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Home » Clarion » 2018 » December 2018 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Why we defend the tenure system

In the September 30, 2018, issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, William Egginton of Johns Hopkins University published an essay entitled “The Left-Wing Case Against Tenure.” Rather than the usual argument against tenure of attacking faculty who have tenure-track or tenured positions as lazy slugs living off the taxpayers or the hardworking donors of private universities, Egginton argues that tenure reinforces privilege. At the center of his case is the claim that the tenure system is “particularly vulnerable to unconscious bias,” especially against women, people of color and young scholars whose work does not “fit” the established criteria of their discipline.

PSC members learned about the CUNY tenure process during an information session at Queens College.

There is no question that such biases are at work in academia. It is also clear to anyone paying attention that white men who do “acceptable” mainstream research are grossly overrepresented among the tenure professoriate. However, Egginton’s diagnosis is, in many ways, worse than the disease. He advocates more “renewable contracts” with “periodic and positive evaluations of teaching, research or both.” Some positions would be evaluated more on research, others more on teaching. Put simply, Egginton’s solution would increase the precarity of academic labor that has driven down salaries and increased workloads for both part-time and full-time tenured and untenured faculty in the United States.

A real solution to the conscious and unconscious biases of the tenure process involves three big changes. First, we need to win equity in pay and job security between full-time and part-time faculty. As part-time work becomes more costly, universities will be compelled to hire more on full-time, tenure-track positions. Second, we need a commitment to affirmative action in the hiring, tenure and promotion process to make up for past racial and gender discrimination. Finally, we need clear criteria, formal evaluations and guidance throughout the process, enforced through a union contract. All of these proposals will require a thorough unionization of university faculty.

Charles Post
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Parity for CLIP, Start

In a September 18 email, “Bargaining Update #4,” PSC President Barbara Bowen stated, “The PSC has also called for important changes in areas other than salary, including granting tuition waivers to the children of full-time employees.”

While I agree that the children of full-time employees should get tuition waivers, over 100 CLIP and CUNY Start instructors, all of whom are full-time, still must pay full price for all CUNY classes and education programs. Some CLIP and CUNY Start instructors, like me, would like to earn a second masters or obtain a PhD. Others would simply like to take a class or two for professional development. But we are forced to pay full price or attend classes at a different school because of CUNY’s unwillingness to grant us tuition waivers. Even adjuncts get tuition waivers, provided they teach a certain number of hours over several years.

CLIP and CUNY Start instructors receive no tuition waivers, which prevents us from developing professionally and being promoted. I think the PSC should first focus on getting all full-time employees tuition waivers for CUNY classes, and then, after that is taken care of, focus on waivers for their families.

C. Anthony Prato
Queensborough Community College

Editor’s note: The push to include CUNY Start and CLIP instructors in the contract language mandating tuition waivers is also a PSC demand in the current contract campaign. The union’s demands, including this one, were ratified during a Delegate Assembly in the Fall of 2017.

Underpaid, undervalued

CUNY faculty is a heterogeneous society that consists of overlapping parts that differ in many characteristics, levels and wants. This heterogeneity manifests itself most strikingly through the division into tenure-track faculty and a grossly underpaid and undervalued adjunct majority faculty. These extremes seem to have dictated our union’s approach to attending to the interests of the whole faculty corpus, through adoption of the middle “salary first” way, which is the crudest of all possible approaches.

More sophisticated approaches should be taken with catering to smaller subgroups of the faculty. Let us start with the most discriminated and most exploited faculty, namely scholars who have high academic degrees (doctorates), who not only do a full load of teaching, but are active in research and administration, while being paid less than graduate student salaries. This group of faculty has comparable, if not better scholarly records than the privileged faculty do, except they have to live up to higher standards when it comes to promotions (“higher” because given other equal conditions, they are essentially unsupported in their research and other scholarly pursuits).

A typical example of this kind of faculty member is paid about $22,000, instead of what should be at least $82,000 per year; such a scholar who has been a grossly underpaid and undervalued faculty for 10 years is thus swindled out of a staggering $600,000 plus about $200,000 in pension and other benefits. There is no group of faculty who is as brutally exploited as this group of scholars.

The union should start with finding out an exact count of adjunct scholars and convert their slave predicament into positions of more fairly paid “regular” faculty. Short of this we will continue to see expansion of hiring of non-scholar faculty that will dictate and ensure puny salaries continue forever, as a matter and consequence of the simple principle of supply and demand.

Radoslav Dimitric
College of Staten Island

Help for pensioners

Ruth Wangerin’s letter in the last issue of Clarion titled “Working for members” commented that the PSC interceded to achieve a victory in a single unemployment benefits dispute. Terrific!

How about holding the PSC accountable to resolve the pension issues for the thousands of retired faculty and staff who have not received their correct pension benefit payments as per the 2016 contract settlement?

Geraldine Burghart
Bronx Community College

Editor’s note: Over a two-year period, CUNY payroll has failed to provide the NYC Teachers Retirement System (TRS) with accurate retro-pay data to calculate increased monthly pension payments for significant numbers of recent retirees. Those affected are retirees who worked at CUNY during the years covered by the 2010–17 PSC-CUNY contract and were owed back pay.

TRS benefits are based on salary history, age, years of employment and other factors. Before TRS can calculate your monthly pension payments, the CUNY Payroll Office must provide that final “salary history” so that it includes any back pay owed through the 4/20/17 salary increase, if applicable.

To date, CUNY Payroll has not provided usable and accurate “salary history” data to TRS. PSC leadership has pushed CUNY management, but has not been informed that a data file acceptable to TRS has been submitted.

Response to Schulman

As an educator, Jew, Israeli and American, I cannot remain silent on Sarah Schulman’s distorted and frankly anti-Semitic – yes, even Jews can be anti-Semitic – views (“Silencing dissent,” letters, Clarion October/November 2018).

She uses CUNY’s investigation of a PhD student’s email where they criticize Israel as an example and a reflection of CUNY’s manipulation and complicity toward Israeli injustices. Just to put things in perspective, the student in question responded to a CUNY Earth and Environmental Sciences listserv advertising Fulbright grants to study in Israel with this comment: “This is some sick Zionist propaganda.” Some Jewish students felt threatened and believed his rhetoric incited hate. They utilized Title VI and IX to file a complaint and, in the end, CUNY investigated the matter and sided with the student. How is this showing complicity?

I also challenge Schulman’s accusations that Israel “murders large numbers of unarmed civilians in Gaza.” It has always been the Israeli Defense Force’s policy to alert civilians of forthcoming attacks by dropping leaflets and going door to door to warn them of impending target areas. I know of no other army that does such a thing. It is not Israel’s fault that Hamas strategically and methodically chooses heavily populated areas such as hospitals and schools to launch their attacks. This past summer, Palestinians set masses of forest land on fire with balloons that detonated, some even landed on school grounds and playgrounds.

There are thousands of Palestinians and Muslims living peacefully in Israel being active members of the economy and even government. Schulman admits in a 2013 interview, “I avoided becoming a truly informed person about Israel/Palestine….” How can one, especially an educator, make such outlandish claims while admitting they are uninformed?

I have heard from so many Jewish students that college has become a fearful and dreaded place where anti-Israel and Jewish sentiments are spewed daily. When they try to speak their truth, they are either barred from participating in pro-Palestinian meetings, denied entry, quickly shut down and silenced or labeled as racists. So I applaud CUNY, and I am proud to be a CUNY faculty member, where the First Amendment still stands tall in the face of truth and justice for all.

Ita Yankovich
Kingsborough Community College

Editor’s note: Clarion reserves the right to edit all letters for publication.

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