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Home » Clarion » 2023 » November 2023 » Putting human faces on PSC demands

Putting human faces on PSC demands

Members present to CUNY management By CLARION STAFF

Mariana Regalado

Mariana Regalado, a librarian at Brooklyn College, says hybrid work options are practical. (Photo Credit: Dave Sanders)

In many of the bargaining sessions between the PSC and the CUNY administration, union members have made presentations to management about the importance of the issues the union is bringing to the table.

This bargaining tactic is powerful not just because it brings more members into the bargaining process, but because it puts a human face on these issues for management.

In recent sessions, members have focused on a number of important topics. One area of concern was to protect multiyear appointments for part-time instructional staff, a key job protection feature for adjuncts. This was a hard-won contract gain for the PSC that is now under attack.

Another concern that members presented was the need to codify hybrid schedules for professional staff in the next contract. Members’ presentations are reproduced below.


Remote work now

I have been on the faculty at Brooklyn College for 24 years and have been the head of Library Reference since 2008. In that capacity I supervise and am the timekeeper and chief scheduler for a group of nine reference and instruction librarians and other support staff. I co-chair the CUNY reference managers group, where we regularly discuss scheduling. I am also chair of the PSC-CUNY library faculty committee – in that role I am in regular contact with library faculty across CUNY and can speak for them.

I have been asked to share with you about the library faculty experience with remote work.

As you’re undoubtedly aware, librarians at CUNY are faculty, and we also have a 35-hour work week. For the last two years, we have been successfully implementing the 30% remote work schedule. Much of our work can be accomplished working remotely, including both backroom work such as electronic resources management and public services work, including chat reference and research instruction for online and hybrid classes. As a result of working remotely, we have firsthand knowledge of the challenges and affordances of the online CUNY experience, which allows us to better serve students, faculty and staff. I am confident that a 40% remote schedule is practicable and advantageous.

FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING

A remote work option that allows for flexibility will work well – especially given that our libraries are typically open from 8 am to at least 9 pm, and on weekends.

A flexible environment is one where library faculty work with their supervisors to determine how to best accomplish the work of the library and meet the needs of students, faculty and staff – whether through modified start and end times, condensed work weeks, regular remote days or shifting remote work to times in the year that are less busy. Flexible scheduling is not a new idea; remote work only increases its benefits collectively to both individuals and our University.

Remote work options are now standard in academic libraries – as revealed in a 2023 survey by the Association of College and Research Libraries, our professional association. Codifying flexible remote work at CUNY will keep us competitive for attracting, hiring and retaining the best candidates.

Mariana Regalado
Associate Librarian for Reference and Instruction
Brooklyn College


Online freedom

The University today has an opportunity to marshal the collective expertise of our faculty to develop a capacity for ethical engagement with technology and to usher in a digital transformation of teaching and learning that builds upon the rich legacy of CUNY providing access to a quality education for all students.

As a librarian, I value privacy and I recognize its role in the safeguarding of intellectual freedom. Librarians know that freedom of inquiry is impossible without the promise of confidentiality that we provide our patrons, our students and our faculty. We know that people ask different questions when they feel they are being watched or recorded or otherwise monitored – when they are not able to explore information and ideas freely. And this is why we institute policies to protect the confidentiality of patron records. In a digital world, our library technologies and the systems we implement must support our professional principles; our ability to adhere to our code of ethics is dependent on the design of the digital tools we use in our everyday tasks.

Similarly, the expansion of classroom teaching into online spaces, whether for distance learning or as an enhancement to in-person instruction (or some combination of the two) requires thoughtful and intentional design of the tools and technologies adopted for the course. Faculty, as the constituency responsible for academic and curricular concerns, must direct the selection and deployment of educational technology for use in our online classrooms.

LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Educational technology does more than “deliver course content.” For example, the design of a learning management system dictates the manner in which an instructor engages with students; it affects everything from the display of teaching materials to the assignments we create, and the way we assess learning. It sets the tone of interaction between faculty and students. The decision to use a learning management system is itself a pedagogical choice. There are alternative tools and technologies that may be a better fit for the learning goals of a specific course. In fact, very few faculty make full use of the features included in a learning management system simply because they are unnecessary. Sometimes all you need to teach online are a class roster, shared file storage and a videoconferencing platform. You don’t need an online gradebook for a thesis-writing workshop. And beyond even being unnecessary, sometimes a learning management system is actually inappropriate for the course.

Some faculty at my campus prefer to use open technologies as a matter of good pedagogy – for teaching public scholarship, for example. Learning management systems are so-called “walled gardens,” closed platforms that limit students to a controlled environment, making the LMS a poor fit for any course that aims to teach real-life digital skills, like the effective use of collaboration technologies – learning, say, how to provide peer feedback within platforms such as ArcGIS StoryMaps. Classes where students and faculty co-create digital exhibits or publish group writing on WordPress blogs. And the advantage is that students develop a facility with the same platforms they’ll encounter in the modern workplace instead of a closed system. I’ve yet to meet a student who would put Blackboard as a tech skill on their résumé.

THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGY

We often hear about the need for consistency in online course development. But consistency and ease of use are not the same as uniformity. Our job as educators is to guide students toward new knowledge. Adapting to different environments is a life skill; it’s a career skill. We should be celebrating the individuality of a course as a reflection of the faculty’s distinct approach to the subject matter, not offering a one-size-fits-all learning experience.

Cybersecurity is an important issue that deserves to be taken seriously, much more seriously than CUNY has in the past. But we cannot rely on third-party vendors to remove all risk, nor should we absolve ourselves from the core responsibility we have to ensure our students have secure and equitable access to a quality education online. A more sustainable solution to these modern-day challenges in the digital learning environment is to invest in the faculty who teach and design our courses, so that we develop – together – a shared commitment to accessibility, privacy, security and user experience. We need to invest in the instructional staff who support the teaching faculty through our Centers for Teaching and Learning, the libraries and other professional units. We need to consider what we are a part of, and what we are providing access to, when we incorporate digital technologies into our classrooms, and build on the shared expertise that is already present on our campuses.

FREEDOM TO TEACH

Individual faculty have the right to determine matters within their own classrooms, and this extends to the digital sphere. The AAUP calls this the Freedom to Teach: It means that faculty are free to develop an individual approach to the subject informed by our own research expertise and our own personal strengths. It means that faculty have the right to select the materials for the course and develop our own assignments and assessments. Even in contexts where standardization and consistency across a multi-section course is desired, faculty come together collectively to make those determinations; they should not be handed down by administrative fiat, and certainly not by an IT administrator. This freedom extends to the individual faculty’s choice of modality, as well as the collective faculty’s decisions about the appropriate modality for individual courses. For example, the faculty of a math department might agree that in-person exams are necessary for an otherwise full online course because of widespread concerns about cheating.

Faculty routinely exercise academic judgment in teaching and assessment. We develop our own courses with unique approaches that draw on our own research and intellectual concerns. And we expect our freedom to teach to be respected online just as it is in a traditional classroom.

Roxanne Shirazi
Dissertation Research Librarian
Graduate Center


An adjunct speaks

I am now in the first year of my second three-year contract. I first started teaching at Queens College in the Fall of 2015, while still working on my dissertation at the University of Michigan. I completed my dissertation in January of 2020 and my plan was to start looking for a full-time college teaching job that summer. And then, of course, by the spring it became clear that COVID had decimated an already fragile job market. But that spring I had also qualified for my first three-year contract. I spent most of June agonizing over my inbox, waiting for CUNY management to confirm that I would actually be given my contract, while hundreds of my colleagues on other campuses were laid off. I was lucky.

PANDEMIC TIMES

We all lived – and continue to live – through this pandemic, so I don’t need to tell you how significant it was to have this sense of stability in a time of so much instability. I knew I would have a salary. I knew I would have access to benefits. I knew I would have the opportunity to keep teaching our students, who managed to bring curiosity, engagement and devotion to remote classes amid so much personal, national and global chaos. Teaching allowed me to make the choice to stay an adjunct at Queens College, to focus on teaching and to focus on my research without trying to navigate a wrecked job market, which I know from my colleagues was its own full-time job.

Especially in an institution where benefits, including this contract, are dependent on consecutive semesters of service, knowing that the next six semesters were at least somewhat guaranteed gave me the ability to devote myself to my teaching and research. Over the past three years of my first contract, I have taught 14 classes and roughly 320 students. I have attended department meetings, professional development events and now perform service through my work with the PSC. I have performed research, published, presented at conferences and, as of October, I will sit on the executive boards of two professional organizations in my field.

Continuing to have employment means that though I do not get monetary support for my research, I do at least have a salary and access to benefits that can in part support my household so that I feel stable enough to take some time for my research, even though our salaries still do not meet the cost of living in the tristate area. I have institutional affiliation, which is still key for entry into academic spaces, and I have access to a library, which is a basic necessity for research.

But I also want to underscore what adjunct job security gives our students. Our students need continuity in their education; that is lost if they are taught by a revolving door of adjuncts. Our students need to form lasting relationships with their professors and need to know that they will be able to find us once they leave our classrooms on the last day of the semester. The only semesters I do not have repeat students are the rare semesters when I have taught the same course in a row, and in those semesters I will have students ask me if I know when I will teach other classes they may need to take. And while I cannot tell them what classes I will teach, I can at least encourage them to look for me in future semesters in our department course offerings. I have former students tutoring my current students in the writing center and they are familiar with my assignments and teaching and can advise them from this knowledge base. I had a student take me for a second class two years after the first, and she said that when she saw my name she knew she “had to take Schnur again.”

HELPING STUDENTS

I wrote a recommendation letter for this student when she applied to a master’s program at John Jay, and then again two years later when she applied to law school.

Three years after she took my class, another student got in touch with me to discuss her potential plans for graduate school. Another student who last took me in 2017 wrote to me because she needed a new letter of recommendation to reapply for grad school after COVID disrupted her first attempt. Former students come to my office hours to share with me current projects, to ask about future classes, to ask me to help them with internship applications or to interview me as a source for stories in our campus newspaper.

FELLOW ADJUNCTS

In 2020, some former student’s friends emailed me to ask if I would record a congratulations message for her in a video they had put together in replacement for the in-person graduation COVID denied her.

My fellow long-term adjuncts all have these stories of how we continue to teach our students beyond that first semester when we meet them in one particular classroom.

These relationships are integral to a student’s college experience and to their success after college. They foster guidance and mentorship and they enhance letters of recommendation. I know that my own career is indebted to my professors at Queens College – both full- and part-time – who devoted hours to advising me. I would never have considered pursuing my PhD if my professors did not show me this investment.

Kate Schnur
Adjunct Assistant Professor, English
Queens College


Published: November 15, 2023 | Last Modified: November 17, 2023

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