How can faculty and staff organize to stop class cuts and class size increases during COVID-19, when in-person pickets are more difficult to pull off? The PSC chapter at LaGuardia Community College (LGCC) figured out a way.
In the first week of March, the chapter pulled together a virtual picket to protest the prospect of class cancellations. Here’s how it worked: Lara Beaty, the PSC chapter chair (on sabbatical) at LGCC, sent an initial message to the college president and provost, decrying the cuts, and copying chapter members on the email. Then members hit “reply all” with their own personal, often fiery pleas against class cancellations.
As of this writing, nearly 200 faculty members at the school have taken part in the protest. And the results have been positive.
“We’re working on gathering the information, but it looks like class loss and health insurance loss to adjuncts will be minimal,” said Laura Tanenbaum, who also serves as the chapter’s interim chair. “We also won a reduction of the minimum to run a class from 15 to 12, probably the biggest factor in saving classes. And while our administration didn’t give a cutoff for Bursar’s holds, the provost did report that they used $750,000 for tuition debt relief to help students enroll.”
Nathan Schrader, who leads the LaGuardia PSC chapter’s ad hoc committee on adjuncts, said, “We really didn’t know it was going to be as successful as it was,” adding, “I would definitely recommend that other campuses adopt similar methods.”
Sigmund Shen, an associate professor of English and a former chapter chair at LaGuardia, wrote a particularly heartfelt letter to the administration in his “reply all” message on the virtual picket.
“Pandemic layoffs are business as usual,” Shen said. “But this is not business as usual. If nothing else, extraordinary times call for rational behavior. If we’re not willing to act to protect jobs today, then when? When there’s 600,000 dead? When the next pandemic hits? When one employer who loses someone personal to them, or has someone personal to them lose their health insurance, decides that’s when it’s time to ‘have a change of heart’? This is not ‘The Hunger Games.’ This is a community. It is so because we make it so through our choices.”
Schrader added, “I hope that our message has been heard and that the college president will do the right thing.”