Amid fears that thousands of adjuncts working for the City University of New York will be laid off, the Professional Staff Congress and CUNY administrators have agreed to push back the date adjuncts will be informed of whether they will be reappointed next semester to June 30.

They were supposed to receive reappointment letters May 15, but CUNY initially postponed sending out notices until May 29. That day, the union announced that the reappointments would be delayed once more until June 30. A CUNY spokesman said the deadline was extended to better gauge Federal aid to the state.

Extend Health Coverage?

The agreement also includes a provision directing the colleges to “make every effort” to maintain adjuncts’ health insurance through the fall semester for those who are on CUNY’s health plan, and bars CUNY from rescinding adjunct appointments that have already been made.

“Averting layoffs of potentially thousands of adjuncts scheduled to occur today and creating a process that will help the union to protect health insurance was a major step,” PSC President Barbara Bowen wrote in a letter to members. “Now we must use the coming month and the summer to support each other and amplify our demand for the fundamental economic change that will stop all cuts and all layoffs at CUNY.”

Although the state has kept funding for CUNY largely flat, with a projected $13.3-billion state budget deficit due to the impact of COVID-19, CUNY is bracing for deep cuts. PSC officers have reported that colleges were told by CUNY administrators to slash their budgets by 10 percent. John Jay College has proposed laying off 437 adjuncts, while Brooklyn College plans to eliminate 25 percent of its course offerings.

Adjuncts make up almost 60 percent of CUNY’s instructional staff. More than 12,000 adjuncts work for the public-university system.

Cites Logistical Worries

Pamela Stemberg, an Adjunct Assistant Professor of English at Hostos Community College and City College, called the proposed layoffs “insulting,” and worried that class sizes would balloon if courses and staff were cut.

“I don’t see how you can maintain a quality education while you’re jettisoning the people who teach,” she said during a phone interview.

Ms. Stemberg called the current situation “dystopian,” particularly the creation of a Vacancy Review Board in April, which will review “exceptions” to CUNY’s hiring freeze and will monitor promotions and staffing levels.

Adding to the uncertainty is that it’s unclear if campuses will reopen in the fall.

“It’s like CUNY Central thinks you can teach 300 people out of your living room, but online teaching is more labor-intensive,” Ms. Stemberg said.

'Cut Their Bloat'

Carol Lang, an Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Bronx Community College, said that it’s been a tense time for part-time staff. She added that CUNY should look to slash its “bloated” central administration instead of its lowest-paid workers.

Although those who have worked at least six hours per semester for 10 semesters in a row were eligible for three-year appointments, more than 80 percent of adjuncts were not. The PSC is recommending that adjuncts without three-year appointments apply for unemployment, a suggestion Ms. Stemberg backed.

Rebecca Smart, an Adjunct Lecturer of Social Sciences, Human Services and Criminal Justice at Baruch College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College, said that she was fortunate to have a three-year appointment, but noted that her department was facing major cuts. She added that adjuncts who were reappointed may end up teaching fewer classes, which would result in a loss of income.

Ms. Smart said that she’s already lost one of her classes at the BMCC. She called on the CUNY community to step up its advocacy.

“We need masses of people to get involved, from signing petitions to pushing [Governor] Cuomo to tax the rich,” she said.

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