Academic integrity at QCC
The department chairs of Queensborough Community College would like to affirm their respect for the integrity and excellence of our peer faculty at the college. Recent publications have called into question the scholarly integrity of the work of the Queensborough faculty. As governance leaders who collaborate with fellow faculty and the administration in the guidance, reappointment and promotion of faculty, we can say with certainty that at Queensborough our dedicated faculty members conduct their scholarship, research and creative work with an integrity and seriousness that deserves appreciation and celebration. Continued references to opportunistic publishers may easily confuse those unfamiliar with the excellence of our peers, leading to the impression that this is a common issue at the college. This is not the case. Faculty applications for reappointment, tenure and promotion are vetted to five levels of scrutiny: annual reviews, departmental personnel budget committees (P&Bs), college P&B, the administration and the academic review committee. Faculty are offered guidance by peer mentors, chairs, faculty on departmental P&Bs and the administration to assist them in maintaining a record of excellence. To besmirch the reputation of this faculty, as a whole, is to do a disservice to CUNY and the college. It devalues the excellent education provided to our students and the quality of their degrees.
It’s unfortunate that one of the publications referred to in this statement is Clarion. An article in the September issue (“On the lookout for ‘predatory journals’”) made some broad and accusatory generalizations about PSC faculty members at QCC based on unattributed allegations. Regrettably, those who may have had a different and more nuanced view of the nature and scope of this problem were not consulted.
Recently, we had the opportunity as chairs to meet with PSC President Barbara Bowen, who voiced her preference for the term “university community colleges” for the CUNY community colleges, in reference to the unique and substantial contributions our faculty make to their fields and the life of the university through their scholarship, creative work and other professional activities. We concur with this assessment and hope that this message is more consistently conveyed by our union.
Queensborough Community College
Editor’s Note: This letter is co-signed by the college’s committee of department chairs. The author of the Clarion article spoke to the QCC chapter chair and other faculty on background.
Early next year, the Supreme Court will hear the infamous Janus v. AFSCME case. At stake is the continued existence of organized labor in the United States. Overall, union density has fallen from almost 38 percent in the early 1970s to less than 11 percent in 2016 – with private-sector union density at 6.4 percent. The decline of union density is primarily the result of nearly 40 years of an unrestrained employers’ offensive – forcing established unions to surrender hard-fought gains and blocking the organizing of new workplaces. Unfortunately, the official labor movement has been complicit in this decline: it has hoped concessionary bargaining and labor-management cooperation would save unionized jobs, and relied on the National Labor Relations Board for organizing new workers.
Today the public sector is the last bastion of the American labor movement, with a union density of 34.4 percent. The Janus decision, which will likely rule unconstitutional the payment of mandatory “agency fees” for all represented workers, is an existential threat to public-sector unionism. The ability of the public-sector unions to survive this blow will require a sharp break with our “business as usual” of relying on Democratic Party politicians and lobbying.
The campaign by the PSC and other public-sector unions to get members to recommit to union membership regardless of Janus is a good first step. However, the member-to-member organizing we do needs to help make the PSC and other public-sector unions a living reality in the workplace. Our conversations with other members have to include ideas for more members to become active in their chapters and the local. We need to be even more aggressive in organizing around workplace issues – both through the grievance procedure and building membership campaigns. The successful campaign for increased reassigned time/reduced teaching load at John Jay College, which is today being pursued at Borough of Manhattan Community College, is a good model of how to make the PSC a living reality on the campuses. We also need a contract campaign that builds upon the graduate-student-initiated picket at Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office on September 26 and the PSC-organized demonstration at the Board of Trustees meeting on December 4.
If the public-sector unions do not want to suffer the same fate as the private-sector unions, we will need to revive membership activism and militancy.
BMCC and Graduate Center
DEFENDING ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Thanks for the excellent story on the attack, once again, by the David Horowitz Freedom Center on our faculty members and students (“Extremist targets two members at Brooklyn,” November issue of Clarion). The most recent incident, labeling two faculty members at Brooklyn College as “terrorist supporters,” is part of a nationwide campaign targeting both faculty and students who may support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) movement.
Together with the “Canary Mission,” whose targets are mainly, but not exclusively students, it accuses those featured who criticize the policies of the Israeli government regarding settlements in the occupied West Bank and the treatment of Arab-Israeli citizens with anti-Semitism and support for terrorism. By potentially damaging the prospects of undergraduates for graduate school admission or of current or prospective faculty members for jobs, these attacks are meant to silence such speech and association, core American values enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
According to the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, those two groups may very well enjoy support from the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who convened a group of donors in 2015 to raise $50 million to fund organizations like the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), which attacks those it describes as “pro-Palestinian” activists who promote hatred and anti-Semitism. The ZOA was a key supporter of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 157, penalizing businesses and individuals supporting the BDS movement, and it succeeded in pressuring CUNY to investigate Students for Justice in Palestine and in holding up funding of CUNY in the State Senate in 2016.
The attack on students and faculty at CUNY isn’t over. Recently some faculty members have been notified [by “outlawbds.com”] that their names have been added to a BDS blacklist and turned over to their college administration for further action. See this email for an example (name redacted):
“[To faculty member:] Be aware that you have been identified as a BDS promoter. According to new legislation in New York State, individuals and organizations that engage in or promote BDS activities with US allies will no longer receive public funding or support. Moreover, the state and its agencies will no longer engage in business or hire these organizations and individuals as they have been deemed problematic and anti-American. You have been marked. You have been identified. You have a limited window of opportunity to cease and desist or face the consequences of your actions in legal proceedings. In case you have ceased your past wrongdoing, please contact us for your profile to be removed from the Blacklist.”
How many of our colleagues and students may choose to remain silent for fear of repercussions and their future prospects? And how can we organize to avert these threats and protect the most valuable principles for a university, and for a democratic society?
City College, Retired
SJP NOT INNOCENT
I was extremely disappointed in the Clarion article discussing the attack on Professor Samir Chopra (“Extremist targets two members at Brooklyn,” November issue of Clarion). I am not sure why it had to include a full-throated defense of Students for Justice in Palestine. While the article was narrowly correct that there was no proof that a SJP leader screamed at the Faculty Council chair “Zionist pig,” it was only the second word that was at issue. Everyone agreed that the term began with “Zionist” and since this simply reflected that the chair wore a kippah, it is hard to argue against calling it an anti-Semitic outburst. As I pointed out in the Brooklyn College student newspaper, SJP has a history of borderline anti-Semitic behaviors. Indeed, after particularly noxious actions, the Chancellor of the University of Illinois Robert J. Jones denounced “anti-Semitic attacks hidden under the guise of anti-Zionist rhetoric.”
I was even more disappointed when the local PSC chapter failed to come to my aid after I was slanderously attacked in the newspaper by the BC SJP president. As to my specific criticisms of SJP behavior, the group’s leader claimed that I engaged in “chants of Islamophobia and discrimination.” While condemning the poster [that attacked an SJP member], I balked at calling the David Horowitz Center an anti-Muslim hate group because that designation is given out too broadly by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I urged the ending of the “hate group” labeling as it only serves to stifle campus discussions. In her response, the SJP president characterized my position as “pledging your support to a white supremacist group.”
Under “top 10 things I hate,” the SJP president listed on a Facebook post, “white people” and “Jews.” Her mentioning of “Jews,” not “Zionists,” once more brings to the fore the anti-Semitic leanings of SJP.
Maybe the PSC should reevaluate its refusal to support my modest request: withholding approving SJP’s ability to become a recognized student group for a period of time. If not, I can only conclude that the PSC will stand against right-wing but not left-wing anti-Semitism.
James Davis, Brooklyn College PSC chapter chair, responds: The BC chapter of the PSC supports its members’ right to academic freedom. When those rights are seriously threatened, as when a member is subjected to an orchestrated campaign of harassment and intimidation, we will respond assertively. “Minimally,” Professor Cherry wrote, “I believe the PSC should support a decision that SJP would not be allowed to register as a student group for 12 months.” The chapter leadership declined to support that demand.
On September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center was destroyed. Due to the Borough of Manhattan Community College’s close proximity to Ground Zero, the campus was severely impacted. Though there were two schools in the area, the media focused primarily on Stuyvesant High School.
In the struggle to bring media attention to the plight of BMCC, I recalled contacting my good friend, the late award-winning journalist Gil Noble of ABC-TV and host of the TV show Like It Is. I explained that the college was experiencing a “media blackout” regarding the plight of BMCC and its students. He indicated that if I could assist in getting camera equipment and crew he would come to the college and do a story. With the help of our media center, we were able to accommodate him with the required equipment.
Years after the World Trade Center attacks, tragic and senseless murders and injuries to numerous innocent people occurred right outside BMCC on October 31, 2017. It was a déjà vu experience. Again, the media focus was on Stuyvesant High School. There was little or no coverage about the plight of the BMCC community. Some of BMCC’s students, faculty and staff witnessed the horrible events of that day, such as bodies covered in white sheets lying in full view of multiple classrooms and offices. The college community experienced anxiety, fear and anguish. In addition, the media reported that the unhinged individual responsible for the mayhem and murder of innocent persons shouted “Allahu akbar,” which heightened the level of anxiety and concern for the physical and emotional safety of BMCC students in general and the BMCC Muslim student population in particular.
Though we recognize the elite status of Stuyvesant High School students and commend their academic achievements, BMCC’s predominantly African-American and Latino student body has some extraordinary accomplishments as well. BMCC and CUNY must continue to fight against the proclivity of the media and society in general to marginalize BMCC because of the race and class of its student body.
ATTACK ON GOVERNANCE
Though some full-time faculty may not think the demand for $7,000 per class per semester for adjuncts is particularly relevant to them, the fact is, the decades-long drive to replace full-time tenure-track faculty with cheaper, more flexible and super-exploited adjuncts is not only unfair, it has fundamentally undermined self-governance and severely weakened the influence of all faculty across the university.
While the full-time faculty are paid and even encouraged to participate in the democratic life and decision-making processes of the university, our adjunct brothers and sisters are not. While full-time faculty have the time and institutional support to participate in department meetings, faculty senates and, most importantly, our union, adjunct faculty are often commuting between several campuses trying to piece together a living, and have few opportunities to attend or serve on such bodies. While full-time faculty have the job security and collegial support networks to protect them when they choose to stand up to the administration, adjunct faculty, who can still be hired and fired at will, have little protection from retaliation for their political activity on campus.
If, however, our union is willing to fight and win the demand for a $7,000 minimum per-course rate for all adjunct faculty, we will have taken away one of the administration’s best weapons: its ability to divide the faculty and balance its budget on their backs. The demand for “$7K” would not only give adjuncts the time and incentive to participate more in the life of their colleges and their union, it would make it much easier for the union to negotiate more tenure-track lines as well as the creation of secure, full-time lines for former adjuncts, which would further strengthen our union and our collective ability to shape the future of our university. If ever there was a time to stand by the idea that an injury to one is an injury to all, and to prioritize adjunct equity, it is now. This is our chance. We may not get another.
James Dennis Hoff