Cuts to ESL
They chanted in Spanish to bring the point home. “Gómez, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!”
The phrase – chanted by 40 PSC members and CUNY students, and directed at Hostos Community College President David Gómez on the street outside the college’s main entrance on July 31 – was a declaration that “we’re in the struggle” to retain full teaching capacity in the CLIP (CUNY Language Immersion Program) at Hostos. During the demonstration, union members demanded the administration work to ensure sufficient funding for CLIP – an intensive program for improving reading, writing and other skills for students for whom English is not their first language – to avoid cutting classes for students and laying off full-time, unionized instructors. There are approximately 75 instructors in nine CLIP programs CUNY-wide, and it has existed for more than 20 years.
Rumors had started in June of funding problems for CLIP. By the end of the month, full-time CLIP instructors at several community colleges had received non-reappointment letters. PSC President Barbara Bowen sent a letter expressing concern that such a valuable program was being cut back when enrollment is not an issue and urging affected colleges to close the funding gap out of their budgets. At Bronx Community College, the college restored enough funding to the program to maintain 10 classes and all full-time CLIP Instructors. CLIP instructors at BMCC organized and, with the support of their chapter, sent a letter to the president and scheduled a rally on campus at the end of July, but the president provided additional funding before then. All CLIP instructors at BMCC were reappointed, the chapter said.
At Hostos, the administration had been silent about future funding, so two instructors were non-reappointed and one retired. At Queensborough Community College, where enrollment in CLIP is reportedly down, the program has identified funds to reappoint one of the three non-reappointed instructors for a year and another for a semester.
HOSTOS HAS A MISSION
CUNY Central claimed they did not cut funding for CLIP explicitly. However, there is no doubt that adjustments to community college budgets resulting from City PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap) funding cuts to CUNY had an effect. CLIP exists at six of CUNY’s seven city-funded two-year colleges and at three of the senior colleges – York, City Tech, and College of Staten Island.
For CLIP instructors at Hostos, the irony is not lost on them that the campus was founded to be a resource, in particular, for students from Spanish-speaking families. The college says on its website: “An integral part of fulfilling [Hostos’s] mission is to provide transitional language instruction for all English as a Second Language (ESL) learners along with Spanish/English bilingual education offerings to foster a multicultural environment for all students.”
For Gabriela Arcila, a CLIP instructor at Hostos since 1999, the threatened cuts, if not averted, would hit the school’s most vulnerable students. “Our students come from under-privileged backgrounds,” she said. “Many of our students are ill-prepared for college.”
CAN’T SERVE STUDENTS
CLIP instructors at Hostos noted that it appears that “the push is to cut the beginning ESL classes,” said Daniel Casey, a Hostos-based CLIP instructor. “We don’t know how we’re going to serve all the students. Cutting these low-level language classes is a really bad idea at two-year colleges because they purport to be open-admissions campuses.”
Sandra Williams, a CLIP instructor at Hostos, is upset about what cuts could do to her program. “I love teaching at CLIP, I believe in what I do,” she said. “CLIP really works in helping students get better. It’s great to be a part of a program that helps people. It’s sad to lose quality professionals who care and do their work.”
THERE’S STILL HOPE
All hope is not lost. Members at other campuses were successful in encouraging their local administrations to not impose cuts to CLIP. But for many at Hostos, even the notion that such cuts would be on the table is considered an insult to the school’s social purpose given the ongoing vilification of immigrants by the Trump administration.
“It’s an affront to our immigrant students,” said Craig Bernardini, the PSC interim chapter chair at Hostos. “These are such wonderful teachers.”