On the line against the tax bill
Responding to First Vice President Mike Fabricant’s call at the December Delegate Assembly, my wife and I joined several other PSC members in Washington, D.C. to protest the Republican tax bill. That day, 84 activists were arrested outside the offices of senators Susan Collins (ME), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Jerry Moran (KS), and Rep. Mimi Walters (CA). Perhaps an equal number of protesters acted as support, joining the gradually dwindling number of potential arrestees in blocking the halls, chanting, etc. This was the third of four days of arrests, spread over two weeks.
My main question is: why weren’t there 50 times our number to enable us to truly disrupt this Congressional travesty?
I used to teach 11th and 12th graders a course called “Facing History and Ourselves,” in which we would discuss a range of violence against various “others,” and why most people neither actively perpetrate or oppose that violence – they have a million reasons to be bystanders. If this administration represents fascism – or only semi-fascism – then it is our obligation, individually, and collectively as the PSC, to do more, to protest harder, to spend shepherded money (recognizing that this is the rainy day), to figure out ways to leverage our resources and power to build mass resistance.
Robert Cherry’s recent op-ed “CUNY’s profs get richer, teach less – and then complain about 1 percent” in the New York Post, which portrays those who teach at CUNY as overpaid, underworked members of the “overclass,” is inaccurate. Professor Cherry’s article ignores the fact that the majority of classes at CUNY are taught by adjuncts, not by the full professors whose supposedly lavish salaries and light workloads he decries. While Professor Cherry claims to be advocating for the interests of students, by omitting adjuncts from his narrative, he willfully lies about what is actually happening at CUNY.
I also teach at Brooklyn College. But as an adjunct I’m paid approximately $3,200 to teach a three-credit course. For adjuncts teaching four classes per semester, this means about $25,000 per year – an income that barely meets the cost of living in New York City.
Our job insecurity from semester to semester makes it difficult to keep our health insurance, given the requirements for maintaining credit loads in consecutive semesters, which adds to our expenses and distracts us from our work with students. We travel between multiple campuses and juggle additional jobs to supplement our inadequate teaching income.
And as any teacher knows, our work extends beyond classroom hours; though CUNY pays us for only three hours of work per class per week, we devote additional time to developing syllabi, planning lessons, grading papers, and holding office hours. We respond to student emails, support struggling students, and write recommendation letters – all unpaid labor.
As the number of full-time faculty dwindles, the work of departments increasingly falls to adjuncts. We are asked to participate in committee work and mentor new instructors. This work is essential – departments can’t function without it – but because we are adjuncts, this, too, is unpaid labor.
Cherry paints a false picture of lazy professors who barely work. In reality, all of us who teach at CUNY – and particularly those of us who are adjuncts – feel the ongoing pressure of the austerity budget. We are told by our administrations that we must “do more with less.” We must teach in facilities that are crumbling, infested, and leaking, and in classrooms that are too small to accommodate ever-larger groups of students. If Professor Cherry truly cared about CUNY students, he would focus his ire on the working conditions of all teaching faculty, not just the small fraction he describes.
It is a very positive development that many unions are now taking the long view on the question of climate change. It is high time; what is at stake after all is whether there will be a 22nd century at all, and if yes, for how large a part of the world. There is still woefully little correct information about the matter in the public consciousness. I am writing to emphasize that reliable and understandable information is easily available. Perhaps the best source is science2017.globalchange.gov.
Anybody can see from it the deadly seriousness of the situation. Of course, there are also a lot of websites spreading false or misleading information disguised as science.
An important study analyzing the failure of effective climate action until now comes from TUED (Trade Unions for Energy Democracy). Its last working paper, available at unionsforenergydemocracy.org, explains the economic reasons why only public ownership of the utility companies can make significant progress possible.
Lehman College, Retired