The Professional Staff Congress has called on the City University of New York to provide department chairs with a $10,000 stipend as their workloads increase in the face of shrinking budgets and staff support, according to a report.
The union interviewed 136 department chairs across a dozen CUNY campuses, who are responsible for managing course scheduling, student advisement, marketing the major, and hiring, granting promotions and tenure to faculty.
Workload Keeps Rising
More than 90 percent of those interviewed said their number one concern was that over the past decade they had seen their workload grow as CUNY increasingly relied on part-time staff, and because of a rise in the amount of administrative work they must perform.
Adjuncts, who are considered part-time faculty, teach 61 percent of the courses offered at CUNY’s senior colleges.
The report found that the reliance of adjuncts had a “twofold” effect on chairs: “Not only do chairs have to oversee the hiring, observations and evaluations of as many as 100 adjuncts, they also have to shoulder work that would normally be shared by full-time faculty colleagues,” it stated. “Essential work of departments, such as student mentoring, curriculum development and classroom teaching observations, falls increasingly on the diminished ranks of full-time faculty—or on the chair.”
PSC President Barbara Bowen said that the burden faced by the chairs “tells a larger story of the hidden costs of disinvestment in CUNY, its workers and its students.”
Funding Not Keeping Up
Department chairs have found themselves having to find solutions to work around the public university system’s deteriorating physical conditions, the report indicated. Many of CUNY’s buildings are more than 50 years old, and although state legislators agreed to provide an additional $200 million to both the city and state university systems under the most-recent state budget, a surge in enrollment meant that per-student funding has actually decreased 18 percent since 2008, according to the PSC.
The union has been pushing for Governor Cuomo to sign an enhanced version of the Maintenance of Effort bill, which covers inflationary costs such as rent and electricity, but he has vetoed it three times.
Furthermore, the department heads said that the position’s authority has “eroded”: one chair cited an example of an administrator canceling a campus tour for prospective candidates for a tenure-track position, interviewing the prospective hires himself despite not having any experience in the discipline, and then ultimately rescinding the job opportunity.
Ms. Bowen said that the PSC has “had a long commitment to protecting the integrity of academic departments and fighting to maintain union rights for those elected as chairs. Understanding and trying to address the working conditions of department chairs is essential to the union’s work.”
Not Worth the Hassles?
More than 70 percent of the chairs surveyed believed that fewer faculty members would want to serve as chair. The PSC noted that CUNY provides “few to none” of the incentives faculty at other university systems receive, and argued that a $10,000 stipend was comparable to what the chairs made at other public colleges.
“To incentivize professors to take on the burden of chairing departments for the benefit of students, junior and mid-career faculty, and the larger institution, CUNY needs to compensate them properly,” the report concluded.
The PSC has been aggressively campaigning for a contract that includes increased wages for staff, including doubling wages for 12,000 adjuncts. The pact expired in November 2017.
A spokesman for the public university system said that CUNY would “continue to negotiate with PSC in good faith and will discuss all issues at the bargaining table.”
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