Faculty and activists from the Professional Staff Congress Jan. 9 objected to the City University of New York’s recent budget request for the upcoming fiscal year, which does not include plans to double adjunct pay, a demand the union has been aggressively pursuing.

The budget includes new initiatives to hire more-diverse faculty, as well as to address problems with student retention and on-time graduation rates. But several advocates at a Board of Trustees hearing at Borough of Manhattan Community College expressed outrage that adjuncts weren’t even mentioned in the document.

Seeking $7G Per Course

PSC has been fighting to get the trustees—10 of whom were appointed by Governor Cuomo—to support adjunct pay being doubled to $7,000 per course. That figure was comparable to what adjuncts at other colleges such as Rutgers University earned; the average CUNY adjunct earned about $28,000 a year.

The union has held several rallies and demonstrations on the issue, including one outside the investment-banking offices of William C. Thompson Jr., Chairperson of the board, and last month blockaded the entrance to Baruch College, resulting in the arrest of 17 members, including the union’s president.

“While we can continue to complain to you about the great injustice of adjunct underpay, for which you bear full responsibility, it is clear that our words, no matter how eloquent, fall on deaf ears,” said Marc Kagan, an adjunct lecturer in history at Lehman College.

PSC President Barbara Bowen noted the irony that “every single program that you boast about in that budget request depends on our labor. And yet our labor is systematically denied in that request.” She added that the paltry funding demands would allow problems such as vermin, broken bathrooms and other unsanitary conditions plaguing CUNY’s aging campuses to persist, calling the request “a massive document of denial.”

Can’t Compete

Several educators showed how the current level of pay for faculty hurt students. Jennifer Gaboury, Associate Director of the Women and Gender Studies program at Hunter College, said that when Rutgers University raised adjunct pay to $5,400 per course five years ago, she suddenly faced a staff shortage.

“We have a bottleneck: students cannot take courses they need to graduate because of that economic reality,” she said.

Faculty members lamented not being able to help students as much as they wanted to because they were juggling multiple jobs or taking on heavy courseloads in order to survive.

“You want to increase student retention and completion rates? Pay your Professors,” said Rebecca Smart, an adjunct at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Baruch College. “If you want to do better for your students, do better for the Professors.”

Several speakers pointed out that CUNY was failing in its mission to lift low-income New Yorkers out of poverty and into the middle class because many of its own employees were CUNY graduates. About half of City College’s adjunct faculty graduated from CUNY, noted Pamela Stemberg, an English Adjunct Lecturer at the City College of New York.

Beset by Student Loans

LaGuardia Community College adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology Alice Baldwin-Jones, who emigrated from the Caribbean and received her undergraduate degree at City College and Master’s at the Graduate Center, said she was far from having a “firm hold in the middle class.”

“My student loans are unpaid, I will finish paying them in 2047—if I live that long,” she said.

James Blake, president of the Borough of Manhattan Community College Black Faculty and Staff Association, pointed out gaps in the initiatives included in the budget request to increase diversity among CUNY faculty. He noted that the proposed programs did nothing to address the “hostile campus culture” faced by current employees of color.

At a City Council hearing last September, CUNY administrators admitted that retention was an issue among black educators. The Council Members also reported that between fall 2010 and fall 2017, despite programs to increase diversity among staff, the number of black faculty at CUNY remained flat.

“It’s not just about funding to increase diversity but about changing the culture of racism and exclusion. Funding is needed for programs to increase faculty inclusivity,” Mr. Blake said.


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