The Teaching Load Reduction Agreement

Updated: May 7, 2018
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A Message From President Bowen

Many of you have contacted me with questions and anger about the information you are receiving from college administrations on how they plan to implement the agreement to reduce the contractual teaching load. I share your anger, but we should not be surprised that CUNY management is trying to implement the agreement in the most limited, unimaginative, short-sighted way possible. Every major agreement the PSC has won-increased sabbatical pay, HEO salary differentials, three-year appointments for adjuncts and more-has required sustained union pressure to be implemented properly.

Pressure about the teaching load agreement is already being applied by PSC chapter chairs and leadership, but it will be most effective if it is amplified by the thousands of faculty whose fundamental working conditions are at stake. College presidents need to know how strongly you object to CUNY's restrictive approach to implementing the agreement. Early next week you will receive information about sending a collective message to the CUNY administration demanding a better approach.

Think about how we won the reduction in the contractual teaching load in the first place. PSC members broke a 30-year stalemate on the issue because faculty on the campuses spent years organizing, and the union as a whole prioritized the teaching load in the last contract. We gained the support of students and community groups for our contract priorities-with especially strong support from students on the teaching load issue. PSC members, by a margin of 92 percent, authorized the union to call a strike. The teaching load agreement comes out of that fight. It delivers a major blow to the premise that austerity conditions are the best we can hope for at CUNY. The union will not stop fighting until those austerity conditions are addressed.

What the agreement says

The language of the agreement, signed on December 8, 2017, is simple: the contractual teaching load will be reduced by one teaching contact hour each year, starting next fall, until the full three-hour reduction is in place at the start of the fall 2020 semester.

The agreement establishes that a teaching load of 18 hours or 24 hours will now be a right under the contract, and will no longer be dependent on your college's ability or president's inclination to provide reassigned time. Many full-time faculty currently receive reassigned time for unsponsored research or other professional activities, but the new contractual agreement means that a lower teaching load is guaranteed. That is the first gain, and it is significant.

A second and equally significant gain is that faculty who routinely teach the full contractual load because they are in less well-funded colleges or in departments that do not offer reassigned time will now experience a reduction. It is an advance for all of us when the contractual requirement for everyone is reduced. If the agreement is implemented as it should be, it will also be a tremendous gain for students. Virtually every study of the factors that help students to succeed in college cites time spent individually or in small groups with faculty as decisive.

The agreement reduces the full-time faculty's contractual obligation. It does not necessarily reduce each individual faculty member's teaching load because individual teaching loads may already be reduced through discretionary reassigned time. And reassigned time, with the exception of time negotiated as part of the contract (primarily the 24 hours for untenured faculty) is provided at the discretion of the college president. (See section 3 (d) of Appendix A in the contract for this critical provision.)

During negotiations over the contractual reduction, the union pressed hard, but CUNY management refused to freeze current reassigned time in place and add the contractual reduction to that total. Management negotiators said that they were unwilling to surrender "presidential prerogative." Although the union defeated several other management proposals that would have undermined the value of the reduction, management would not complete the agreement with a freeze on existing reassigned time. Much of the struggle about implementation has been around this issue.

Reassigned time is essential

Reassigned time at CUNY is not frivolous, and it is not the result of "deals." It is the essential currency of a university that is systematically starved of funds and whose teaching load has been prohibitive.

Given the inordinately high teaching load that has existed at CUNY and the high needs of our students, many college presidents have found ways to provide discretionary reassigned time to fairly large numbers of faculty, using funds from college budgets. At some colleges, reassigned time for research activities is routine. These colleges would not be able to compete for the research-active faculty they seek if they did not provide some relief from the heavy teaching load. Even at the new level of 18 hours, the senior college teaching load will not be fully competitive. Many publicly funded universities with which CUNY competes for faculty have a teaching load of 12 hours, or two courses each semester.

At some CUNY colleges, reassigned time to direct academic programs or lead pedagogical initiatives is common-and essential if the colleges are going to continue to serve their students. And at all CUNY colleges, presidents have recognized that elected department chairs, on whose labor the entire academic enterprise depends and whose role is included in the collective bargaining agreement signed by CUNY management, need substantial reassigned time.

When the teaching load agreement was signed last December, CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken announced that it would "strengthen the University's competitiveness in attracting and retaining talented faculty." University Provost Vita Rabinowitz cited "the additional time faculty will now spend meeting and advising students, as well as on their research and scholarship." If the agreement is implemented in the narrow way that is currently being pursued, neither of these claims will be justified. Much of the value of the contractual reduction will be squandered if the de facto teaching loads of many hard-working, productive faculty remain unchanged.

CUNY management must find the funding

As with everything else at CUNY, it comes down to a question of funding. Only one-third of the total cost will be needed in the first year, however, as the reduction is phased in.

While the PSC leadership is aware that the agreement reduces the contractual obligation, it is our position that the agreement should be funded to enable current reassigned time for research, department leadership and academic activities to remain in place, in addition to the reduction in the contractual load. We also take the position that the courses no longer taught by current faculty should lead to the creation of new full-time faculty positions, with an opportunity to increase diversity with new hiring and make openings for current part-time faculty.

CUNY management should join us in those positions and publicly advocate for the full funding needed. Instead, they retreat to the habit of accepting scarcity. Some colleges have informed faculty that reassigned time for research will be eliminated or drastically reduced. Taking that position is a mistake; it should be challenged by every faculty member and our elected faculty bodies.

The CUNY administration failed to secure additional dedicated funding for the contractual reduction in the most recent New York State budget. Yet University administrators have expressed satisfaction with the State budget result. (The City budget, which provides funding for the community colleges, is not yet determined.) If management is satisfied with this year's State budget allocation, then they must find the funding in the existing budget to support the full potential of the teaching load reduction. CUNY Central can find funds for all kinds of other priorities-new deans, sub-deans and their staffs, new programs and initiatives, not to mention CUNYfirst. They can find the relatively modest funds needed to implement this agreement in a way that makes sense. They should do so without delay to avoid further damage to their credibility with the faculty.

Agreement needed before funding

The PSC signed the agreement without having the funds in place because we saw the chance to change one of the most important parts of the contract, and we seized it. In addition we knew, following discussions in Albany and City Hall, that the State and City would not fund an agreement if it was not signed. The PSC has become the strongest force and most public voice demanding increased CUNY funding, and we are pushing hard for additional funding for the agreement from both City and State. We will continue advocating until funding is provided.

It would be shameful if a failure of vision and leadership by the CUNY administration allowed this landmark agreement to be implemented in a way that negates its potential value for students, faculty and the academic stature of the University. CUNY Central can find the money to do it right. The PSC leadership has publicly called on the CUNY trustees, almost all of whom are political appointees of the governor and the mayor, to use their political leverage and secure the funding required to implement the reduction in a way that maximizes its value.

Our message to the trustees is this: The teaching load reduction agreement presents you with a rare opportunity to do something other than manage scarcity. For a fairly modest sum compared to CUNY's total teaching budget, it offers a blueprint for transforming the experience of students, boosting the University's competitiveness and enriching our shared academic life. For once, do something at CUNY right.