On September 30, a PSC protest will deliver a message to CUNY’s Board of Trustees at its first meeting of the academic year.
“We need to be at the first meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees this year to demand a response to the no-confidence in Pathways vote and to show the urgency of our demand for a fair contract,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “The board is taking CUNY in the wrong direction. CUNY faculty and staff need a new contract, and CUNY students need a first-rate education. The trustees should see and hear how serious we are about what we need: no austerity contract for us, and no austerity education for our students.”
‘Moment Is Right’
The union demonstration will be on Monday, September 30, at 3:30 pm at Baruch’s Vertical Campus building at Lexington Ave. and 25th Street. (To get updates by e-mail, sign up for the PSC’s weekly e-newsletter.)
“With a new City administration on the horizon and a new interim chancellor at CUNY, the moment is right to demonstrate to the board the power of our demands,” Bowen said. “Austerity politics have set the agenda for too long. When we turned out in force to demand action on adjunct health insurance, the board responded. We need to do the same – and more – again.”
On Pathways, PSC leaders pointed to the 92% vote of no confidence in the new curriculum in the referendum among full-time faculty in May. “September 30 is an opportunity to voice that vote directly to the Board of Trustees,” said PSC Treasurer Mike Fabricant. “We’ll be there to tell them that we’re not going away. We’re going to be here, on the campuses, documenting the impact of Pathways in diluting the curriculum, and making sure those problems are not ignored as Pathways is reviewed.”
In a message to members, Bowen noted that PSC presented its demands for a new contract to CUNY management nearly three years ago. “Even though the expired contract remains in place and salary step increases continue, three years is far too long to wait for across-the-board raises and other improvements,” she wrote. “Why the delay at our expense? The short answer is austerity politics.”
New York State and New York City control CUNY funding, and both have taken a hard-line in bargaining with public employees. “The City and State have demanded contracts with 0% salary ‘increases’ and with concessions on health care,” Bowen said. “The PSC is demanding better for CUNY faculty and staff – and ultimately, for CUNY students.” The union is active in this year’s City elections, she said, because it is an opportunity to shift New York City politics away from “policies that increase economic inequality and impose austerity on public employees”.
But the PSC is not just waiting for a new mayor to be elected, Bowen noted. “While CUNY has not yet made an economic offer, we have been working quietly for the last three years with CUNY management to address several important contract demands.” New contract provisions negotiated since the last agreement expired include a pilot program for phased retirement; the establishment of paid parental leave (also originally a pilot program) as a permanent part of the contract; new programs for donating and receiving extra sick leave days; gaining additional funding for PSC-CUNY research awards; and a more competitive salary scale for part-time faculty in certain professional schools.
“Most significant,” said Bowen, “we pushed the chancellor’s office to secure funding from New York State for adjunct health insurance, an effort that resulted in millions of dollars in dedicated funds.” While work continues toward a permanent structure for adjunct health coverage, she said, the established funding addressed “a crisis that could have dominated our contract negotiations.”
But while progress has been made on particular issues, the Board of Trustees has not prioritized reaching a fair contract with the faculty and staff whose work makes CUNY run. Instead, Bowen said, the trustees have focused both money and attention at the wrong end of the scale.
“Last year the CUNY Board of Trustees voted to raise pay ranges for college presidents, gave former chancellor Matthew Goldstein a $300,000-a-year golden parachute, and authorized the hiring of General David Petraeus, who was offered $150,000 for teaching one course a term. But they offered no advocacy for our salaries,” Bowen said.
“That’s why the union needs to deliver a message to the board” on September 30, she emphasized. “If you care about a raise or your teaching load or job security or better working conditions, you should be there.”
The 3,996 people who voted no-confidence in Pathways represent an absolute majority of CUNY’s full-time faculty, Bowen emphasized. “For any university worthy of the name,” she said, “that vote demands a response.” Yet management’s response was dismissive, characterizing the vote (conducted by the American Arbitration Association) as a “poll.”
“The trustees should understand that we are serious about our position on Pathways, and that we will not quietly stand by while CUNY disregards the expertise on curriculum of elected faculty representatives,” she added. “If you refuse to be silenced, if you want to deliver the message that Pathways in its present form is not good enough for our students, you should be there on September 30.”
“Pathways is wrong because of its impact on the quality of the curriculum,” said the PSC’s Fabricant. “It’s wrong because it’s a violation of faculty role in formulating curriculum policy – and those two things are related.”
The message to CUNY management on September 30, Fabricant said, is that both are unacceptable: “What they’ve done is cheapen the CUNY curriculum by undermining the professional authority of the faculty,” he told Clarion. “CUNY’s bylaws put faculty at the center of decisions on curriculum because that is the best guarantee of academic quality.”
General education rules that reduce foreign language study and cut back laboratory sessions in science classes may speed up graduation, he added, but only by giving students less of an education.
The two lawsuits against Pathways brought by the PSC and the University Faculty Senate are moving forward, with oral arguments scheduled for mid-September. Meanwhile, as the first Pathways classes take effect this Fall, the PSC has called for guarantees that the CUNY-wide review of Pathways, required by the trustees’ original Pathways resolution, will be the result of an unbiased and transparent process.” The first-year review will play a big role in determining the future of Pathways,” commented Bowen in her message to members. “It is critical that the review panel not be stacked with Pathways advocates and that the process not be a whitewash.”
“The protest at the trustees’ first meeting could set the tone for the rest of the year,” said Bowen. “This is our chance to raise our concerns directly to the board – and we need your voice there. We have seen over and over again at CUNY that nothing works as well as collective action.”