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Taking Steps to Ensure Timely Adjunct Pay

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CUNY has instructed college administrations to make “every effort...to ensure that adjunct faculty are paid on time,” and has circulated a list of “best practices” to ensure timely adjunct paychecks.

The March 14 memo includes a measure that had been urged by the PSC: designating a specific staff member to track adjunct appointments “before and during the beginning of a semester,” to “continuously monitor” the progress of paperwork and take action if hiring documents are not filed on time. “Specific attention must be directed to newly hired teaching adjuncts,” the guidelines say.

Failure to pay adjunct faculty on time at the start of a semester has often been a problem at CUNY colleges (see Clarion, Nov. 2013, Oct. 2012, March 2009). Last year there was widespread anger at Queens College (QC) when more than a third of the school’s 1,000 adjuncts got no paycheck in the first Fall pay period. About 100 were still unpaid after the second pay period, more than a month into the semester.

“I was furious that I was being put in this situation,” Cameron Pearson, an adjunct lecturer in classics, said at the time; he had to borrow money from his sister to get by. He later received a 60% ‘advance’ on the wages he should have been paid, after he spoke with an administrator – but other unpaid adjuncts were never told that this emergency pay was available.

Pearson said the response of top college officials was evasive. “They blamed the problem on other people,” he told Clarion last October. “No one seemed to want to take responsibility.” The PSC chapter at QC was persistent in pressing the issue, seeking detailed information on the numbers affected, the roots of the problem and what steps would be taken to avoid it in the future.

The new guidelines from CUNY central administration bear the imprint of the union’s investigative work at QC. They detail a range of actions that college managers should take to identify and resolve administrative problems before they prevent timely pay. If a paycheck is going to be late, the guidelines are clear about the college’s responsibilities: “If there is a delay in payment, the affected adjunct faculty member should be notified of the delay and told when he/she may expect payment, including the availability of an emergency check under certain circumstances.”

“Each of those steps is exactly what they did not do last year at Queens,” Jonathan Buchsbaum, QC’s PSC chapter chair, told Clarion. “I was very glad to see this memo from CUNY. The guidelines are exactly what I would have recommended.”

Buchsbaum said he sees the memo as a response to the organized reaction by PSC members to the problems last Fall. “It’s because people spoke out, and kept doing so, that CUNY recognized this was an administrative disaster. Now they are taking steps to do the right thing.”

“The experience for adjuncts at Queens last year was horrible, inexcusable,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “But Jonathan and chapter activists would not give up; their focus on detail is a big part of why we have these guidelines. The designated staff person and other measures are a good start, but what CUNY really should do is agree to long-term appointments for adjuncts – then we wouldn’t have this hiring chaos every semester.”

Union Action

How well colleges implement the guidelines remains to be seen, Buchsbaum added. But here again, he suggested, action by union members can help: “PSC members might think about monitoring this at the local level, inquiring whether their campus is following these procedures and what has been done so far.”

CUNY’s first adjunct pay dates for the Fall 2014 semester will be September 12 at the community colleges and September 18 at the senior colleges.