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Home » Clarion » 2021 » April 2021 » A leadership transition for volatile times

A leadership transition for volatile times

For the past 21 years, under the extraordinary leadership of President Barbara Bowen, the New Caucus has led the PSC and built it into a strong, progressive union. The PSC under New Caucus leadership has improved conditions at CUNY and become a force in the labor movement locally and nationally. President Bowen’s decision not to seek another term means that the union will undertake a historic transition during a historic crisis in public health, economic stability and social justice. The New Caucus has planned for this leadership transition, developing another generation of skilled, principled and creative leaders. They include returning Executive Council (EC) members who are experienced union veterans and committed newcomers who bring vitality, diversity and engagement with their campuses and constituencies. This Executive Council will seize every opportunity to advance the PSC’s vision and values on behalf of faculty, staff and the communities CUNY serves.

The New Caucus candidates for PSC Principal Officers demonstrate the deep union experience and passion for the PSC’s mission shared by the whole New Caucus slate. James Davis is a resilient advocate who will bring to the role of President experience on the Executive Council, in collective bargaining and as chair of a vibrant chapter. Andrea Vásquez, an outstanding organizer and union strategist and HEO at the Graduate Center, will remain as First Vice President. She plays a key role in the transition, bringing the experience she has gained during her first term as First Vice President. The Vice President for Senior Colleges, Penny Lewis, will step into the PSC Secretary role, bringing her experience of four terms on the EC, and manifold experience at CUNY and the broader city labor movement. Felicia Wharton, longtime Chapter Chair at one of CUNY’s four Educational Opportunity Centers, offers her acumen in the Treasurer position. Wharton is a mathematician who has served on the PSC Finance Committee for three years. In tandem with four seasoned Vice President candidates, Iris DeLutro, David Hatchett, Rosa Squillacote and Sharon Utakis, the officers will collaborate with the Executive Council to transform this moment of crisis into a moment of possibility, one in which visionary leadership and an organized union membership can work together toward realizing the founding promise of the people’s university.


There is no going back to the way things were before the pandemic. Racial austerity has threatened CUNY’s mission for years, so a return to “normal” is not a viable option. The New Caucus candidates seek to meet the challenges of the pandemic and economic uncertainty head-on, representing and engaging PSC members so that we can collectively create the conditions for faculty, staff and students to be safe and to thrive.

The New Deal for CUNY and the coalition work we have done with students and unions is an important expression of the bold agenda we will continue to pursue. We believe CUNY’s overreliance on tuition should end. Alongside the CUNY Rising Alliance, we call for a tuition-free, quality education for all CUNY students. The New Deal for CUNY demand for 5,000 new full-time faculty hires over the next five years is at once totally transformative and totally achievable, given the sources of untapped revenue in New York State. Fulfilling that demand would allow many long-serving adjuncts to move into positions with security and compensation that reflect their expertise and would allow for prioritization in the hiring of faculty from underrepresented groups. The New Deal for CUNY also mandates higher ratios of advisors and counselors. By increasing the number of full-time faculty and staff, and pursuing pay parity for adjuncts. The New Deal for CUNY envisions a university in which all students can be successful and the careers of faculty and staff can flourish.

We believe that our legislative and bargaining agendas must be connected. We will continue to bargain hard and wisely on your behalf and to frame our demands in relation to the communities in which we live and work. We will continue to prioritize equity for our lowest-paid faculty and staff and fight for fair pay and safe working conditions for all. We recognize that a fully-funded, equitably staffed, fairly compensated CUNY will require tenacity at the bargaining table and in our legislative work. Moreover, we will defend existing PSC-CUNY negotiated agreements, bringing the full force of our members behind legal and political remedies to hold the administration accountable to the contract. We will build upon previous initiatives to center the efforts of anti-racism and anti-bullying within CUNY and the union, since addressing the insidious impacts of white supremacy and workplace harassment is in everyone’s interest and demands our shared engagement.


Our union has been tested throughout the crisis of the pandemic, when our commitment has been to “Save Jobs, Save Lives, Save CUNY.” The New Caucus leadership has advocated and ensured the health and safety of CUNY employees, defended contractual agreements, negotiated the option for faculty and CLTs to defer tenure review and fellowship leaves, and led vigorous campaigns that helped to reinstate more than 1,000 laid-off contingent employees.

In recent years, high rates of union membership and stable budgets have been maintained through New Caucus leadership despite the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court decision. The union’s voice has been amplified in the public, legislative and electoral arenas, advancing a public higher education agenda. And the PSC has formed chapter-level committees to build and assess the strike-readiness of members in order to strengthen the union’s interrelated campaigns, galvanize chapters and meet the CUNY budget and safety crises with a demonstrable potential for escalation. New Caucus leaders have helped to forge an effective CUNY Rising Alliance coalition of community groups, unions and student organizations.

This New Caucus slate brings together elected leaders and campus activists with established records of organizing colleagues and fostering union democracy. We believe the union is only as strong as its roots, and we are committed to supporting chapter-level power. We are proud of the achievements of the PSC’s New Caucus leadership over recent years. (You can read a comprehensive list here.) Each one was a collective achievement, advanced by research, persistence and skillful negotiating, but ultimately powered by the action of wide circles of PSC members in the political arena, at our colleges and in the streets. The cumulative knowledge, energy and experience of PSC members under strong New Caucus leadership has made the difference for our union, our university and our students. A vote for the New Caucus is a vote for a vibrant, engaged union committed to a better CUNY and a just society.


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