The City University of New York’s decision not to reappoint 2,990 adjunct instructors this past summer came under fire at a Nov. 12 City Council hearing.
CUNY officials testified that the adjuncts—who were considered part-time staff—received letters of non-reappointment by the end of June, a decision that was made ahead of anticipated budget gaps because of COVID-19. At least 660 adjuncts were later reappointed for the current term.
About 60 percent of courses at CUNY were taught by its 12,000 adjuncts.
'Why Gut the Body?'
“We know that CUNY relies on adjuncts for the bulk of the instruction that goes on. So why are we gutting the body that is responsible for instruction?” asked City Council Member Inez Barron, who chairs the Council’s Higher Education committee.
Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen argued that CUNY “rushed” to lay off adjuncts “even before the cuts were applied, and that revealed the deep structural problem of contingency—that contingency makes it convenient to lay people off,” she said. “CUNY exploited that structure in a moment of danger for the whole institution.”
Anticipating budget cuts because of the state-shutdown orders, CUNY colleges began proposing cuts to course offerings and adjunct layoffs in the spring. Since then, CUNY has seen a $52-million drop in revenue thanks to a 5-percent decrease in enrollment. The city has also cut funding for its seven community colleges by $46 million, while the state Budget Division is withholding 20 percent of CUNY’s state funding because of the shortfall due to COVID.
The PSC aggressively protested the non-reappointments, and has repeatedly called for CUNY to use some of the coronavirus funding it received under the Federal CARES Act to rehire the laid-off instructors.
Did CUNY Renege?
The union also reached an agreement with CUNY in the spring advising college departments to prioritize reappointing adjuncts who had health insurance through CUNY and those who were eligible for three-year appointments.
Adjuncts who have worked at least six hours per semester for 10 consecutive semesters are eligible for three-year appointments, according to a provision in the PSC’s contract that was negotiated in 2016 meant to provide security for the highly-vulnerable part-timers.
But Council Member Helen Rosenthal questioned whether those policies were actually put into practice, pointing to the fact that every adjunct at Medgar Evers College who was up for a three-year appointment received a letter of non-reappointment.
“Didn’t that raise a red flag to you?” Ms. Rosenthal asked. “That seems like a pretty blatant move.”
The Council Member prodded Matthew Sapienza, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer, and Pamela Silverblatt, the Senior Vice Chancellor for Labor Relations, to find out whether CUNY took steps to ensure the colleges prioritized these groups of adjuncts for reappointment. Ms. Silverblatt stated that the administration entrusted each college's President to manage the reappointment decisions, which Ms. Rosenthal dismissed as a “non-answer.”
Blanca Vazquez, a member of the PSC Executive Council, questioned how suddenly the colleges “can do whatever they want and the CUNY administration has no responsibility for implementing the policy they wrote?”
Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the Civil Service and Labor Committee, questioned whether CUNY was negotiating fairly with the union and if it had been transparent about the staff cuts. Ms. Bowen testified that CUNY has stonewalled the union by not providing the names of adjuncts who received letters of non-reappointment, and has refused to negotiate on the impact of increasing class sizes—including growing workloads.
Concerned faculty testified that class sizes had grown beyond 40 students thanks to the shrinking number of adjuncts. Non-Teaching Assistants and other non-pedagogical staff have also been affected by the budget cuts, since their hours were reduced.
Mum on Delaying Raises
Not discussed at the hearing were reports that CUNY planned to delay 2-percent raises that were supposed to take effect Nov. 15. A spokesman for system declined to comment on the matter, instead referring to a letter written earlier this month by CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez announcing that 580 executives would be placed on a five-day furlough and warning that “more potentially difficult decisions” could be coming down the road.
Despite the non-reappointments of thousands of employees, Mr. Sapienza and Ms. Silverblatt insisted that no staffers at CUNY have been laid off. Ms. Bowen had a different opinion.
“When somebody has worked at CUNY for a decade or 20 years and then they are suddenly non-reappointed, that is a layoff,” she said. “CUNY can’t have it both ways and make adjuncts the mainstay of the teaching force, and then make them disposable when it’s time for layoffs.”
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.