The City University of New York's Chancellor hopes to bring back many of the almost-2,900 adjuncts who were recently laid off—but would not promise to use Federal coronavirus funding the system received to do so.

At a virtual State Senate and Assembly hearing on how COVID-19 has affected colleges and universities, Chancellor Félix Matos Rodriguez stated that the public-university system intends to use $132 million in CARES Act funding to invest in training and infrastructure for online instruction, to reimburse campuses and for mental-health support—but that it wouldn’t actually be spending the money yet.

Not Committing Yet

“Although our plan for distribution of this $132 million has been approved by the state, we have decided to hold off on allocating the funds until we finalize our overall budget strategy for Fiscal Year 2021, in case adjustments to our current plans are needed,” he told the legislators. “This is the most-prudent way to proceed in these financially uncertain times.”

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BARBARA BOWEN: Situation too urgent to hold off.

That answer dismayed Barbara Bowen, the president of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents the adjuncts who were told June 30 that they would not be reappointed for the fall semester.

“Three thousand CUNY employees have lost their jobs. Hundreds will lose their health insurance during a pandemic. Holding off is a luxury CUNY does not have,” she testified.

The union has pushed for some of the funding to be used to reinstate the laid-off faculty, and filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Federal Court arguing that CUNY has violated obligations under the CARES Act to keep as many employees on payroll as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Bowen stated that it would cost $30 million to reappoint the adjuncts, a figure she deemed a “small segment” of the coronavirus funding.

'No Reason to Delay'

“No one is denying there is tremendous pressure on the state budget, but this is allocated money that’s already there, and there is no reason they should not use that money now,” she said.

But Mr. Matos Rodriguez stated that rehiring contingent faculty members would depend on a boost in revenue, such as an increase in enrollment.

“We hope that if our financial situation improves, we can bring many of the adjuncts back,” he said.

During the hearing, Fred Kowal, the president of the United University Professions, expressed major safety concerns for faculty who work for the State University of New York. The largest involved whether colleges intended to frequently test staff and students for coronavirus once classes reopened for hybrid instruction. More than 424,000 students attend SUNY schools.

Robert Megna, SUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer, testified that each of its 64 campuses had come up with its own testing protocols, with some colleges planning to perform sample testing on students throughout the semester.

Poles Apart on Plan

“Some will do testing on their own—they’re actually in the process of buying kits to do the testing. Others are doing what we would consider best-practice, which is batch testing; I think it’s a more cost-effective way to test,” he said.

But Mr. Kowal criticized the inconsistent testing plans.

“One campus is requiring students to bring a thermometer so that they can self-check their temperatures—these are 18 and 19-year olds. This is just patently unrealistic, and dangerously so,” he said.

He also pointed to the fact that some institutions such as the Ivy League Cornell University in Ithaca planned to test students once a week.

“Private colleges—those with huge endowments and plentiful resources—are testing. Without testing, all SUNY institutions will be starting behind the curve,” Mr. Kowal stated. “Are students, faculty and professional staff at public universities worth less than those at private universities? And at what point are the resources going to be secondary to human life and human dignity?”


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