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“No one who made this decision had the human capacity to know us personally, to see what they’re doing,” said Bibi Baksh, an English Adjunct at Bronx Community College who was among the 2,800 part-time staff recently laid off by the City University of New York.
Officers at the Professional Staff Congress and faculty decried the layoffs during a virtual protest held July 15, while dozens of employees and students marched outside the Bronx campus. But the cuts at Bronx Community College were especially egregious, the protesters said, because 36 of the adjuncts who were laid off were up for three-year appointments.
Contract 'Victory' Scuttled
Adjuncts who worked at least six hours per semester for 10 semesters in a row were guaranteed a three-year appointment, according to a provision in the PSC’s contract that was negotiated in 2016.
“The three-year appointment was one of the major victories two contracts ago,” said Robert Farrell, the PSC chapter chair for Lehman College.
He believed the adjuncts up for three-year appointments were targeted because the provision “represents one of the most-progressive features of our contract in that it guarantees a certain level of stability and job security for our most-precarious workers.”
"BCC is in the wrong for this, and we are going to get them to change it," added Sharon Utakis, an English Professor and former PSC chapter chair at the college.
Anticipating budget cuts because of the state shutdown orders, CUNY colleges began proposing cuts to course offerings and adjunct layoffs in the spring. By June 30, more than 2,800 part-time staff were given letters of non-reappointment for the fall semester, and 422 of them also lost their health coverage.
22-Year Vet Discarded
Several faculty members noted that longtime adjuncts were laid off, including Ms. Baksh, who has spent 22 years as an Adjunct at BCC. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1994, she enrolled at BCC and began working as a tutor at the college before being given the opportunity to teach a course as an Adjunct.
“I never left BCC since I came to this country. It is my home in the United States,” she said. “The fact that I might not be able to be in a classroom to do what I do for students is killing me.”
Sophia Cantave, an English Adjunct who also received a letter of non-reappointment, said that she felt as though she and other employees who were laid off were “discarded.”
“When I got that letter that pretty much said, ‘Thank you for your service and don’t let the door hit you on the way out,’ it was a sucker punch,” she said.
Kathleen Urda, who chairs the college’s English Department, said that 19 adjuncts were laid off in her department alone.
'A Shocking Time'
“This has been a shocking time as somebody who is running a department but also on a personal level because these are faculty members who precede me—I’ve been at BCC for 13 years,” she said. “They’re full parts of our community, these are faculty members who deserve to be fully employed by the college.”
The layoffs prompted the PSC to file a lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court arguing that CUNY, which received Federal coronavirus funding, violated obligations under the CARES Act to keep as many employees on payroll as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit asks for CUNY to be enjoined from laying off more adjuncts until the COVID-related shutdowns are over, and seeks a mandate that the public-university system reinstate adjuncts who were already discharged and provide them with back pay.
Ms. Cantave said she prays that the laid-off employees can somehow return to CUNY, but called the administration’s treatment of contingent staff “unforgivable.”
“I hope we come back, but it has to be a different working relationship,” she said.