PSC LaGuardia Community College Chapter Chair Lara Beaty protests cuts at an on-campus rally last year. (Credit: Dave Sanders)
The PSC has been fighting class cancellations across the university. CUNY administration has cited enrollment drops as a justification for the cuts this fall. The PSC LaGuardia Community College (LGCC) chapter organized a robust campaign to fight back against the cuts, and members’ hard work to keep classes open is already paying off.
The chapter presented data to the LGCC administration in a labor-management meeting, showing that students often do not retake a class after it has been cancelled once, often disrupting the continuity of their education thus jeopardizing their overall academic performance. After presenting this to management, the chapter invited department chairs to work with the chapter to help stop the cuts.
“I also invited all program directors and coordinators to a meeting on August 1 to discuss the problem and met [individually] with five or six people,” Lara Beaty, the PSC chapter chair at LaGuardia, told Clarion. “Our PSC campus action team has met weekly since August 2 also. All these meetings have been an effort to collect information and strategize. Ideas were proposed and mostly rejected by the [college] president.”
Beaty, a professor of developmental psychology, added, “An important part of our discussions has been about concerns that CUNY Central has plans to shift the priorities to vocational training or even to close some community colleges. We hear from politicians that college isn’t necessary, and so we are planning something, maybe…a teach-in to bring [the issue] to students about why community college is important.”
Over the course of two days, chapter members bombarded the college president and provost with emails about the need to keep classes open regardless of drops in enrollment, noting how important these classes are to working-class students, who are juggling school, work and family life.
Maxine Berger, an adjunct lecturer in education and language acquisition, wrote in an email to LGCC President Kenneth Adams: “I feel privileged each year to teach the wonderful body of students who attend my classes. They are eager to learn, work hard and do not take their education for granted. Most of these young men and women are balancing work, home responsibilities and school, all at the same time. They need classes that can fit into their complicated schedules. Their education is the key for bettering their lives. By cancelling classes, these students are shortchanged by our school. It sends the wrong message about what our special college stands for.”
Linda Forrester, a LaGuardia retiree, noted in her letter to the administration that drops in enrollment were not a reason to cut classes, but in fact an opportunity to allow students to participate in smaller classes.
“What a blessing this was!” she wrote, recalling her own experiences teaching smaller classes. “It was such an opportunity for students to enter subject matter deeply, explore ideas, work with one another more closely and learn more, with added support from their instructor. For me and many others, small classes provide the occasion to develop new approaches to curriculum, to see what works with whom and to add to the mix that is ‘integrative learning.’ It’s sound, educational pedagogy.”
Forrester added, “As many of my colleagues have stated, students often need the classes we offer in order to graduate. The choice and flexibility of the LaGuardia class schedule has always been a great benefit to them. These hardworking students have been through so much over the last few years. They don’t need a heavier load, and we will surely lose them if we can’t offer the courses that they want and need. And my colleagues need a stable work environment. As you’re aware, adjuncts who are not employed will lose health coverage. As so many LaGuardia courses are taught by adjuncts, this puts the entire community at risk. Please keep the classes open even with small numbers!”
And Martha Siegel, an adjunct lecturer in education, told the administration that cancelling a class in response to an low enrollment is shortsighted, only making the problem of enrollment decline worse.
“Not only will cancelling classes affect the students this semester, but it will badly affect the school going forward, as many students whose classes are cancelled will not return to LGCC, but will go elsewhere or will drop out of school altogether,” she said. “If you want enrollment to continue to plummet, this would be the way to do it. But I am sure that is not your intention. We owe our students, our faculty and our school so much more.”
The chapter’s work resulted in a partial victory at the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester. On September 6, LGCC President Kenneth Adams and Provost Billie Gastic Rosado wrote in an email to faculty and staff that the administration had reduced the class cancellations as to negatively impact as few students as possible.
“On Thursday, September 1, we cancelled 59 classes because of low enrollment. The classes we cancelled had between 1 to 11 students enrolled. Forty-five of the 59 classes cancelled had multiple sections, so most of the approximately 320 students affected by the cancellations should be able move to another section of the same course,” they said. “We provide extra advising and support to help students impacted by a cancellation to find a solution and maintain their credit load. While we would prefer not to cancel any classes, cancelling 59 out of 1,583 sections offered (.04%) this semester is not as disruptive for students as the process has been in the past. For example, recall that one year ago, in Fall 21, we cancelled 210 sections.”
The administrators noted that they decided to “run 751 classes with fewer than 18 students, the LaGuardia ‘break-even’ amount that is our typical threshold for cancellations,” where the break-even amount is “the average class size needed to cover only the cost of instruction.”
Beaty noted, “In my department, social science, 12 classes were cancelled though 28 had single-digit numbers. We were not unscathed, but it was less damaging than it could have been.”
“Many classes, though not all, were saved by the union members’ efforts and our chapter leadership, and I’m grateful for that,” said Sigmund Shen, an associate professor of English at LGCC and a former PSC chapter chair. Shen added that the president and provost’s message “signals that we will need to keep up pressure on the college administration” and that it “highlights the need for CUNY and the PSC to keep up pressure for full funding” from both the State and City.
“If we don’t, continued class cancellations will continue to harm enrollment as students lose confidence in our programs,” he said.
Published: September 29, 2022
Last Modified: November 9, 2022