tied to a student’s performance. Currently
they must maintain a cumulative C average, must be in good
academic standing, and must be a full-time student. Not having
as much aid initially could force more students to take out
loans, or make it necessary to devote more time to a job rather
than to maintaining grades.
combination of tuition hikes and financial-aid cuts will price
students out of an affordable higher education,” said NYPIRG
Higher Education Coordinator Miriam Kramer. “These proposals
are simply fiscal gimmicks that borrow from students to balance
the state budget.”
Student borrowing in New York state averages at about $3,600
per year, according to the National Center for Public Policy
and Higher Education. The center’s report Measuring Up
2004 shows that college costs for low- and middle-income
families amount to almost half of their family income for
a year. This is for four-year schools, and after factoring
in TAP. Community colleges cost almost as much.
The report, which includes a report card for each state, claims
New York’s public higher education system is one of the least
affordable in the country.
don’t care if they give me a Price Chopper receipt.
I just want to get going.”
bus driver on an over-full Central Avenue bus
that had just missed a green light because so
many people were boarding.
doesn’t snow in China, does it? It’s too warm.”
at the back of a bus in Saturday’s snowstorm,
to a group of Asian students who had just boarded
the bus. They didn’t reply.
District Attorney David Soares said on his way
out of a meeting that we should recognize the
entrepreneurial spirit of young drug dealers by
helping them start businesses, anyone with two
brain cells to rub together could tell he meant
legitimate businesses, not storefront drug
operations. Anyone, that is, except most of the
local media outfits, which repeated the quote
ad nauseum in outrage. Granted, sound bites are
not Soares’ specialty. They are also not his job.
Rational analysis is, however, supposed to be
the job of journalism.
have been bracing for the Bush administration
to attack reproductive rights, the separation
of church and state, and funding for social programs.
But some less-familiar though nonetheless important
programs are also under attack. The Community
Reinvestment Act, a law passed in the 1970s to
end the redlining by banks of certain neighborhoods,
is under fire. An administration provision would
exempt all but the very largest banks from its
provisions, drawing sharp criticism from advocates
for low-income neighborhoods, who say this will
leave them without banking services other than
exorbitant check- cashing services and payday
Hear From Us
being repeatedly called “sore losers,” some Democrats
are refusing to roll over to the idea of a Bush
“mandate.” Though not able to prevent their confirmations,
Democrats and supporters have delayed the process
for Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales by asking
tough questions and insisting that the issues
of truthfulness about Iraq and acceptance of torture
be addressed. Rice was confirmed by the Senate,
but with a record “no” vote of 13. And along with
healthy anti-inaugural protests, 500 “Progressive
Democrats of America” gathered the following weekend
in the snow for a Counter-Inaugural Summit. There’s
life in the ‘ole guy yet.
of Protests Past
defendant: David Oehl.
photo: Shannon DeCelle
those arrested at last year’s RNC demonstrations, the struggle
and passion and fury of the protests outside the Republican
National Convention last summer [“From New York, With Outrage,”
Sept. 2, 2004] seem long distant to many leftward-leaning
activists these days. An election has come and gone, and “rebuilding”
and hashing out changes in strategy top the agenda.
resident David Oehl doesn’t have the luxury of looking only
to the future, however. Oehl was one of the people caught
up in the mass arrests outside the RNC that have prompted
a class-action lawsuit against the city of New York, and his
case is still not settled.
he was part of the “die-in” protest on the Broadway I-787
exit ramp on the day after the Iraq War was declared, Oehl
did not go to New York City this summer planning civil disobedience.
Choosing his words carefully, Oehl explained that “getting
arrested as a form of protest . . . has to be used strategically.
If the right people aren’t watching, then the arrest is not
Oehl wasn’t even going down primarily to protest. He was more
interested in all the “countercultural” “building-up” events
that were taking place before and around the convention, from
welding workshops held by a bicycle advocacy group to community-garden
defense, fund-raisers and teach-ins. That stuff can be “more
productive in terms of putting into practice alternative visions”
than the big permitted marches, said Oehl, which he finds
frustrating and stifling.
advocacy is near and dear to Oehl’s heart, and he specifically
went to New York planning to ride as much as possible. So
when Sunday came and he found out there was going to be a
bike ride in support of the permitted march it seemed to make
sense as a way for him to participate.
a ways into the ride, which Oehl estimated at 300 to 500 riders,
things began to look “hairy.” Oehl decided he didn’t like
what he saw, and dropped back to make up his mind what to
do. He says he had just decided that he wanted to take the
next opportunity to leave, when he was arrested. “Instead
of cutting off the street and telling people if they didn’t
disperse they’d be arrested, they were moving in and picking
people off from the back,” he said. “I was never given a warning
to disperse. I wasn’t aware that I was doing anything wrong.
So I really feel like the police were targeting people on
detained for 9 to 10 hours on the notorious Pier 57, a former
bus depot that protesters have said was full of toxins, especially
on the floor where many were forced to lie or sit due to the
lack of benches. Compared to some people’s experiences—Oehl
knows one protester who had his collarbone broken, and some
people were detained for up to 66 hours without being charged,
prompting repeated orders of contempt against the city—Oehl’s
arrest experience was fairly mild.
doesn’t mean it was pleasant. “I was worried about having
to spend a lot of time going back to New York City,” said
Oehl. “I was worried about being arrested in a city where
I didn’t know any lawyers. . . . I also didn’t think that
my getting arrested [in this way] would do anybody any good.
. . . I also worried about my bike, about it getting confiscated,
and my belongings. Since I wasn’t planning on getting arrested,
I had my cell phone with me, my address books that have a
lot of information in them about my friends and who I hang
out with, and there isn’t really a whole lot to stop a cop
from going through all that and sending it off to the FBI,
regardless of what their so-called rules are about that.”
Oehl had been arrested once before, that carefully planned
action hadn’t prepared him for this experience. When he first
came up in front of judge, he was offered a plea bargain of
disorderly conduct (a violation, which is less serious than
a misdemeanor) and time served. But “I still wasn’t aware
of what the charges meant. They flung it out of nowhere and
I had about five seconds to make a decision, so I pled not
guilty,” he said.
since the arrest have been “nerve-wracking” for Oehl. He says
his lawyer has been great, but he is in New York City, a volunteer
with the National Lawyers Guild who had seven other RNC cases
on top of his regular workload. Capital Region lawyers couldn’t
represent him, since motions and briefs had to be filed in
New York City. Oehl found only two other Capital Region residents
who had been arrested, but both had accepted the plea bargain.
spent his time doing Internet research trying to figure out
what “obstruction of government administration”—one of his
charges, along with disorderly conduct and parading without
a permit—meant. He attended two hearings, one in November
and one in January.
the worry—obstruction of government administration in theory
carries up to one year in jail—Oehl has stuck by his not-guilty
plea. “I don’t believe I did anything wrong, and I believe
the city of New York is looking for excuses for its extreme
civil-liberties crackdown,” he explained. “The more guilty
pleas it can produce, the more they can say ‘We really did
need police helicopters all over the place; we really did
need these restrictions.’ ” Of course there have been moments
when he wishes he’d just gone with the plea deal.
court system has all these arcane rules about standing up
when the judge enters the courtroom and things like that,”
he said. “Nobody really takes the time to explain any of it.”
The process of driving to New York, getting searched, and
waiting for several hours only to “stand up for five minutes”
in front of a judge, not be entirely sure what happened, and
go home, has been exceedingly frustrating, he recounted.
are the sort of experiences people who are planning intentional
civil disobedience plan for and expect. But when it comes
from trying to obey the law while dissenting, it’s a clear
case of “an attempt by the administration and the city to
cut off dissent and the ability of people to demonstrate,”
said Robert Levy, Oehl’s lawyer.
is being borne out in the courts, said Bruce Bentley, the
RNC mass defense coordinator for the National Lawyers Guild.
“Out of 1,800 arrests, more than half were adjourned in contemplation
of dismissal,” meaning if you’re not arrested within six months
the charges are dropped, he said. In addition, 351 cases were
dismissed outright. Of those who have gone to trial, there
have been 18 acquittals and only six convictions, said Bentley,
a ratio that is usually reversed—60 to 70 percent of most
trials result in a conviction. Of those who have pled guilty,
the vast majority have accepted a plea deal and pled guilty
to a violation. Only 16 out of 1,800 have pled guilty to misdemeanors.
New York City, there has been lots of support for the defense
effort, said Bentley. People are still coming forward with
photo and video evidence. Oehl’s case now has two solid witnesses
and video evidence, so he’s confident that when he goes to
trial on Feb. 2 he’ll be acquitted.
him and others outside of the city (one of the plaintiffs
in the class-action lawsuit is from British Columbia), the
support network hasn’t been quite as available. Oehl has had
trouble finding people to travel with him to the city. “No
one wants to go in a courtroom,” he said. “I think a lot of
activists are like, ‘There’s all this stuff [to be done]!’,
and we don’t know how to focus on one thing at a time and
be strategic. I think if people had sat down and thought about
it, they would have been like, ‘Yeah, these people need help.’
Oehl is still glad he went to the RNC and did what he did,
he’s looking forward to the legal experience being over on
Feb. 2. But even that’s not for sure. Even as the evidence
against the police action overall mounts, his case will still
proceed like any other. “The DA may say we’re not ready for
trial,” cautioned Bentley. “Perhaps there’s a witness not
available, or a judge will say there’s no courtrooms available.
death and life behind bars: David Kaczynski and Katy
photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
attempt to reinstate the death penalty comes under fire in
was a matter of life and death—and justice—this week in Albany,
as the state Assembly held a public hearing to discuss the
future of the death penalty in New York.
state’s 1995 capital punishment statute was ruled unconstitutional
in June 2004 by the Court of Appeals, which determined that
the sentencing guidelines for capital crimes might coerce
jurors into voting for the death sentence in order to avoid
a deadlock and the resulting default sentence: 20-25 years
Last year, the Senate quickly introduced—and passed—a mildly
revised version of the original bill, but the Assembly decided
to open up discussion on the issue before reinstating the
death penalty. According to Assemblyman Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn),
who presided over Tuesday’s hearing, at least two more hearings
will be held before the Assembly is ready to make a decision.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has previously
voiced his support for the statute.
Tuesday morning’s standing-room-only hearing in Albany mirrored
previous hearings held earlier this year in New York City,
with the crowd overwhelmingly opposed to the Senate’s bill.
The most fervent supporters of the statute argued that deterring
just a few criminals is worth the risk of wrongful convictions,
while reform advocates—as well as those hoping for the statute’s
abolishment—argued that the most important priority is to
prevent innocent people from being sentenced to death.
Many cited the emergence of DNA testing and the cases of wrongful
convictions it has brought to the public eye. Others pointed
to the absence of life-without-parole sentences when the statute
was approved in 1995 as a reason it got overwhelming support
at the time.
Among the speakers providing testimony were members of the
local clergy—including Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard—as
well as law-enforcement officials, university professors and
families of both murder victims and convicted murderers. David
Kaczynski, executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death
Penalty and the brother of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, described
the difficult situation he was faced with when deciding how
to handle suspicions about his brother’s activities.
we chose to do was going to lead to someone’s death,” said
Kaczynski of the choice he had to make between his brother’s
life—the death penalty seemed a likely punishment at the time—and
the lives of potential victims of his brother’s mental instability.
Also in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing were several men who
had been wrongly convicted of crimes that could have earned
them the death penalty.
there was a death penalty at the time I fought this case,
I wouldn’t be here right now,” said Jeffrey Blake, a Brooklyn
man convicted of a double homicide in 1990, five years before
New York adopted its capital punishment statute. Blake was
exonerated eight years later after it was determined that
both Blake and the prosecution’s only eyewitness were nowhere
near the scene of the crime.
While several Assembly members were quick to classify anyone
who opposed the 1995 statute as opponents of the death penalty
as a whole, many of the day’s dozens of speakers expressed
an acceptance of the penalty’s use but a need for more assurance
that the people being put to death were actually guilty.
Throughout the day’s testimonies, speakers regularly referred
to recent events in Illinois, where former Gov. George Ryan,
a Republican who supported the death penalty during his time
as a legislator, recently commuted the death sentences of
more than 150 inmates after deciding that the state’s capital-punishment
system was horribly flawed. On the eve of Tuesday’s hearing,
members of New York’s Legislature were invited to a private
screening of Deadline, an award-winning documentary
of Ryan’s decision and the events leading up to it. Directed
by Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson, the film chronicled
the realization by Ryan and the rest of the nation that the
possibility of executing an innocent person in the nation’s
criminal justice system is far greater than many Americans
At a public screening of the film held after the hearing at
the Washington Avenue branch of the Albany Public Library,
Chevigny said she and Johnson were lucky to get as much information
about Illinois’ prison system as they did. The criminal-justice
system is becoming increasingly closed to outside eyes with
each passing year, explained Chevigny, making it exceedingly
difficult to shed light on the system’s flaws.
And flaws, according to many of Tuesday’s testimonies, are
something that New York’s capital-punishment statute is full
is a system that’s imperfect at best,” explained Gerald Kogan,
a retired chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Kogan
said that while he served in Florida, only 3 percent of the
cases that came before him involved the death penalty, but
that these cases accounted for more than half of his workload.
He also estimated that, over the course of his career, the
state spent more than $3 million on death penalty cases, and
$600,000 on cases where the sentence was life without parole.
And, said Kogan, the likelihood of receiving a death sentence
still depends more on where the crime is committed than the
type of crime.
This last criticism was even echoed by Onondaga County District
Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who spoke in support of the
death penalty as a deterrent to crime. Fitzpatrick was the
prosecutor during one of the seven capital punishment cases
to end in a death sentence since New York’s statute was adopted.
didn’t give us any guidelines,” said Fitzpatrick in response
to questions about the statute’s inconsistent application.
According to Fitzpatrick—and many of the day’s other speakers—certain
district attorneys around New York are well-known opponents
of the death penalty, and will never pursue it for any crime,
while others have adopted a wide range of crimes that they
consider worthy of the death penalty.
This discussion prompted a mixed response, with Assemblyman
Robin Schimminger (D,I,C-Kenmore) arguing that more crimes
be made eligible for capital punishment and others arguing
for a narrowing of capital offenses.
Despite several Assemblymembers who countered each mention
of abolishment or reform with questions about how the speakers
would react if their family members were murdered (Assemblyman
Thomas Kirwan (R-Newburgh), asked one speaker pushing for
reform if he was also advocating against the death penalty
for Adolf Hitler and “the culprits behind 9/11”), the day’s
speakers proposed many alternatives to the 1995 statute. Some
argued that a deadlocked jury for a capital crime should result
in a default sentence of life without parole. Others argued
against the screening process that removes anyone opposed
to the death penalty from cases of capital crimes.
Those advocating for reform or abolishment of the death penalty
say that the most important aspect of their fight is to direct
more attention to the “justice” aspect of the nation’s criminal-justice
system, but realize that a barely revised 1995 statute might
well be approved.
When asked about this possibility late Tuesday night, Kaczynski
sometimes reason just doesn’t win out in the end,” he shrugged.
“That happens, but it doesn’t mean the discussion is over.
Far from it, actually.”
sharply critical federal audit released by the
Albany Police Department late Friday afternoon
(a common tactic to get unfavorable news in the
less-read Saturday daily paper), backed up what
city comptroller Thomas Nitido found last year:
that over several years, the APD misspent more
than $40,000 from its seized asset fund
for things outside of the federal guidelines,
such as artwork, automatic car starters, and community
events [“Tough Questions Continue,” Newsfront,
April 1, 2004]. Police Chief James Turley said
that changes already had been made before the
audit began, and also questioned the guidelines,
which stipulate the money must be used for “law
enforcement purposes,” saying they were “vague.”