BMCC graduation

LET'S CELEBRATE AND ADVOCATE: As part of a campaign for a new contract, Professional Staff Congress members at more than a dozen graduation ceremonies encouraged attendees to contact the state to increase funding at the City University of New York and boost adjunct pay to $7,000 per course. Kathleen Offenholly (right), chapter chair at Borough of Manhattan Community College, said that many students were not aware of the adjuncts' low wages or even what an adjunct is. 'They don't realize most of their first-year professors are adjuncts,' she said.

The Professional Staff Congress called on City University of New York graduates to support its campaign for adjuncts to be paid $7,000 per course in demonstrations at more than a dozen graduation ceremonies.

PSC’s contract expired in November 2017. As part of its campaign for a new agreement, faculty members and union organizers passed out leaflets at 15 graduation ceremonies held from May 29 to June 3 urging attendees to contact the State to increase funding for the beleaguered public university system.

‘CUNY’s Future at Risk’

“We are demonstrating in solidarity with our students at graduation ceremonies across the University because we want to ensure there is a CUNY for the next generation of students,” said union President Barbara Bowen. “Without a commitment to increased public funding and decent salaries, CUNY will not be able to go on providing the high-quality education the class of 2019 received.  The graduation procession [was] a march for continuing opportunity and education justice for the people of New York.”

Kathleen Offenholly, a Math Professor and chapter chair at Borough of Manhattan Community College, gave out leaflets and took photos with graduates prior to each of the college’s two May 31 ceremonies held at Madison Square Garden.

“A lot of students don’t realize what an adjunct is. They don’t realize most of their first-year Professors are adjuncts,” she said amid the bustle between the graduations.

Adjuncts currently earn about $3,500 per course, and the union has been pushing for that figure to be doubled to $7,000, comparable to what adjuncts make at other colleges such as Rutgers University. CUNY adjuncts earn an average salary of about $28,000 a year, and often hold other jobs or teach at multiple campuses in order to earn a living.

Howard Meltzer, a Math Professor at BMCC, added that most students didn’t know how “poorly” adjunct faculty are paid.

‘An Education for Them’

“For many of the students it’s been an education to really talk about what the salaries are like. Because the students know the kind of work that’s involved. And they’re the ones who, in the end, suffer if [their Professors] are running from one place to another,” he said.

Graduate Beverley McDonald, who posed for a photo with union officials after receiving her Associate degree in Community Health Education, said she was shocked when she found out how little adjuncts earned. “I really want CUNY to step it up because Professors and Teachers in general deserve more,” she said.

About 60 percent of CUNY instructors are adjuncts. Mr. Meltzer explained that the part-time faculty performed a lot of unpaid work outside the classroom, including grading and class-prep. “We don’t want the university running on the backs of cheap labor—that’s really what the issue is.”

The union has recently been highlighting the voices of student supporters for fair pay, while launching a television and radio ad campaign last month.

Mr. Meltzer noted that the fair wage drive could be a learning tool for students. “It’s important to talk to students about the ideas of unions, labor rights and collective bargaining—these are all things they need to be aware of as they go out into the job market,” he said.

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