I worked as editor of the PSC’s newspaper Clarion from February of 2001 until my retirement this June. In that time, I edited 116 issues of the paper, and was glad to see it gain broad respect among PSC members and activists in other unions.
Some personal highlights – a grab bag of favorite moments, articles and interactions – follow below.
When I started as editor, the paper needed a thorough redesign. After considering several candidates, the union hired Canadian newspaper designer Tony Sutton, whose past clients ranged from the Toronto Globe and Mail to South Africa’s National Union of Mineworkers. Tony’s crisp, energetic design has served us well, and our award-winning production designer Margarita Aguilar has used it with flair.
In addition to covering the news, Clarion tries to examine the story behind the news; we’ve aimed to provide analysis that helps union members understand the roots of the events around them. One such article looked closely at the history of CUNY tuition increases over the previous decade: It found that the accompanying cuts in public funding had left the University with less total revenue than before tuition was raised. Another article examined the claim that higher taxes on the rich will make them flee New York, and showed that this idea is unsupported by the data. In our September 2011 issue, a four-page special section on adjunct health care explained why the survival of this basic benefit was in danger, what had to be done to save it and why it was essential for the union, and the University, to do so. It took three years to win that campaign, thanks to union persistence that would not have been possible if members hadn’t had a thorough understanding of the issue.
Mostly by poets at CUNY, but also by others. Often responding to injustice or common struggle, but not always. If someone were to ask me why a union newspaper would publish poetry, I’m not sure what I’d say beyond that it’s always felt right to me – and that more newspapers, of all kinds, should think about doing so. I’ve let poetry drop out of the paper in the last couple of years, and I was glad to put poems into print again in our May 2015 issue.
9/11 and Sandy
When disaster struck CUNY campuses, PSC members responded. Clarion covered their stories, reporting on how the 9/11 attack, and 12 years later a giant storm named Sandy, affected all at CUNY.
In 2001, faculty member Salar Abdoh (now at City College of New York) told us what it was like to be teaching across the street from the World Trade Center as its buildings were struck and began to burn. In Sandy’s wake, York College’s Eric Metcalf described how rising waters had flooded his basement and left his home without power or running water.
We compiled the first list of CUNY employees killed when the WTC towers collapsed, seven people in all, and we described the lives they’d lived; we reported on the five members of the CUNY community who lost their lives when Sandy struck, and others who’d lost their homes. We covered how CUNY campuses were dealing with the massive impact of each event, with Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) hit the hardest both times. And we followed up with reports on how each of these events affected teaching, scholarship and activism throughout CUNY.
In the political backlash that followed 9/11, we examined how CUNY library faculty were affected by the Patriot Act’s provisions for secret, warrantless surveillance of what library patrons are reading. We reported on a CUNY trustee’s denunciation of an antiwar teach-in at City College as “seditious,” and the PSC’s defense of academic freedom in response. We reported the NYPD’s detention of LaGuardia student Yasser Hussain, an immigrant from Pakistan, for taking photos of storefronts in Flushing for a class project in urban sociology. Hussain was held for five hours, unable to pick up his daughter from childcare or contact his family, while officers asked if he was related to Saddam Hussein.
As Sandy’s floodwaters receded, we looked at how people at CUNY have been studying the problem of climate change and working to address it. From pitching a tent in the Arctic to studying the Greenland ice sheet to teaching a class on solar power systems at Bronx Community College, CUNY faculty and staff told us about their work and its heightened relevance to daily life in New York City. CUNY’s response to Sandy included grassroots relief efforts by CUNY students, faculty and staff, as well as strong PSC participation in the People’s Climate March last year; we covered these and more.
Your Contract Rights
PSC members can’t enforce their contract rights if they don’t know what they are. From your right to have a union representative present at a disciplinary hearing to new contract provisions like paid parental leave, Clarion has understood that knowledge is power – and that a lack of knowledge can leave members powerless. Educating members on their rights is an ongoing process, and the union paper has been an important part of laying this foundation for a strong union.
CUNY Students Killed in Iraq
We chronicled the deaths of CUNY students killed in the war in Iraq. I wrote each of these six stories, and they were hard. Not wanting to add to an already impossible burden, I didn’t contact their parents, sisters or brothers directly; instead, I reached out to a friend of the family and asked whether they might want to speak with me. Some family members did not, but others were glad to have the chance. The intensity of the resulting articles is hard to fit into a broad summary like this retrospective, but you can read one, about the life and death of BMCC student Hai Ming Hsia, online.
Clarion has covered debate over the decline in black and Latino freshmen entering CUNY’s “top tier” senior colleges, and has examined how race affects employment at CUNY. We’ve followed the national attacks in the courts on affirmative action in student admissions, and how the impact of the long-running recession has fallen hardest on workers of color. We’ve looked at how research by CUNY faculty became part of the successful lawsuit against the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program, and presented a range of voices on how the Black Lives Matter protests against police violence have made themselves felt in the classroom. While there is still room for improvement, the paper’s coverage on this front has gotten stronger than in my first years as editor. Today, as official declarations of “color blindness” collide with growing protests against racial injustice, it’s an especially important topic for consistent coverage in a union paper.
Ninfa Segarra, a member of the NYC Board of Education and a crony of then-Mayor Giuliani, was appointed in April 2000 as a vice president at the CUNY Research Foundation (RF). An interesting job title, since the RF had no president, nor any other vice presidents. Segarra’s $115,000-a-year salary came with an office at Baruch where she was almost never seen. When we filed a Freedom of Information Law request for her past work schedule, Segarra “refused to say how many hours a week she devoted to her CUNY job or list any concrete accomplishments from her 15-month tenure,” as we told readers in December 2001. Clarion’s reporting on what was essentially a no-show job was picked up by the Daily News, the Post and Newsday. By the end of December, Segarra had resigned from her CUNY “job” and been named by Giuliani to head the NYC Police Museum – which coincidentally paid her $115,000 a year.
Since then, Clarion has reported on Hunter College’s acceptance of $10,000 from Coach, Inc., in return for offering a course on how counterfeiting of luxury brands harms society. We covered how SUNY-Buffalo shuttered its “Shale Resources and Society Institute” after faculty charged that its programs were shaped by its corporate funders, energy companies intent on fracking in New York State. And we broke the news that Elsevier, one of the world’s largest publishers of scientific journals, was funding efforts to stop action on climate change through its membership in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC (from which it has since resigned).
Worth 1,000 Words
Being Clarion’s art director has been one of my favorite parts of the editor’s job. Working with talented illustrators and creative photographers has been a pleasure; we’ve aimed to match text and image in a way that enhances both. (And I’ve been glad to work for a union that shares my aversion to the “grip-and-grin,” the posed photos of top leadership that fill the pages of too many union publications.) We’ve also brought visual culture into the pages of Clarion with special features, like the one on the portfolio of silkscreen prints produced by Hunter’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies for its 40th anniversary, or the excerpt from Seth Tobocman’s comic book Understanding the Crash. Those visual features have been some of my favorite pieces in Clarion; looking back, I wish we’d done them more often.
Awesome Associate Editors
In this article, I’ve most often used “we” when describing what Clarion has done. That’s not the royal “we” – it just reflects the reality that a newspaper, as much as a film, is always the product of many hands and minds. I’ve been fortunate to work with outstanding associate editors – Tomio Geron, Dania Rajendra, John Tarleton and the paper’s current associate editor, Shomial Ahmad – and they’ve been a central part of why Clarion has been named several times by the International Labor Communications Association as the nation’s best local union newspaper.
Letters to the Editor
Contributions from the PSC’s elected leadership and from hundreds of PSC members have also been key to the paper’s success. I’ve especially enjoyed seeing Clarion’s Letters to the Editor section, which did not exist before I became editor, grow into an institution, a soapbox where members know they can have their say. For me it’s consistently one of the most interesting parts of the paper, both to work on and to read.
I’d like to thank the hundreds of PSC members whose letters have kept page 2 lively. You can send your future letters to Clarion’s new editor, Adele Stan, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m glad to know I’m leaving the job of editor in such good hands.
I’ll keep reading the letters column – but now I’ll be doing so as a subscriber. I’m looking forward to it: Your letters will be the part of the paper that I read first.
A Q&A with Peter Hogness is at: tinyurl.com/hogness.