Brooklyn College PSC Chapter Chair James Davis addressed students before the Board of Trustees borough hearing.
Faculty and staff members from Brooklyn College were on hand at the CUNY Board of Trustees hearing at their campus on March 12 to speak out about maintaining their campus as well as the need to pay adjuncts $7,000 per course per semester. Here are just a few of the statements members made to the board about fully funding the campus and the entire university.
A quick look at the “Brokelyn College” Instagram account shows broken desks, broken toilets, broken sinks, broken water fountains, peeling paint, exposed wiring, vermin and crumbling walkways, ceilings and walls. Some of our ancient blackboards have lost their ability to hold onto chalk. On more than one occasion, in more than one classroom, while I was teaching, holes in the ceiling and walls have started sputtering mysterious liquid. Some of our facilities’ problems have gotten serious enough to garner the attention of the press. It’s demoralizing and it’s disgusting, and we need to do something about it.
I make a little bit more than $3,000 for every class of 30 or 35 students that I teach here. This is a small fraction of what my students pay to take these classes, let alone the contributions of taxpayers. In my years as a Brooklyn College instructor, I’ve had to subsidize my work by teaching music lessons, test prep, tutoring, after-school religious education, transcribing interviews, fact-checking, babysitting, cat-sitting, and probably a few other things I’ve forgotten about. With a few exceptions, all of those jobs – jobs which, frankly, don’t require nearly as much training – are more lucrative than teaching philosophy at Brooklyn College. I have had to turn down several classes I was offered because I couldn’t afford it. I’m proud to teach at Brooklyn College, and I love the work we do here. But pride and love for my work don’t pay my rent.
Against the backdrop of CUNY’s postponement of the pre-construction phase of lecture hall renovations in 2016, there unfolded scenes of extreme discomfort in history classrooms from James Hall through Boylan and Whitehead. We sketch below a composite portrait, based on true stories from the history department.
The season is spring or early fall. The temperature is hovering in the mid-60s outside. Inside a history classroom, with windows bolted shut, and the air conditioner dead (or never there), a thermometer is registering 90 degrees. There are 40 students in the class, but only 36 desks. The professor thinks she might be on candid camera because she is “interrupted twice by students from a neighboring room,” foraging desperately for chairs and desks. She invites senior administrators to her class to bear witness to these conditions firsthand, apologizing for her inability to offer them seats – unless of course some students are absent from class – the only circumstance under which all members of the class can sit at a desk on exam day.
Several yards away, in a different building, a jumbo class (that typically enrolls 120 students) has just convened. But in the absence of air circulation of any kind, the professor keeps his students just long enough to sign a petition pleading for more congenial learning conditions.
Meanwhile, another professor in a different classroom is trying to make a PowerPoint presentation. But with no working shades on the windows, the glare from the sun outside renders useless “the state-of-the-art projection equipment that the college has spent thousands of dollars to buy.” The Chair offers to pay for garbage bags to tape over the windows, but the professor decides to make an “informal switch to the room next door, which another instructor had abandoned because the blackboard had too many holes in it to be usable.”
It seems a pity that this most affluent of societies cannot do as well. We appeal to your sense of fairness, and to our shared commitment to public education, and by extension to investment in the future of this state that we all love, to do right by our students.
STUDENTS DESERVE MORE
Years of flat budgets followed the cuts imposed during the 2009 recession, and conditions on our campus have become dire. CUNY’s budget request for fiscal year 2019 included mandatory cost increases for the senior colleges of $63 million. But the governor’s executive budget proposes only $37 million….Our beautiful campus is crumbling as it ages, as decades of deferred maintenance take their toll. Student enrollment has climbed steadily to 17,000, but hiring of full-time faculty and advisors has not kept pace. Students are in need of full-time professors and advisors if they are to be successful academically and if the university is to meet its own goals for graduation rates.
Our students deserve your unequivocal support during budget season on another issue that affects them directly: that is, improving adjunct faculty salaries. This is not just a matter of collective bargaining that can be left to CUNY’s labor relations staff; it is fundamentally in your purview as our trustees and our advocates. The number of adjuncts at CUNY has doubled since 2000, now hovering around 15,000. Adjunct lecturers make $3,500 per 3-credit course on average. This is much less than peer institutions pay – even public universities such as Rutgers and Connecticut – and much less than one can live on, and certainly less than the value of their work. Students pay the same tuition, regardless of who their instructor is, yet we continue to exploit adjuncts, who have provided the majority of undergraduate instruction at CUNY every year since 2006. The PSC is seeking $7,000 per course for adjunct lecturers. That will require a real investment from Albany and the city alike. These instructors and the students they teach deserve no less.
PSC Chapter Chair
ENDING ‘BARE BONES’
At my previous job, my colleagues and I worked in an environment where intellectual creativity and curiosity, grounded in our research and pedagogy and set within a healthy infrastructure, allowed us to imagine and then contribute important changes at work and to our larger society. At CUNY, however, I find that resources are so limited that my amazing colleagues and I cannot dare to think, dream and build. Let me be clear: this results not from a lack of skill or commitment from my first-rate colleagues or our qualified and dedicated staff; this has nothing to do with the drive and desire of our students; nor does it stem from a lack of commitment by administrators.
Rather, we are working in such a deeply underfunded ecosystem that all we can do – this amazing community of educators, administrators, and learners at Brooklyn College – is the bare-bones work of giving our students a first-rate education in diminished circumstances. We do this work because we know it will change lives, even at its most stripped-down execution. Of this we are proud, and at this we excel. But that larger benefit, that greater social good offered by distinguished institutions of higher education – to contribute to the larger social fabric; to develop world-class ideas and cultural institutions; to create the social changes we need; to innovate and build; and to use the resources of mind, community and our amazing city to their greatest potential – this is denied us in an environment where the best of our labor is spent merely and consistently cobbling things together.
Because CUNY has been and can be this kind of first-rate institution, I ask the Board of Trustees to invest all of its energy on behalf of funding in appropriate ways the work of the great people already gathered here, at CUNY, to help us do our very best for the betterment of our students, our city and our world.