A proposal to lay off more than 400 adjunct instructors at John Jay College of Criminal Justice was called “horrible and abusive” by the head of the Professional Staff Congress.
With millions in budget cuts projected due to the coronavirus, John Jay Provost Yi Li wrote May 8 that it plans not to reappoint more than 400 adjuncts for the fall semester. Appointments must be made by May 29.
'They're Not Disposable'
“Adjunct instructors are not disposable," PSC President Barbara Bowen said during a May 15 press conference. “We're talking about people's lives here. These are people who have worked and taught at CUNY for years, on inadequate pay, and signed on teach the city's poor and people of color because they believed in that, and now this is how they're treated?”
A caravan of union members protested the layoffs by circling outside Governor Cuomo’s Midtown headquarters May 18.
The union said that 437 adjuncts’ jobs were being threatened, or about 40 percent of John Jay’s instructional staff. There are more than 12,000 adjuncts across the CUNY system, who make up almost 60 percent of the teaching faculty.
For years, adjuncts have faced low pay and job insecurity. Although those 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 CUNY’s part-time staff.
“To take a machete to adjunct faculty, that amounts to dismantling a significant part of the CUNY system itself," said State Sen. John Liu.
'Sets Worst Example'
State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris argued that allowing public institutions to engage in layoffs in response to the pandemic would “set the worst example."
Although the state has kept funding for CUNY largely flat, with a projected $13.3-billion deficit in the state budget due to the impact of COVID-19, aid for localities, including higher education, could be slashed by $8.2 billion.
Elizabeth Hovey, a History Adjunct Assistant Professor at John Jay, noted that many of the niche topics offered at John Jay, such as the Law and Police Science, were predominantly taught by adjunct instructors.
Marie-Michelle Strah, an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the school, said that she was “flabbergasted” by the decision, and added that CUNY needed to be held accountable for the negative impact such cuts could have on students, including larger class sizes and jeopardizing their ability to take classes required to graduate on-time.
"By removing our faculty, is CUNY saying that our students don’t deserve a meaningful education?" she asked.
College: Fair as Possible
John Jay spokesman Richard Relkin said in a statement that the college was “working to create a plan for the fall semester that is as fair, responsible, and realistic as possible.”
And it’s not just John Jay College that is looking to slash staff—last month, Brooklyn College department chairs were instructed to cut 25 percent of classes for the fall semester. The College of Staten Island has also proposed cutting 35 percent of its budget for adjunct instructors.
Michael Paris, the chair of CSI’s Political Science and Global Affairs Department, said CUNY administrators told the college to find $10 million in savings. He said he was told to come up with a list of adjuncts to be cut, but he and nine other chairs refused.
“They worked their tails off all semester, and now this is such a slap in the face, to be targeted first and foremost for these deep cuts," he said, referring to CUNY’s shift to remote-learning this past March after campuses were closed because the number of coronavirus cases began to grow.
'Won't Be Complicit'
Mr. Paris added that adjuncts were an “easy” target because of their part-time status. "We will not be complicit in this immoral and unnecessary decision," he said.
The PSC argued that the cuts were pre-emptive, because the public-university system’s budget had not yet been finalized, nor did it factor in the $235 million in Federal funding CUNY has been allocated in response to the pandemic. Half of that money must go to students.
The union is fighting to ensure that any adjuncts who are laid off don’t lose their health insurance during a health crisis, and doubled down on its call for a millionaires' tax to increase revenue rather than slashing state budgets.
Ms. Bowen said that there were many lessons to be learned from the city’s mid-1970s fiscal crisis, during which CUNY faced large cuts and non-tenured faculty positions were threatened. The disinvestment during that period contributed to CUNY needing to rely predominantly on part-time staff, the union leader noted.
“[Those cuts] disabled CUNY for years and years, so let us do something different coming out of this COVID emergency,” she said.
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