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Home » Clarion » 2014 » September 2014 » Viewpoint: CLIP and CUNY Start Teachers Unite

Viewpoint: CLIP and CUNY Start Teachers Unite

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“What’s been happening to the higher education workforce during the last couple decades should give all of us pause,” Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said in January. “The number of part-time contingent faculty at institutions of higher education has been rising rapidly, with more than one million people now working as adjunct faculty, providing a cheap source of labor even while tuition is skyrocketing.”

This drive to cut labor costs at all costs is evident throughout the City University of New York system – and the area of remedial instruction is no exception.

Skills Gap

The CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP), created in 1995, and CUNY Start, created in 2010, have become prominent parts of remedial instruction at CUNY. Teachers in these programs do work that is central to CUNY’s mission, and spend more time in class each week than many faculty who are classed as full-time. Yet we are classified as part-time, contingent or adjunct by CUNY Central, in order to pay us less and deny us the benefits we deserve. Through the PSC, faculty in both programs are organizing for basic improvements, and fighting to achieve a better contract for all.

Throughout New York City, there is often a gap between the skills required to graduate from high school and those required to begin college. In fact, most incoming CUNY freshmen without Regents diplomas fail at least one of the three assessment tests in reading, writing, or math. Remedial instruction, in all its forms, is thus a central part of CUNY’s mission. I have taught in the CLIP program for several years, and I know that CLIP teachers believe strongly in the work we do.

“I have former students from ten years ago, some of them now in master’s programs, others working full-time after having completed their BAs, who come back to visit me to express their gratitude for CLIP,” says Iris Schickerling-Georgia, a CLIP teacher at BMCC for more than a decade. “I love when this happens and, like other CLIP teachers, I love my job. Our program is so important to the functioning of CUNY.” CLIP teachers are proud to note that last May, the valedictorians of both York and Hostos Community Colleges were former CLIP students.

Denied Benefits

Despite teaching 25 hours per week (including summers), CLIP and Start teachers are deemed “part-timers” by CUNY Central. This is a bureaucratic fiction, but the motive is clear: to deny us the rights and benefits associated with traditional college teaching – job security, a grievance process, sabbaticals, full-time health care, tuition waivers, tenure, annual leave, etc. And the starting salary for a CLIP or Start instructor, less than $40 per hour, leaves many of these professionals working second and third jobs just to survive.

In response, a small but vigorous group of CLIP (and now Start) teachers have organized to demand a more equal place at the CUNY table. They have had an impact.

“Before 2000, if you got sick and you took a day off to go to the doctor and feel better, you never got paid,” said Monica Sweeney de Gonzalez, a longtime CLIP teacher at Queensborough CC. “Thank you to the PSC for helping us achieve that benefit.”

“When CLIP first started in 1995, we didn’t even have a functioning copy machine in the office, and we were not allowed to join the Teachers’ Retirement System,” recalls Schickerling-Georgia. Over the past 20 years, in addition to sick days and participation in the retirement system, CLIP instructors have organized through the PSC for health insurance, salary steps, and participation in the Adjunct-CET Professional Development Fund.

But more needs to be done. CUNY Start was created after the last contract was signed, and its teachers do not receive many of the benefits that CLIP faculty were finally able to gain.

For faculty in both programs, a higher starting salary is a priority. “I am compensated for 30 hours of work weekly,” said Radha Radkar of LaGuardia’s CUNY Start program. “But this does not include the time I spend outside the office grading, lesson-planning, as well as collaborating with teachers and advisers in team meetings, all of which are essential to student success.”

Many CLIP and Start teachers would love to pursue a doctorate and develop professionally. At SUNY-Binghamton, ESL lecturers are entitled to tuition waivers at their school. This is the norm for ESL teachers at colleges across the nation, from SUNY-Buffalo to Portland State – but not for teachers in CLIP and CUNY Start.

In addition to higher pay and tuition waivers, CLIP and Start instructors are requesting annualized salaries, summer health care, and job security.

Making Connections

To accomplish these contractual goals, CLIP and CUNY Start instructors have formed the CLIP-Start Alliance, which has met regularly at PSC headquarters since November 2013 to develop a strategy they hope will yield positive results at the bargaining table. In May, PSC President Barbara Bowen met with over 100 CLIP and Start teachers and pledged to fight for their full-time status in the new contract. Union organizing efforts have continued through the summer. In order to attain much-deserved rights and benefits, continuous organizing is necessary, and every CLIP or Start instructor is encouraged to join our efforts.

We are not the largest group of employees at CUNY, and in order to win improvements we need to understand that our issues are part of a larger fight. As we push for recognition of the fact that we work for CUNY full-time, we need to support part-time faculty in their ongoing fight for equity. Their problems and ours both result from CUNY’s drive to pay less and reduce benefits, to the detriment of both faculty and the students we teach.

As Stanley Aronowitz, distinguished professor of sociology at the Graduate Center, said at this year’s meeting of the Coalition On Contingent Academic Labor, “PSC members have to recognize that the tendency in CUNY is to substitute adjuncts and part-timers for full-time employees, and we have to work to radically change that situation.”

The efforts being made by the CLIP-Start Alliance are one example of what needs to be done, and hopefully a sign of what is to come, if faculty are to stand a chance against CUNY’s austerity measures in the future.

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Mr. Prato is entering his fifth year as a CUNY Language Immersion Program Instructor at Queensborough Community College.


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