PART-TIME JOB, FULL-TIME WORRIES: Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen (left) testified at a Jan. 30 City Council hearing about the lack of job security adjuncts face and the increased reliance on part-time staff within the City University of New York. Because the portion of CUNY’s funding that comes from student tuition has grown to 40 percent, classes are more prone to be cancelled if they do not meet enrollment expectations, putting adjuncts at risk of not meeting eligibility requirements for health insurance or three-year appointments, noted Brooklyn College Chapter Chair James Davis (center). 

Adjuncts at the City University of New York have begun to see the gains made in the recent contract agreement by the Professional Staff Congress--but that doesn’t mean everything’s coming up roses, the union testified at a Jan. 30 City Council hearing.

The pact, which expires in February 2023, boosts adjunct pay in multiple ways, including 2-percent raises over the first four years of the agreement, pay for office hours, and an increase in their hourly rate at the start of the Fall 2022 semester. By the end of the contract, adjuncts will have seen the minimum pay for three-credit classes increase to $5,500, a 71-percent boost.

Too Many Part-Timers?

But the PSC has questioned CUNY’s increased reliance on part-time staff. There were about 12,600 part-time instructors across the public university system’s 26 colleges, who make up about 60 percent of teaching staff.

“In the 1970s, before the fiscal crisis hit, CUNY had 11,500 full-time faculty and far fewer students than today. Now we have 7,500 full-time faculty and more students. Why are there fewer full-time faculty? Because they cost more,” said the union’s president Barbara Bowen.

According to CUNY’s manual of general policy, which was published in 1965, the adjunct title was designated for those who were appointed for “a limited purpose…or for a limited duration.”

“That might have been the case at the time that was written but it is certainly not the case now,” said union Treasurer Sharon Persinger.

The Council Members probed the lack of job security that was often felt by adjuncts. Although instructors who have worked at least six hours per semester for 10 semesters in a row were eligible for three-year appointments, that group accounted for less than 20 percent of the part-timers.

Enrollment Woes

And as the cash-strapped system increasingly relied on tuition revenue for financial support—about 40 percent of CUNY’s funding comes from students—administrators have become quick to drop classes that did not meet their enrollment expectations, the union stated.

“When a course gets cancelled, it means the faculty member may lose other rights and benefits like their eligibility for the three-year appointment or their eligibility for health insurance,” said James Davis, PSC Chapter Chair at Brooklyn College. “Adjunct faculty are disproportionately affected by the precariousness that’s introduced with the increased dependence on tuition.”

Council Member Inez Barron believed the low wages and lack of job security adjuncts faced were “even more alarming when one looks at the racial and ethnic demographics of adjunct faculty,” since non-white faculty were disproportionately in lower-level teaching positions.

Ms. Persinger, who has taught Math at Bronx Community College for 20 years, observed that although the number of courses being offered in her department had decreased, classes were still primarily being taught by adjuncts.

Full-Timers Decreasing

“You’d think that this reduction in the number of sections offered would give the college the opportunity to increase the percent of courses taught by full-time faculty without actually having to increase the number of full-time faculty, but that’s not happening,” she said. “The number of full-time faculty is being allowed to decrease.”

Ms. Bowen also expressed concerns about the state budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2021. Although Senior Vice Chancellor Matthew Sapienza said that CUNY administrators were hopeful that the public-university system would ultimately receive more funding than was budgeted in the proposal, the union leader called on the Council Members to advocate for a millionaire’s tax in order to create revenue. She also noted that city funding for four-year colleges had been stagnant for more than 20 years, not even with factoring in inflation.

Improving teaching conditions for adjuncts will not be resolved “until the funding basis at CUNY is revolutionized,” Ms. Bowen said.

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