Many members have contacted me with questions and anger about the information you are receiving from college administrations about how they plan to implement the agreement to reduce the contractual teaching load. I share your anger, but we should not be surprised. Every major agreement the PSC has won – increased sabbatical pay, HEO salary differentials, three-year appointments for adjuncts – has required sustained union pressure to be implemented properly. Pressure about the teaching load agreement is already being applied by PSC chapter chairs and leadership, but it will be most effective if it is amplified by the thousands of faculty whose fundamental working conditions are at stake.
PSC members broke a 30-year stalemate on teaching loads because faculty on the campuses spent years organizing and the union as a whole prioritized the teaching load in the last contract. We gained the support of students and community groups for our contract priorities – with especially strong support from students on the teaching load issue – and PSC members authorized the union to call a strike by a vote of 92 percent. The teaching load agreement comes out of that fight. It delivers a major blow to the premise that austerity conditions are the best we can hope for at CUNY.
The language of the agreement is simple: the contractual teaching load will be reduced by one teaching contact hour each year, starting next fall, until the full three-hour reduction starts in Fall 2020 semester.
The agreement establishes that a teaching load of 18 or 24 hours will now be a right under the contract, and will no longer be dependent on your college’s ability or president’s inclination to provide reassigned time. Many full-time faculty currently receive reassigned time for unsponsored research or other professional activities, but the new contractual agreement means that a lower teaching load is guaranteed.
A second and equally significant gain is that faculty who routinely teach the full contractual load because they are in less well-funded colleges or departments will now experience a reduction. The fact that none of us will be required to teach 27 hours at the community colleges or 21 for professorial faculty at the senior colleges is an advance for the faculty as a whole. And it will also be a tremendous gain for students. Virtually every study of the factors that help students to succeed in college shows that time spent individually or in small groups with faculty is decisive.
While the agreement reduces the full-time faculty’s contractual obligation, it does not necessarily reduce each individual faculty member’s teaching load because individual teaching loads can currently be adjusted through reassigned time. Almost all reassigned time is provided at the discretion of the college president. CUNY management refused during the negotiations to freeze current reassigned time in place and add the contractual reduction to that total. Much of the struggle about implementation has been around this issue.
Reassigned time at CUNY is not ornamental. It’s not the result of “deals.” It is the essential currency of a university that is systematically starved of funds and whose teaching load, until now, has been prohibitive.
Many college presidents have found ways to provide discretionary reassigned time to fairly large numbers of faculty, using funds from college budgets. At some colleges, reassigned time for research activities is routine. These colleges would not be able to compete for the research-active faculty they seek if they did not provide some relief from the heavy teaching load. Even at the new level of 18 hours, the senior college teaching load will not be fully competitive. Many of our publicly funded competitor universities have a load of 12 hours.
At other colleges, reassigned time to direct academic programs or lead pedagogical initiatives is common – and essential if the colleges are going to serve their students. All CUNY college presidents have recognized that elected department chairs, on whose labor the entire academic enterprise depends and whose role is included in the collective bargaining agreement signed by CUNY management, need substantial reassigned time.
When the teaching load agreement was signed last December, CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken said it would “strengthen the university’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining talented faculty.” University Provost Vita Rabinowitz spoke about “the additional time faculty will now spend meeting and advising students, as well as on their research and scholarship.” If the agreement is implemented in the narrow way that is currently being pursued, neither of these claims will be justified. Much of the value of the contractual reduction will be squandered if the de facto teaching loads of many hard-working, productive faculty remain unchanged.
IT’S ALWAYS THE MONEY
It comes down to a question of funding. Only one-third of the total cost will be needed in the first year, however, as the reduction is phased in. The PSC’s position is that the agreement should be funded to enable current reassigned time for research, department leadership and academic activities to remain in place, in addition to the reduction in the contractual load. We also take the position that the courses no longer taught by current faculty should lead to the creation of new full-time faculty positions, with an opportunity to increase diversity with new hiring and make openings for current part-time faculty.
CUNY management relies on the old argument of scarcity. The administration failed to secure additional dedicated funding for the contractual reduction in the most recent New York State budget. (The city budget, which provides funding for the community colleges, is not yet determined.) Yet university administrators have expressed satisfaction with the state budget result. It is their responsibility to find funding in the current budget. If CUNY Central can find funds for all kinds of other priorities – new deans and their staffs, new programs and initiatives, not to mention CUNYfirst – then they can find the relatively modest funds needed to implement this agreement. They should do so without further delay and damage to their credibility with the faculty.
The PSC signed the agreement without having the funds in place because we saw the chance to change one of the most important parts of the contract, and we seized it. We also knew that the city and state would not fund an agreement if it was not signed. The union leadership is now pushing hard for additional funding from both city and state, and we will continue until funding is provided.
We call on the CUNY trustees, all of whom are political appointees of the governor and the mayor, to use their political leverage and secure the funding required to implement the reduction in a way that maximizes its value. Our message: For a fairly modest sum compared to CUNY’s total teaching budget, it offers a blueprint for transforming the experience of students, boosting the university’s competitiveness and enriching our shared academic life. For once, do something at CUNY right.