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Home » Clarion » 2015 » January 2015 » A New Contract: Faculty and Staff Speak Out

A New Contract: Faculty and Staff Speak Out


Chancellor Milliken and the CUNY Board of Trustees heard from 30 PSC members and officers at the Board’s annual budget hearing on November 24. Union activists submitted testimony about the CUNY Budget Request for 2014-2015 and its connection to a fair PSC-CUNY contract. Together, they made the case for increased salaries at every level and offered unforgettable descriptions of the damage that unjust working conditions can inflict on CUNY students, faculty and staff. Here are excerpts adapted from that testimony; full text of all presentations is online.

It’s time for action: CUNY is in crisis

Barbara Bowen
PSC President
Associate Professor of English
Queens College & the Graduate Center

CUNY is in crisis. You may not feel the crisis yourselves, but listen to our voices today, and you may begin to understand the urgency felt by faculty, staff and students. You may think that CUNY is okay because we keep working even though we have gone five years without a contractual raise. I am here to tell you that CUNY is not okay.

The university is in crisis because the people who make it work are suffering, whatever their position. Research faculty have no time to do research, academic departments are losing faculty because of low salaries, instructors at every level cannot give students the attention they need, professional staff are struggling to live on salaries below the cost of living, remedial instructors teaching full time are being paid part-time wages and adjuncts working essentially full time at CUNY can end up on food stamps. If that’s not a university in crisis, what is?

No one assumes that it is easy to address the political complexities of producing an economic offer for a university that receives funds from both City and State. And no one underestimates the cumulative effect of years of planned disinvestment in CUNY, leaving base budget problems to be addressed in the contract. But a full summer and nearly a semester have passed since serious bargaining began and other contracts were settled. While we appreciate that the chancellor has voiced his support for settling the contract, the 25,000 faculty and staff I represent are demanding action.

It is time for the trustees and the CUNY administration publicly to take on the austerity politics that leave the public sector, and especially public higher education, starved of funds while State surpluses regularly go to corporate tax breaks. There is a $5.1 billion surplus in Albany right now; that money should be prioritized for reinvestment in public higher education, which has taken a disproportionate share of statewide cuts. As the elected representative of CUNY’s miraculous, diverse, idealistic, undervalued faculty and staff, I call on you to produce an economic offer before the end of the semester that will restore our salaries and begin to create working conditions that support us, rather than obstruct us, in doing the work we believe in.

Our salaries are not competitive

Steve London
PSC First Vice President
Associate Professor of Political Science
Brooklyn College

The decline in the value of instructional staff salaries is quite dramatic and leaves CUNY colleges non-competitive with comparable institutions in the area. Here are some examples of the decline expressed in terms of 2010 constant dollars, which corresponds with the end of the last contract.

If salaries had simply kept pace with inflation since 1971, then in 2010:

  • The top step of the Professor/HEO salary schedule would have been $172,000 rather than $116,000;
  • The median step of the Associate Professor/HEO Associate salary schedule would have been $119,000 rather than $74,000;
  • The salary range for the Assistant Professor/HEO Assistant salary schedule would have gone from $81,000 to $114,000 instead of $43,000 to $82,000;
  • The top step of the Lecturer salary schedule would have been $94,000 rather than $75,000;
  • The top step of the CLT salary schedule would have been $70,000 rather than $59,000;
  • Finally, the Adjunct Lecturer bottom step, where most adjuncts are hired, would have been $4,700 for a three-credit course instead of $2,900.

The decline in our salary structure has real consequences for our members’ ability to teach, to do research and manage life in New York City and the metropolitan area. The cost of housing in New York City and transportation alone makes it difficult for many instructional staff to live near the college where they work. These costs and others make it hard to recruit and retain faculty. Even though the applicant pool in response to many job announcements is rich, the low salaries and high teaching load make recruiting and retaining top choices problematic. Churning of new hires and recruiting a diverse faculty are becoming increasingly difficult problems to solve without the resources necessary to increase salaries.

If CUNY had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, we would indeed be competitive today. But the sad truth is that CUNY’s defunding and poor contract settlements over the years have led to CUNY’s current non-competitive status. If CUNY wishes to recruit a diverse, high-quality instructional staff in the years to come, then substantial salary increases need to be negotiated.

Contingent faculty deserve job security

Mike Fabricant
PSC Treasurer
Professor of Social Welfare
Hunter School of Social Work

There is an urgent need for job security among part-time faculty barely cobbling together a subsistence living working at CUNY. In the recent past, CUNY management and the PSC worked closely to assure stable health insurance for eligible part-time faculty. Together, we were able to make this issue a priority and solve it primarily because we saw the instability of health insurance as profoundly inhumane and a visible festering wound that ran right across the University. With the same political will, we can also solve the contingent faculty job security crisis.

Present estimates indicate that between 60%-70% of post-secondary classes nationally are being taught by part-time faculty. A part of this labor force is assembling its entire livelihood within the academy stitching together four or five courses a term. At CUNY, 13,000 instructors are part-time as contrasted to a count of about 7,500 full-time faculty. CUNY has failed to acknowledge until very recently the need for basic worker rights for this work force. Yet the working conditions of part-time instructors demean not only part-time faculty but also those of us working alongside colleagues who can be fired or terminated at will by the employer. The learning conditions of students being instructed by part-time faculty are affected when their teachers are not assured job security. How can a faculty member properly prepare a class when she doesn’t know until a week before the beginning of the term that she will be hired?

When universities increasingly hire part-time faculty who are insecure, it makes it much easier for the employer to impose the same conditions on full-time faculty and the rest of the academy’s labor force. And so, as a full-time faculty member, I will fight for job security with full- and part-time colleagues because we understand that our fates are bundled together. Offering workers full-time jobs piecemeal or one course at a time and without job security or a living wage is simply inhumane, a toxin that poisons the university. The consequence of a lack of job security is concrete and rapid – loss of employment, loss of capacity to pay rent, the disintegration of a health-care lifeline and over time a downward spiral for colleagues unable to rapidly reassemble their work lives. Some of our colleagues go hungry, are evicted and descend into illness because of a lack of job security.

The PSC has a proposal for part-time faculty job security. It is reasonable, just and long overdue. As a university, we can take the important step of assuring the most vulnerable faculty a modicum of what many of us at CUNY take for granted – basic job security. The absence of such security for part-time faculty who have labored for years at CUNY and teach multiple courses each term is a practice that disfigures the university and those of us who fail to change it. Full-time faculty, part-time faculty and staff are coming together to say we have had enough of a system that renders our colleagues little more than disposable cogs in a higher-education machine. CUNY can do better, CUNY must do better.

HEOs need a system for professional advancement

Arthurine DeSola
PSC Secretary
Higher Education Assistant
Queensborough Community College

I am speaking in support of providing a collectively bargained system of professional advancement for Higher Education Officer-series employees.

CUNY’s HEOs are the 4,000 women and men – predominantly women and men of color – who provide vital student services and the administrative expertise that supports countless CUNY programs. There would be no ASAP, CUNY’s widely praised Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, without HEOs. There would be no financial-aid counseling without HEOs, there would be no American Social History Project or continuing education courses and professional programs without the work that HEOs do.

Yet HEOs are profoundly demoralized and alienated. In the last few years we have seen a hasty and ill-considered effort to change our time-and-leave reporting as well as the disastrous introduction of CUNYfirst. But the overriding reasons for HEOs’ low morale across the University are twofold, both related to the contract: the urgent need for a raise and the equally urgent need for a system of professional advancement.

Consider one HEO-series employee I know who runs the day-to-day operations of an enormously successful – and profitable – master’s program. She is an Assistant to HEO, the lowest-paid HEO title, and she has been at the top step of that title for seven years. No raise, no step increase, nowhere to go. Yet in the past eight years, the number of students in her program has increased threefold, to over 300. She shoulders this increased responsibility, because she is the heart of that program. As the professors in charge change over time, she makes the program work.

But because CUNY relies on a rigid classification system, this Assistant to HEO cannot be promoted. She continues to work with integrity in her job because she loves CUNY. But CUNY is in danger of losing people like her if the University continues to fail to recognize the need for an additional system of HEO advancement.

I call on you today to address the urgent cry from HEOs across the University for the professionalism and respect we deserve. CUNY relies on us to do professional work; CUNY should treat us as professionals. That means adding a system that recognizes and rewards us when our work expands significantly and our job performance redefines our jobs.

Students are hurt by heavy teaching load

Craig Bernardini
Associate Professor and Chair,
Department of English
Hostos Community College

Trying to pursue a research agenda at a college with a 27-hour teaching load, class sizes well above what our professional organizations recommend, and very high service expectations is incredibly daunting. We are forced to do our research in dribs and drabs, sneaking a few hours to research on weekend mornings, hoping to be able to bank enough hours in a semester to really dig in our heels. It’s impossible to find any continuity for longer, more ambitious projects under such conditions, except during annual leave.

Simply put, it is not possible to fulfill an ambitious research agenda working in the conditions that we do. We end up cutting corners with our students to find adequate time to meet a deadline for a presentation or article. We drop off a committee, and risk raised eyebrows at P&B. Or, we abandon our research agenda to make time for the mountains of papers we have to grade. However we do it, we end up neglecting one thing to make time for another. There is simply not enough time. And so we fight to make it, sometimes at the expense of our students, sometimes our college…and sometimes, perhaps most sadly, at the expense of our own health.

Last semester we at Hostos began having group mentoring meetings for junior faculty in departments around the college. Our next meeting is on the topic of managing workload. And what am I, the senior faculty member with ten years’ experience, the department leader, supposed to tell them? About how I passed out at the dinner table in front of guests because I was so sleep-deprived from trying to keep up with the work? It’s a funny story, but it hardly amounts to mentoring. I have few strategies to offer, more consolation and commiseration.

We need to give people time to balance their careers between research and teaching. The most important thing a new contract could do would be to reduce the teaching load by three hours across the University.

We need more time for tomorrow’s artists

George Emilio Sanchez
Professor and Chair, Performing & Creative Arts Department
College of Staten Island

One of the hidden factors of our current workload is how much time we need to mentor and give guidance to our students. There is an unacknowledged world of mentoring that we are constantly engaged in. We need a new contract that will respectfully honor the time and labor that goes into fully mentoring our up-and-coming artists and professionals.

College Lab Techs need respect & a raise

Deborah Hertzberg
Senior College Laboratory Technician
Brooklyn College

Our Department of Theater produces four productions each semester. During a regular work week I typically work 40 hours, instead of the contractual 35 hours. During a week when we are mounting a show, I often work around 50 hours. In all my 12 years, I have never been compensated in pay for hours worked in excess of 35 hours. CUNY’s new time sheets [should] be implemented in a manner that does not degrade our professionalism and facilitates payment for overtime hours worked. The contract must include wage increases for CLTs, who are among the lowest-earning instructional staff members.

Equity in annual leave for library faculty

Jill Cirasella
Associate Professor of Library Science
Graduate Center

Librarians in CUNY are faculty. However, faculty in library departments work 35-hour weeks all year round, whereas other faculty work the academic calendar and also have winter and spring breaks. We receive far less leave time than other faculty members in the University. And the leave time we do get is not enough to fully develop, pursue and expand our research agendas. I have a backlog of at least three articles that I haven’t been able to write because of lack of leave time. I turned down a book offer from a well-known library-science publisher because I did not have enough leave time to give it the attention it deserved.

Teaching economics for cut-rate pay

Arlene Geiger
Adjunct Lecturer in Economics
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

I teach three courses each semester and one in the summer, a total of seven courses per year. After over 20 years teaching as an adjunct at CUNY, my annual gross pay is $27,841. For many years this has been my sole or primary source of income. This is half of the median salary in New York City. Do you believe this is fair compensation for the work adjunct faculty do?

Full-time work with a part-time label

Leslie deGiere
Continuing Education Teacher
Bronx Community College

Even with 25 contact hours a week and extensive preparation beyond that, CLIP and CUNY Start teachers are only considered part-time employees. This leads to a variety of unacceptable problems. In CLIP, if we don’t teach in the summer session, we lose our health insurance. We even lose our health insurance if we teach within the same program but at a different campus. Enrollment goes down in the summer so there isn’t enough work for those of us who can’t afford to lose our insurance. CLIP and CUNY Start instructors need full-time status, to recognize the full-time work that we’re already doing.

Maintain parity in salary & benefits

Frank Muñoz
Assistant to HEO
Bronx Educational Opportunity Center

The Educational Opportunity Centers are the front-line education and service providers to many “almost forgotten” NYC residents who have dreams and aspirations to improve their lives. On many occasions, our staff and faculty have to take on responsibilities beyond their duties, simply because of the lack of funding for much-needed services and programs. EOCs want to maintain parity in salary and benefits with CUNY employees in equivalent titles.

Adjuncts are struggling to make ends meet

Marcia Newfield
Adjunct Lecturer

I have been working as an adjunct at CUNY for 26 years. I hear so many stories of people, adjuncts, struggling to make ends meet. Even when we teach a full load of 15 contact hours per semester, which most of us don’t, we earn less than $30,000 a year. Our classes may be cancelled at any time. There is no job security, no payment for cancellation of classes.

The founders of this university, took the risk in 1847 to imagine that the children of workers could benefit from a chance at higher education. Can’t you imagine a way to pay college teachers a living wage, give them working conditions that enhance their mission, and give them opportunity to develop their potential? I think you can if you want to.

A new contract, and a good contract, now

Felipe Pimentel
Assistant Professor
Hostos Community College

We are losing faculty every year because of our non-competitive salaries and heavy workload. We cannot afford to live in NYC with non-competitive salaries. We cannot accept an economic offer that would not even keep up with inflation – especially in a city where inflation is higher than in most cities in the US. We need real gains in our economic compensation. We need a new contract, and a good contract, now.



PSC Demands Progress on Contract Economics

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