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Home » Clarion » 2020 » February 2020 » Grad Center members blast hiring freeze

Grad Center members blast hiring freeze

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Budget cuts hurt NTAs

Penny Lewis, PSC senior colleges VP, spoke at an emergency union meeting at the Graduate Center.
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Long-simmering budget problems are taking their toll on some campuses. Union officials reported that Hunter College did not reappoint nearly a dozen non-teaching adjuncts (NTAs) in the Spring, effectively terminating them. And the Graduate Center’s (GC) newly imposed hiring freeze is being met with intense union opposition.

On January 9, Interim President James Muyskens, said in a message to the GC community that in order to “return to a balanced budget,” the center would “impose a hiring freeze going forward on all new full-time positions, as well as new part-time college assistant and non-teaching adjunct positions” and “enact a hiring pause going forward on all replacements of full-time positions, as well as part-time college assistant and NTA positions…”

BACK TO THE NINETIES

The cuts, which are effective immediately and are expected to last until June 30, also include “a freeze on all step and merit increases” and a “freeze on all tax-levy funded travel.”

“This situation is as bad as the retrenchment of the 1990s, and we need a way out,” PSC Chapter Chair Luke Elliott-Negri said in a message to members. “It is time to sharpen a strategy to get the money we need and pursue a laser-focused plan to get full funding from Albany.”

Penny Lewis, the PSC vice president for senior colleges and an associate professor of labor studies at the School of Labor and Urban Studies, said, “The current budget crisis at the GC is not caused by the contract that was just passed. It has much deeper roots, and has been anticipated for months, if not years.”

Lewis continued, “The GC is a unique institution among CUNY schools, not just in that it does not rely on adjunct labor to the extent that other schools do, but also in that it is not tuition-funded to the extent that other schools are. Students cost the school; the GC is a cost, not ‘profit,’ center for the system, as former GC President Chase Robinson used to remind us at our labor-management meetings.”

For Travis Sweatte, a graduate assistant in sociology, the recently announced cuts were a continuation of cuts he has seen at the GC over time. “People definitely saw it coming,” he said. “The number of fellowships were cut before this announcement. At Hunter, the cuts to NTAs were also expected, as the administration had made significant cuts over the past three years.”

“We’ve had NTA hours cut as a part of budget cuts more generally,” said Sarah Chinn, chair of the Hunter College English department.

CALL TO ACTION

The PSC chapter at the Graduate Center held an emergency meeting about the hiring freezes to decide how to organize for the future.

“We really want to dig into how the budget is structured, about how are these decisions being made,” Elliott-Negri said after the meeting. “We also need to recognize that we are a senior college and the state’s decision-making over the last decade has affected us. The deeper crisis is in Albany.”

Muyskens attended the meeting and took questions from members about the cuts. He insisted that the cuts at the GC would be temporary.

In his letter to the GC community, Muyskens said, “The Graduate Center will weather this temporary financial adjustment” and added that the Graduate Center will “emerge a more robust and more efficient institution.”


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