PSC chapters at two Queens campuses partially defeated sweeping class cancellations this semester that would have resulted in students being denied classes they needed to graduate.
At York College, chapter activists distributed flyers demanding that the administration reverse planned class cuts, and PSC Chapter Chair Ian Hansen also pressured the provost and president.
“Although we had cancellations, we put enough pressure to avoid the catastrophic cancellation policy presented to us,” said Fabiola Salek, chair of York’s world languages, literatures and humanities department, in an email to Clarion. She recalled that in January the administration had floated the idea of nixing classes with low enrollment.
Ian Hansen, an associate professor of behavioral sciences, noted that it’s a mystery as to how the York administration came to its scheduling policy. “[It] operates on a basis on minimum possible transparency and maximum flexibility for the administration to do whatever it wants,” he said.
However, Hansen said that thanks to faculty pressure, the student body was able to avoid draconian cancellations. In an email to department chairs, he wrote that he hoped they would “strive to justify every course that is potentially vulnerable to cancellation, particularly those with 10…enrolled (or fewer, especially if the class is arguably needed for many students’ timely completion of a major, degree, etc.).” He went on to note that “cancelling classes adds significantly to student stress (and anger) and can compound enrollment and retention problems.”
Hansen said that this outreach to the department chairs was a part of the “multiple fronts” strategy the chapter used in its organizing campaign against threatened class cuts.
Rather than “the ‘chopping block’ standard the administration had prepared to use (effectively fewer than 30 students ‘and/or’ fewer than 15 students)…the standard that was actually used…appears to have allowed many classes as low as four to run,” Hansen said in an email.
Donna Chirico, a professor of behavioral sciences and the chair of the faculty caucus in the York College Senate, concurred that “some chairs felt that the final round of cancellations was not as draconian as anticipated.”
At Queensborough Community College (QCC), the PSC chapter launched a petition demanding the administration “run all currently offered course sections regardless of low enrollment” on grounds that faculty and staff “strongly oppose cancelling classes for which budget allocations were already made when the sections were offered.”
Philip Pecorino, the PSC chapter chair at QCC, said that while there were a few cancellations in the end, “I know of no case of a student having a class cancelled and not being able to register into another section of the same class” and that “all full-time faculty and adjuncts on three-year contracts were given assignments even if their assigned classes included sections with fewer than 10 students in them.”
In a report to the chapter, Pecorino, a professor of philosophy, said, “Our petition is a partial victory we can all be proud of.” He noted that, “The College is demonstrating greater accountability to its faculty and staff in this manner in the continuing campaign to deal with the funding and enrollment challenges.”
PSC pressure and organizing at both QCC and York led to Queens State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, the chair of the NYS Senate Higher Education Committee, to contact the CUNY chancellor, and demand that class cuts be averted.
For Margot Edlin, the chair of QCC’s English department, the campaign this semester was a complex situation because she served on the management side of the struggle as interim dean of faculty until this semester. She described tough negotiations between faculty and the administration, but she insisted that the administration listened to the PSC’s concerns and wanted to come to an equitable solution.
“We’re running some small classes, and classes where it’s the only section. We did our best because we have to honor three-year appointments and full-time faculty schedules,” Edlin said. “We did the best we could to help as many people as possible with really competing needs.”
Fighting campus course cancellations has become a regular issue throughout CUNY. Last Fall, the PSC chapter at LaGuardia Community College beat back most of the class cuts the administration had proposed. CUNY’s overall enrollment has declined since the pandemic began. “University-wide enrollment in [Fall 2022] is down, but less than 10% from [Fall 2021] and over 10% from [Fall 2020],” University Faculty Senate Chair John Verzani wrote at the end of last year. “Ouch.”
Union activists believe, however, that cutting classes hurts students by limiting their ability to get the classes they need for their majors, thus exacerbating declining enrollment. Further, the university has boasted the success of the new CUNY Reconnect initiative, which is meant to reenroll CUNY students who previously left before earning a degree.
The York administration boasted of its participation in the program, announcing in a statement a new Welcome Center intended to be a “vibrant hub and the on-site centerpiece of York’s participation in the new CUNY Reconnect initiative, which helps New Yorkers reenroll in college,” adding that “York’s admissions team is reaching out to more than 5,000 students, who were once part of the college to help them follow their dreams of returning to York.”
From the union’s point of view, encouraging students to reenroll and then cancelling their classes only makes the enrollment problem worse.
Reenrollment is already underway. CUNY announced in January “that 14,433 students have signed up for classes at the University this 2022–23 academic year through CUNY Reconnect, surpassing the initiative’s goal of enrolling 10,000 returning students.”
Instead of responding to enrollment declines with austerity measures like course cancellations, the union believes that CUNY and its colleges should join the PSC in advocating for transformative legislation like the New Deal for CUNY, which, among other investments, would require a ratio of one advisor per 250 students, as recommended in the professional research. Advisors are critical to retaining students from one semester to the next and guiding them to graduation, research has shown.
Published: March 9, 2023