If anyone was surprised to hear Tuesday that State Education Department leaders struggled to communicate with, or get a response from, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his top aides throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as they waited for safety guidelines for New York schools, they couldn’t have been keeping up with the news in the last eight months.
It’s just another example of how the Cuomo administration stalled, stonewalled and muted responses that might have helped state colleges climb out of the predicament in which they now find themselves.
Members of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, chaired by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, questioned several state education officials Tuesday during the chamber’s hearing on COVID-19’s impact on the future of higher education in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
With little doubt, the pandemic combined with executive branch secrecy had a harmful impact on instruction, admissions, enrollment, retention, student life and career services. State schools are now staring down the barrel of additional financial aid, access to mental health services and issues around food insecurity.
State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa testified that the lack of communication from the former Cuomo administration and state Health Department Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker in issuing COVID guidance — or releasing conflicting guidelines — to the Education Department throughout the pandemic constituted a major setback for the SUNY and CUNY and public school systems alike.
Educators are hoping former New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, who became the state’s Health Department leader Wednesday, will help right the ship.
It will be good for parents who have children in higher education — and for all New Yorkers — if Bassett and the Higher Education Committee set the tone for rooting out secrecy and opening up lines of communication. There is a sense now of moving the ship in one direction with consistency — and especially, transparency.