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The price you pay: University at Albany student Gabrielle Smith.Photo by John Whipple

Higher-Priced Education

NYPIRG study shows New York public university system becoming more costly while state support declines

Should she finish her studies at the University at Albany, Gabrielle Smith wants to teach university English as it was never taught to her.

“I think Edgar Allen Poe is so cool and, in general, an overlooked author,” said Smith. “He is easy to understand and easy to read, but instead, professors pick books they would enjoy and ones they understand. I think I can make English fun.”

But Smith may not have the chance to teach if trends in New York state higher education continue as reported in a study released last week by the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The report shows that the average cost of attending New York state’s four-year public universities and community colleges nearly doubled between 1990 and 2000. Yet state support for higher- education funding declined by 22 percent.

“Higher education is absolutely essential for individuals who want to get a job to make ends meet,” said Miriam Kramer, NYPIRG’s higher education coordinator. “We have an increase in cost and decline in state support, which then lends itself to a shift in the burden. Public higher education is a good that New York should be investing in.”

NYPIRG’s report shows that the cost of attending New York’s four-year public colleges is higher than the national average; our four-year public schools are the nation’s 14th most expensive, while two-year community colleges are the 5th most costly in the country. In contrast, the costs of four-year public schools in California, Florida and Texas ranked 43rd, 45th and 36th respectively. Along with the report, NYPIRG sent a letter to Gov. George Pataki and elected officials urging them to reverse these trends.

“The governor has held a line on SUNY tuition for seven years, including this year when facing a major economic challenge,” said Ken Brown, spokesman for the state division of budget. “New York holds the most generous tuition assistance program in the country.”

While tuition at State University of New York schools has been maintained at $3,400 since its $750 increase in 1995, NYPIRG’s report more directly addresses the rising cost in fees. Using statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, the report stated that rising fees, growing by an average of $90 a year, account for the highest cost increase to students and their parents.

For example, fees at the University at Albany in 1995 totaled $556; by 2001 they had more than doubled, to $1,250. According to NYPIRG’s study, the fees at SUNY Maritime College, located in the Bronx, are the most costly at $1,555.

NYPIRG’s report was released amid speculation that the state Legislature may reconvene in November to balance the state’s reported $8 billion budget deficit. The group fears that a tuition increase may be considered to aide the state’s fiscal woes.

Critics have said that these fees, which cannot be paid for with money from New York’s Tuition Assistance Program, coupled with a possible tuition hike, may deter some students from attending college.

“The extra money of a tuition increase will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said Assemblyman Ed Sullivan (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Assembly’s education committee. “Students will put it [attending] off for a year and they’ll never come back.”

Sullivan said a tuition increase that denies students the opportunity to attend college is lost opportunity for investment in the state of New York.

“That is an investment and it comes back four, five, six times,” Sullivan said. “That investment comes back in increased tax revenues due to increased income from going to college.”

According to the Web site of the Higher Education Services Corporation, the state agency administering TAP, New York’s investment in tuition assistance has fluctuated, but mostly declined since 1996. The number of students receiving TAP steadily declined by 11 percent, with 25,390 fewer students receiving aid in 2000 than in 1996. The total amount of money spent on TAP also declined during that period by 16.2 percent.

“The interests of college students and higher education must be protected in any budget negotiations,” said Charlene Piper, Brooklyn College student and chairwoman of NYPIRG’s board of directors. “We urge legislators to take higher education off any chopping block and take no measures that would undermine the already fragile affordability that exists at New York’s public colleges.”

While Brown said Gov. Pataki intends to keep higher education costs down as budget negotiations move forward, it is “too early to speculate” on a SUNY tuition increase.

Smith, the sixth of seven daughters attending college on the salaries of a former New York City fireman and a secretary, fears that any tuition increase may prevent her from becoming a college professor. She currently works 35 hours a week as assistant manager at Orange Julius while speeding through her studies in UAlbany’s combined bachelor’s/master’s English program.

“I have received TAP and financial aid,” said Smith, “but everything else I pay. I took the job because it has down time so I can read. I stay up late and wake up early to get my work done. I don’t have any choice; work can’t interfere with my studies.”

—Travis Durfee

This land is our land: protesters in front of the governor’s mansion. Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

One Nation Under Ray

Albany protestors support Oneida woman’s effort to save her home from federally appointed tribal-court leader

The sounds of Native American chanting and drum beating could be heard in front of the governor’s mansion in Albany last Friday, as demonstrators gathered to show their support for Danielle Schenandoah Patterson, an Oneida women who faces eviction and the demolition of her home.

“I’m here today because I’m shocked this is going on right here in New York state,” said Bhawin Suchak, a teacher at the Albany Free School.

With signs and banners held high, close to 50 protestors lined Eagle Street, as Diane Schenandoah, Patterson’s sister, spoke out against what she calls “acts of terrorism in the name of beautification” against the Oneida people.

The Oneida Nation Government, under the leadership of Arthur Ray Halbritter, ordered Patterson’s trailer to be torn down because, they said, it has deteriorated beyond repair. Art Pierce, the nation’s public safety commissioner, called Patterson’s trailer a fire trap because it had no foundation, a leaking roof, broken windows and rotting floors. The Oneida tribal court backed the inspection and ordered Patterson to leave her home by Sept. 15.

As a result, hundreds of people have come out to the land, located 45 miles east of Syracuse, to act as a human barricade preventing Patterson’s mobile home from being destroyed.

Schenandoah said that the protesters are out in full force because the housing ordinance is just another ploy by Halbritter to further his beautification project, where homes are inspected, condemned and demolished under the guise of health and safety, even though some of these homes were just built in 1990.

Halbritter’s leadership, she added, was imposed upon the Oneida people against their will by the Federal Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1987. She said that his appointment didn’t follow suit with traditional ancestral laws and customs of the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy.

“He wields power only through federal recognition,” said Patterson. “The Iroquois Six Nations [Oneida, Onondoga, Mohawk, Seneca, Tuscorora and Cayuga] have continuously notified the BIA that Halbritter does not represent the Oneida people, as he does not follow our elective nor traditional forms and there is no process through which the people can remove him from this appointed federal position.”

Therefore, she added, he is not their legitimate tribal leader. But since the BIA appointed Halbritter, a Harvard graduate who owns and operates Turning Stone Resort and Casino, he has control over the laws of the Oneida land. Halbritter did not return numerous calls for this story.

For years, Schenandoah said, the Oneida people have fought to stop Halbritter, who is also her first cousin, from evicting people from their homes. She also pointed out that Patterson, her sister, is part of one of the last remaining families residing on the sovereign territory. She said that the only option offered to people once evicted is to pay rent to Halbritter for homes outside of the community.

“Already, 13 homes have been destroyed,” said Schenandoah. “The remaining resisting families are continually harassed by a non-native police force formed by Halbritter.”

Since 1995, she added, Halbritter has locked the traditional longhouse, closed the community food bank and cut off hundreds of Oneida from the tribal rolls, stripping them of their benefits and taking away many tribal rights.

“We are disturbed by Halbritter insisting that out homes be destroyed,” said Schenandoah. “These are our homes and the land upon which our ancestors lived and died. We wish to remain here.”

—Nancy Guerin

Street Hassles

A recent mugging spree has some Albany residents worried, but police say that they have everything under control

Sometimes it’s strong-arm tactics, punches and choke holds, and in other cases it’s a box cutter or a gun; either way, Albany residents have been mugged more this year than in any of the past three years.

Albany Police predict the trend may level out by December, but by their calculation, muggings in the city rose about 10 percent since last year.

In the beginning of September, during the first week of classes for most local universities, two Saint Rose students were held up at gunpoint in front of Brubacher Hall on the University at Albany’s downtown Alumni Quad. Another student was attacked on Quail Street and escaped, according to Detective James Miller, spokesman for the Albany Police Department. Police have since arrested three people in connection with the Quail Street attack and another recent mugging in the parking lot of the Water Works Pub on Central Avenue.

This is a tricky problem, Miller explained, since students can be easy targets because of their lifestyles and the late hours many of them keep.

“The majority of the robberies that are occurring are late at night,” Miller said. “I don’t care where you live anymore, that’s just not a safe practice. . . . But we’re not trying to get them to stop going out—that’s college life, especially in the Pine Hills section.”

The College of Saint Rose and UAlbany have both made attempts to address safety issues since the attacks, but many have said that the schools should be doing more.

Of more than 30 students polled on UAlbany’s uptown campus last week, many of whom live downtown, none were aware of the muggings.

A UAlbany residential assistant, who asked to remain anonymous, said that she learned of the attacks only informally from a university police officer and said that the school is not doing enough to make students aware of the muggings.

“I know there were more [problems not reported],” she said. “I’d have flyers posted, and I would have made Residential Life hold section meetings to make the students aware of it.”

Miller and many storeowners on Lark Street agreed that the police have made great progress in Center Square, where roughly seven strong-arm and knifepoint robberies occurred in July and August. Police initiated a special patrol that led to the arrest and indictment of four Albany men. Miller said that muggings leveled off in the area after their arrest.

“The majority of the time it’s someone committing multiple crimes,” Miller said. “Once you arrest that person and kick them off the street, you generally won’t see that occurring to any kind of level to which you had before.”

But some Lark Street residents decided to take matters into their own hands, and this past May, formed Neighbors For Safety. Steve Minchin, one of the group’s founders, said he took action after a surge in attacks in the spring.

Minchin said that in the first two weeks of May, he heard of more crimes than in the past five years that he has lived in Center Square.

Through awareness campaigns, posting flyers, and a “stoop and watch” program where residents take shifts keeping an eye out for suspicious activity, Minchin said the difference is noticeable.

“As we get more people involved, it seems we’re hearing about fewer events,” Minchin said.

Minchin said similar efforts in other neighborhoods could bring parallel results.

Some merchants noted that other problems are harder to address.

“You tend to see more drug-driven crowds hanging around,” said Dennis Phayre, owner of Shades of Green, a restaurant on Lark Street. “You see prostitutes soliciting right outside here. . . . It doesn’t take that many people to really change the character of the neighborhood.”

Phayre said he feared that drug activity out of nearby drug houses would build to a breaking point. Sonny Dudley, owner of Hot Dog Heaven, a Lark Street eatery, said that while he is not as concerned about the recent spree of muggings, panhandlers and alcoholics were scaring some people in the neighborhood.

Some have said that part of the problem is a general acceptance among residents who begin to perceive muggings, drug activity and prostitution as part of normal daily life.

“There are a lot of ‘normal’ activities going on that are going to drive me and my young children and my wife out,” Phayre said.

According to Miller, community involvement is as important as police intervention.

“I think it’s too typical,” Miller said, “to just say we’ll saturate the city with police officers on every corner.”

—David Riley

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