In a big win for the PSC in this year’s state budget agreement, the union secured more than $50 million dollars to hire more than 500 full-time faculty across CUNY. The victory is the result of years of PSC advocacy to better fund CUNY and a major part of a push to pass the New Deal for CUNY legislation. Now comes the next crucial step: advocating that long-time CUNY adjuncts who know the university and its students be prioritized for these hires.
“These are instructors who, in many instances, would have attained full-time employment had the academic labor market not been eroded over the past several decades,” PSC President James Davis and PSC Secretary Penny Lewis wrote in a May 5 letter to CUNY department chairs. “They are an asset to CUNY’s students and their years of investment should be taken into consideration.”
Many of the adjuncts who have taught at campuses across CUNY, have developed teaching methods informed by several academic departments and have, despite the abysmal pay, formed relationships with CUNY students, for whom they write recommendation letters and spend countless unpaid hours grading and providing directed guidance. Their dedication should be recognized – not taken for granted – by hiring them for new full-time positions.
This year’s state budget funds a mix of full-time professorial and lecturer lines. The CUNY Board of Trustees Fiscal Affairs Committee recently approved funding for 500 lecturer lines and 100 professorial lines in their 2022–2023 proposed budget, but the union is advocating for even more professorial lines. The PSC sees this as a starting point for improving the public university system, which has been hollowed out by decades of austerity funding and the loss of more than 380 full-time faculty (positions that have not been replaced since the Fall of 2019, according to the union).
In early May, around 400 people attended a professional development workshop, hosted by the union’s Committee for Adjuncts and Part-Timers. PSC members who served on faculty hiring committees gave targeted advice on how CUNY adjuncts can highlight their qualifications within a pool of applicants. The union is also developing additional resources to support adjuncts interested in applying for full-time positions.
“The campaign is working on materials aimed at hiring committees, educating them about why hiring adjuncts and other part-timers is good for departments across CUNY,” said PSC Vice President of Part-Time Personnel Rosa Squillacote. “Departments would greatly benefit from the experience and expertise of part-timers. Since part-time workers in CUNY are still underpaid and have very little job security, a track to full-time work is essential.”
Clarion spoke to PSC members, asking them to share why they think adjuncts make strong candidates for CUNY’s full-time positions and how they believe these jobs will transform a CUNY adjunct’s career and life. Here are a few of their stories.
Associate Professor and Department Chair
Adjuncts are dedicated, passionate and committed to the University and its students. Yet, all too frequently, their essential work is taken for granted. The lecturer lines represent a concrete opportunity for departments to challenge this injustice by showing adjunct colleagues that they matter and that the only thing separating them from full-time instructors is the opportunity.
No matter what strides the union makes toward improving the salaries, benefits and working conditions of adjuncts, the gap between full- and part-time compensation and status remains wide. As a chair who worked as an adjunct for the first four years of my CUNY career, I passionately believe that my fellow chairs and I must do everything we can to encourage current adjuncts to apply for lecturer positions and to support them throughout the process.
Above and beyond the ethical imperative to redress historical inequities, hiring adjuncts to lecturer positions is in a department’s best self-interest. Adjuncts are proven teachers and tested colleagues. They remove the question that all good chairs have after interviewing and reviewing an applicant: How will they actually perform their jobs? Adjuncts already perform vast amounts of service beyond instruction, which is experience of great value in our departments, schools and colleges.
If we fail to provide adjuncts with every opportunity to successfully compete for lecturer lines, we are reinforcing the inequity at the heart of an archaic and unjust system by telling our colleagues that their work is qualitatively different from that of full-time faculty. As a union representing many titles, we need to fight biases that create artificial orders of value that keep us apart. We need to send a loud and clear message that adjuncts are not permanent second-class members of departments but valued colleagues with whom we stand in solidarity, not just in words but through actions.
Adjunct Lecturer, Department of English, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Adjunct Senior College Laboratory Technician, OpenLab
New York City College of Technology
When I first moved to New York in 2018 to begin my PhD program at the Graduate Center, I began adjuncting. I could not afford to live in New York City on only my graduate student stipend. My commute from Washington Heights to Jersey City was longer than the class I taught there. I quit as soon as I could find a new job as an adjunct CLT at the OpenLab at City Tech. The following year, I was traveling to three campuses: taking English courses at the Graduate Center, teaching at John Jay through my Grad Assistant B position and working as an adjunct CLT at City Tech.
I teach first year writing, which means my courses involve extensive engagement with multiple drafts of student writing. With 27 students per section, it’s difficult to give each student and their work the attention they deserve on top of my other responsibilities.
While I made do living in a small studio apartment with my partner before the pandemic, once work shifted to remote, it was unsustainable. We moved, and I needed more work. In Fall 2020, I took over a course mid-semester at John Jay when someone had to go on emergency leave, I was also freelancing for the College Board, writing short essays to be used on the SAT and looking for new adjunct positions outside of CUNY, since I was already at my max hours under the PSC contract. I was hired as an adjunct lecturer at Fordham University in Fall 2021.
LOADS OF WORK
For the past academic year, I’ve been teaching three courses per semester between John Jay and Fordham, on top of my PhD work and my City Tech adjunct CLT position. The only way I’m able to make this work is that all of my supervisors are willing to be flexible; not everyone is so fortunate. I’ve applied to almost all of the CUNY lecturer lines in composition because this is utterly exhausting and could become logistically impossible at any time. I need stability, one job instead of four to pay the bills.
Department of Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science
LaGuardia Community College
I’ve been working as a CUNY adjunct for nearly 25 years. A full-time line would transform my life, professionally and personally.
Early on, I knew that I wanted to teach math. As an undergraduate at City College, I helped pay for my tuition while working as a tutor in the Math Lab, I went on to get my master’s in mathematics education at City College. I then taught as a CUNY adjunct at City College, LaGuardia Community College, Hunter College and the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Teaching at multiple colleges took a toll on me. I decided that I needed a permanent, full-time job. I stopped accepting assignments at multiple colleges and chose to remain teaching at one CUNY college, LaGuardia. And I began working as a high school math teacher at Bronx Compass High School. I teach there during the day and then at night, two or three days per week, I teach as an adjunct at LaGuardia.
A full-time position would give me the flexibility to spend more time with my young teenage children and be a father who attends their sports activities and recitals, rather than moonlighting as an adjunct during these important moments in my children’s lives.
I’ve taught at the high school, community college and senior college levels, and I know what teaching methods work and what supports are needed in order to retain students and allow them to create successful academic careers.
If I get a full-time line teaching at CUNY, it will transform my life and fulfill a long-desired dream to teach at CUNY, my alma mater, and thus, becoming a true product of CUNY. Teaching at the college level full-time will give me more academic fulfillment and more opportunities to teach higher-level math subjects, such as calculus and statistics.
New York City College of Technology
Full-time status transforms a job into a vocation and a harried day laborer into a professional with respect. I’ve lived this transformation over the past three decades at CUNY.
I was 35 when I started my PhD at the Graduate Center. Juggling caring for two children, strained finances, a bad marriage and then divorce, I finished my degree a decade later. That whole time, and for five years after, I taught at CUNY, first as a teaching assistant at Hunter, then as an adjunct at Lehman for many years, with courses taught at Baruch and Brooklyn. To make ends meet, I also picked up courses at Touro University, Mercy College and SUNY’s Stony Brook University. A typical semester, I was teaching seven courses at two or three different campuses. I was always broke and tired.
My life changed one spring when Lehman hired me for a temporary position; it came with a summer salary. That first paid summer gave me the break I needed to write my dissertation. I put my first dollar toward retirement; I was 45 years old. Stable living returned a few semesters later with a yearlong position at Baruch, but after that, I was only offered adjunct work again. I’d learned to be a great teacher, but the grind of non-stop, multi-campus jobs to support me and my kids didn’t leave time for research, so my CV couldn’t grow. After a few years in this rut, I decided to give up on an academic career. I took a full-time job as a secretary and got health care. (Back then, we couldn’t get it as adjuncts.)
About a year later, in 2004, I saw an ad for a tenure-track job at City Tech. I’d previously been rejected for the same position but was miraculously hired. Now, I could take every summer for research! I was awarded PSC-CUNY grants and two sabbaticals. Thanks to the union, our insane workload was slowly brought into line with the other senior colleges. I got to know my students, published articles and a book, secured health care for my family, grew my retirement fund and reached full professor rank.
From my first tenure-track semester, I made it a priority to be active in the union. I served as a department rep and in the Delegate Assembly. With the PSC, I knocked on doors in Pennsylvania, lobbied in Albany, visited City Council offices, marched in Washington, and protested outside of the home of the CUNY chancellor. I’m active in the union, because I think all teaching faculty deserve the dignity I secured through full-time work.
Maria Laura Castiglioni
Doctoral Lecturer, Retiree
School of Education
City College of New York
I was an adjunct at several CUNY colleges for more than a decade before being hired full-time. While the part-time work initially worked for my life, I was not able to build a career or be a visible part of the academic community.
I began teaching as a CUNY adjunct while I was completing my PhD in educational psychology at the Graduate Center, and I continued to teach after I attained my doctorate. I taught at LaGuardia Community College, the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Queens College and City College.
Throughout that time, I enjoyed the freedom of teaching as an adjunct: there were no required office hours, no advising, no interviews of new applicants and no meetings. But the pay was very low. I did not have an office, or a desk, and most importantly, there was no guarantee of a job for the following semester. I felt that I could not refuse a last-minute request to replace a sick instructor for a class scheduled the next day. Or that time when I was asked to teach a class in social foundations, a course outside of my field, I felt like I could not say ‘no.’
In 2006, ten years after my first job as an adjunct, I applied for a full-time lecturer position at City College. I was hired. The financial benefit was considerable, though at first the teaching load was a heavy one: two undergraduate and three graduate courses in the Fall semester and two undergraduate and two graduate courses in the Spring semester, with a total of 80 to 90 students each semester.
With a full-time lecturer position, I found my voice as an academic and collaborated with my colleagues. I also had time to attend union meetings and meet academics outside my college and department and learn about the benefits that the union provided. I learned a lot about teaching. I was able to build my career.
Because I was an adjunct, I had the necessary foundations to seamlessly transition into full-time faculty work. Office hours allowed me to have a more personal rapport with my students and a better way to help them. I recently retired. Getting a full-time position gave me the peace of mind to focus on my classes and my students. I’ve received awards for my teaching excellence and I’ve developed lasting relationships with some of my students, as they navigate their careers.