Governor Hochul has announced a combined $1.5 billion increase in operating support for CUNY and SUNY over the next five years, including an additional $170 million for CUNY senior colleges next year (briefing book pg 105). It’s heartening to see that Governor Hochul is acting decisively to begin reversing the years of austerity funding for CUNY, New York’s most powerful force for economic mobility for low-income New Yorkers, immigrants, and students of color.
We hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe in these uncertain times. We are writing to solicit your thoughts on the best path to a safe spring semester, and to share the union's perspective on these issues. After reading this message, please complete this five-minute poll before midnight Friday, January 21.
Spring semester begins January 28. Many members of the CUNY community may be ill with COVID, recovering and isolating after illness, or caring for family members. The path of the omicron variant is not fully predictable. Despite widespread expectation among public health officials that infections may soon subside in NYC, the hospitalization and fatality rates, which lag behind infections, continue to rise, and infections are likely underreported given the prevalence of at-home testing. The strain on families and institutions, particularly the City’s healthcare system, is considerable.
CUNY intends to offer at least 70% of classes in-person this Spring. Their continued rigidity around this contributes to scheduling difficulties, stress, and enrollment shortfalls. Despite the eagerness that we and our students share about returning to in-person learning and the supportive environment that flourishes on campus, pandemic conditions in the City highlight the need to improve conditions on our campuses first.
- Community safety dictates that CUNY should make the first two weeks of spring semester a transition period where most non-essential work and teaching is done remotely. Planning ahead for a discrete two-week window is the least disruptive path to a safer, more in-person Spring term.
- The State mandated vaccination for CUNY faculty and a booster for students, but is not requiring vaccinations for staff. This is a mistake from a public health perspective and as a matter of workplace equity. CUNY should immediately negotiate the terms of the vaccine implementation for all members of the PSC.
- CUNY surveillance testing should be enhanced so a larger percentage of the vaccinated members of the campus community are regularly tested and the results clearly reported and tracked over time on CUNY’s COVID dashboard.
- CUNY should direct federal relief funds to provide medical-grade masks to members of the campus community on-site, along with free rapid test kits.
President James Davis delivered the Spring Safe Return petition to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez on Thursday, January 6. His letter and a link to the signed petition are below.
Dear Chancellor Matos Rodríguez,
In December, before the Omicron surge, we discussed the need for the University to provide clear, sensible, safe guidance for the Spring 2022 semester that is responsive to emerging information about new variants. We reiterated our view that the guidance to date unilaterally established arbitrary standards, preventing the local exercise of academic judgment and undermining shared governance. The PSC supports a smart and gradual return to work for faculty and staff because we believe CUNY students are generally well served by in-person instruction, advising, and counseling. But we asked that CUNY meet the following conditions.
- Urge college HR officers to honor remote work requests from employees who live with someone who is immune-compromised, and urge supervisors to extend remote work agreements to staff who would primarily be working remotely (via computer or telephone) despite reporting in-person.
- Permit academic departments to exercise independent judgment about the appropriate percentage of Spring 2022 in-person classes, rather than adhere to a one-size-fits-all minimum of 70%.
- Count hybrid classes toward the in-person category for Spring 2022, as they were in Fall 2021, and define what qualifies a course as hybrid.
- Preserve in-person classes with lower than expected enrollments if demand for hybrid or remote sections exceeds demand for in-person sections.
- Refrain from offering HyFlex courses absent an agreement with the PSC about the terms and conditions under which instructors undertake HyFlex teaching.