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CUNY Adjuncts, Union, AOC and NYS Lawmakers Demand Jobs and New Taxes on the Rich

May 15, 2020

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Adjuncts teach 56% of courses at CUNY, cuts put education for hundreds of thousands of low-income New Yorkers at risk

In recent days, CUNY colleges have announced planned layoffs of hundreds of CUNY adjuncts, in anticipation of State budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 Recession. Adjuncts and their union were joined today by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and several New York State legislators to oppose cuts to CUNY and demand new taxes on the rich. Adjuncts teach 56% of courses at CUNY. Mass layoffs put the education of hundreds of thousands of low-income New Yorkers at risk.

“I strongly condemn the decision of CUNY management to institute massive budget cuts on the backs of working New Yorkers. In a time of economic crisis, we need to be investing in New York City’s working class institutions, not destroying hundreds of good union jobs. Austerity is not the answer, solidarity is. I stand with PSC/CUNY in their fight for a CUNY that works for the working class of New York—students, staff, and faculty alike,” said Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a written statement.

The State budget enacted in April gives Governor Cuomo the authority to cut the State budget unilaterally at several points during the year in response to declining revenues. The State funding cuts applied to CUNY could be as high as $95 million. Mayor de Blasio has announced $20 million in mid-year funding cuts to CUNY.

Adjunct faculty like Michelle Strah will lose their health insurance during the pandemic if they lose their jobs. Strah, a veteran who teaches in John Jay’s prestigious International Crime and Justice Program, received an email informing her she will have no teaching assignment in the fall. Strah is worried for herself and for her students, who she was recently teaching about the UN Déclaration of Human Rights.

“Access to equal and meaningful education is a right guaranteed to all under the UN Déclaration of Human Rights Article 26. Laying off 40% of professors who provide necessary professional and technical expertise will mean CUNY students are denied the right to meaningful education. Are we saying that our student population, from overwhelmingly disadvantaged, minority backgrounds, are second-class citizens who only merit a second-class education, warehoused in huge lecture classes?” asked Michelle Strah International Crime and Justice Program, Adjunct Assistant Professor, John Jay College.

The Provost at John Jay College earlier this week announced plans to eliminate 437 adjunct positions, almost 40% of the college teaching force.

Strah’s worries were echoed by her fellow adjuncts, Elizabeth Hovey of John Jay College and Bianca Johnson of Queens College. Michael Paris, chair of the Political Science and Global Affairs Department at College of Staten Island, also spoke. The College of Staten Island has targeted 35% of its adjuncts for layoffs.

“In this time of wrenching crisis, [adjuncts] worked quickly and tirelessly to transition their classes to distance learning, putting in many extra hours, and they did so with no additional compensation. And, now CUNY Administrators and campus presidents have determined to reward them with a sharp slap in the face,” said Michael Paris, chair of the Political Science and Global Affairs Department at College of Staten Island.

State Assemblymembers Aravella Simotas and Harvey Epstein and State Senators Michael Gianaris, Andrew Gounardes and John Liu logged on to support the demand of the adjunct faculty and their union to keep all CUNY workers employed and insured. Simotas is sponsoring legislation to increase taxes on ultra-millionaires and Epstein has prepared bills that would create dedicated tax revenue streams for CUNY and SUNY.

“We have been short-changing our higher education system long before covid-19 came to town. To impose drastic cuts and layoffs at this time would make an already dire situation much worse. We must find new revenues to keep the CUNY system functioning,” said Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris.

“We are in the midst of a crisis with ramifications not seen since the great depression. This is the moment when we must invest in public higher education and the human capital that will help us respond to this pandemic. CUNY students are the next generation of virologists, educators, first responders and essential workers. Cutting classes, raising tuition and fees and further starving CUNY of resources would be beyond short-sighted. Instead, we must tax ultra-millionaires and billionaires to find revenue to invest in the next generation,” said Senator Andrew Gounardes.

Adjuncts are CUNY’s lowest-paid, most precarious workers. After years of underfunding from the State, the University relies on their underpaid labor to teach 56% of its classes.

“Adjunct faculty are not expendable. They are talented teachers and devoted mentors of students; they deserve far better than panicked, preemptive layoffs. CUNY management should be fighting to protect every job at the University, not finding ways to cut courses and jobs. Our federal representatives must deliver the stimulus money New York needs, and Albany must make billionaires and ultra-millionaires pay their share to protect the workers and students who are suffering in this pandemic,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the union of CUNY faculty and staff.

CUNY students, mostly low-income people of color, will lose courses they need to graduate if the cuts to CUNY are not stopped. Even before the cuts, one-third of CUNY students could not register for at least one course, and of those almost half could not register for a course needed for their major.

So far, some of the CUNY layoffs are preemptive measures, planned without fiscal transparency, without public accounting for millions of dollars in allocated stimulus money, and before final action on the State and City budgets.

New federal stimulus money for states and local governments is desperately needed, but the CUNY workers and their legislative allies know Albany must be part of the solution.
Increased revenue for the State must be used to protect CUNY and other vital public services. It could come from the ultra-millionaires tax sponsored by Assemblymember Simotas, from dedicated funding streams like the provisions Assemblymember Epstein has proposed, or from the newly minted SHARE Act sponsored by Senators Mayer and Stavisky, which would dedicate the revenue from a millionaires tax to public education and higher education.

“We live in an era where our educational system is in flux, with traditional teaching modalities no longer an option, and many educational institutions struggling with how to adjust in an ever-changing technological age. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, adjunct professors were already not being paid enough and struggling to make ends meet. Now they’re at risk of losing their jobs due to severe budget cuts. As a John Jay graduate, adjunct professors were integral to my career in public service. I now owe it to these teachers and stand with them and their families in support of the SHARE Act to ensure it gets passed,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz in a written statement.


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