The City University of New York is planning to offer a hybrid model of online and in-person courses for the fall semester—but the head of the largest union representing faculty said she had “no confidence” that campuses would be made safe for staff.
In a letter to students and employees, CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez wrote that about half of fall courses would be taught online or would feature a combination of online and in-person instruction. The public-university system shifted to online instruction in March due to the growing number of coronavirus cases.
'A Range of Scenarios'
“I wish I could know what the future will bring, and say with clarity what the upcoming months will look like. I can’t, but regardless of what the fall looks like, CUNY will be ready for our students in August,” he stated. “We are preparing for a range of scenarios that combine in-person, virtual and hybrid instructional modalities.”
Science labs, theater classes and studio arts courses were among the areas of study CUNY expected to use for both online and in-person instruction.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, said that although the letter provided an idea of what Aug. 26, the first day of classes at CUNY, would look like for many faculty members, things were still up in the air for employees currently working from home, including non-instructional staff.
Most important, the union leader was concerned about the safety of those asked to return to work on-campus.
Old Hazards Linger
“I have absolutely no confidence that the CUNY administration will keep our members safe during on-campus work. CUNY's record to date does not justify confidence,” she said in a statement.
In a letter to CUNY’s Coronavirus Planning Task Force written late last month, Ms. Bowen noted previous health and safety hazards across CUNY campuses that had either been left unaddressed or which CUNY administration failed to notify staff and students about, including a lack of running water in bathrooms at City College and a rat infestation at York College.
She also pointed to years of disinvestment at Brooklyn College and Lehman College that had resulted in missing floor and ceiling tiles, exposed wires, out-of-order bathroom stalls, and peeling paint becoming common sights.
Ms. Bowen also said that CUNY had failed to comply with a state requirement for employers to develop and conspicuously post a COVID-19 Health and Safety Plan that included details about what was being done to comply with safety guidelines, including capacity limits, providing personal protective equipment and social-distancing requirements. So far, the plan hasn’t been posted on any campuses, according to the PSC.
CUNY spokesman Frank Sobrino stated that each college was "developing individual plans that will be subject to review and approval by the Chancellor" and that state and Federal guidelines will be "strictly adhered to."
“The PSC will fight any attempt to require any of our members to report to on-campus work if that return poses a risk of serious illness or death," Ms. Bowen stated.
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