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Save Jobs, Save Lives, Save CUNY…From Itself!

Jan 24, 2022

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Dear Colleagues,

I hope this finds you well. I am writing with updates and actions to advance our priorities as faculty and professional staff as the semester approaches. These include the Governor’s vaccine mandate, other health and safety measures, and efforts to avert class cancellations and adjunct layoffs by stabilizing the Spring schedule. This Friday, the first day of classes, there are two campuses where we can help make a difference by attending in-person demonstrations for health and safety and stabilizing the Spring schedule: 12:30 PM at Medgar Evers College and Bronx Community College. Let us know you can come! See details below.

Governor Hochul announced a faculty vaccine mandate at SUNY and CUNY on January 5. Chancellor Matos wrote the CUNY community, “In the weeks ahead, we will outline details of the faculty mandate policy, which requires approval by the Board of Trustees.” The PSC promptly asserted our legal right to negotiate the terms of implementation of the policy, including its initial scope. Nearly a month since the Governor’s announcement, CUNY has yet to clarify even the most basic questions about an employee vaccine mandate, or to propose an implementation framework to the PSC. For example,

  • To whom does the vaccination requirement apply?
  • What constitutes full vaccination?
  • Will an instructor who is not vaccinated be prevented from teaching in-person, and if so, starting on what date?
  • What criteria and procedure will be used to determine medical exemptions and religious exceptions?
  • Will employees working/teaching exclusively remotely in Spring 2022 be required to be fully vaccinated?

Despite meeting twice with PSC, management has provided no answers and offered no proposals. In the absence of a clear, negotiated university wide vaccine policy, colleges are making things up on their own. The provost at one CUNY senior college has threatened disciplinary action if employees do not comply with the vaccine policy. But that would be a contractual violation as long as there is no such policy in effect.

CUNY management must take immediate steps to clarify the proposed scope, timeframe, and enforcement protocols with the PSC so that any policy considered by the Board of Trustees has the union’s agreement. It is deeply disrespectful to all of us that they have failed to fulfill this responsibility by the start of the semester.

We continue to inhabit the upside-down world of CUNY management. Where there should be clear central coordination and resource allocation, they are silent and inactive; where there should be flexibility and local decisions, centralization and overreach prevail.

To make us all safer, there are obvious and available steps for CUNY central to take:

  • Insist on and facilitate testing for all before classes start, and make rapid test kits and N95/KN95/or equivalent grade masks available on-site to all members of the campus communities; reflecting CDC guidelines, require medical masks only and at all times while indoors.
  • Expand surveillance testing of vaccinated individuals to better monitor rates of infection, and improve the COVID-19 tracking website to provide meaningful information to college communities.
  • Release ventilation data the union has requested and systematically upgrade ventilation on all campuses, for protection today and in the future.

In support of local needs, CUNY should make it clear that:

  • Spring classes with low enrollments may run. The enrollment crisis facing several CUNY colleges is of the administration’s own making. The uniform requirements that all departments schedule a minimum of 70% in-person classes presumed a level of student demand that did not materialize, in part because of the omicron surge. Students, instructors, and department chairs arranged and rearranged schedules to fit this rigid guidance – now the university administration must take responsibility and refrain from canceling classes and laying off adjunct faculty.
  • Supervisors and chairs have the authority to set the modality of work for their programs, offices, and departments, including allowing remote work and teaching to begin the semester. Such flexibility should take into account the needs of members whose households remain especially vulnerable to COVID infection, due to their inability to be vaccinated or being immuno-compromised. Placing politics above public health, CUNY has refused to begin the first two weeks of the semester with remote work and instruction. If the goal is a safer, more fully in-person Spring semester, the least disruptive path lies in this transition. Local leaders must fill this vacuum.

The union’s advocacy and pressure at both the college and central levels has already moved a largely unyielding administration off of intransigent positions.

  • Interim University Provost Daniel Lemons recently issued revised guidance to college presidents, reducing the minimum in-person schedule requirement from 70% to 55-60%, and permitting colleges to open additional on-line classes to meet student demand.
  • CUNY reduced the work-schedule requirement for professional staff to work on campus from 70% to 50% through the end of February.
  • Many colleges facing enrollment drops have acted to stabilize the Spring schedule and permit low-enrolled classes to run, even with rosters in the single digits. Classes have a green light with 5+ students at Lehman College and the Graduate Center, for example, with 6+ students at Brooklyn College. Any CUNY president still insisting on double-digit enrollment for classes to run is doing so on their own – they are jeopardizing the income of their adjunct faculty, some of whom receive health insurance through CUNY employment, and their students’ academic progress.

Only our coordinated collective action, at the college level and toward CUNY, has ameliorated the safety conditions and the Spring schedule problems resulting from management’s miscalculations. Let’s keep up the pressure this week!

1. Send this letter to CUNY college presidents to support the demands above, if you have not done so already. My Daily News op-ed on Friday explains the urgency of our situation.

2. Join PSC members and allies as we rally at campuses over the coming weeks – starting on the first day of the semester, Friday, January 28 at 12:30PM at Medgar Evers College, at Bedford Ave & Crown Street (2/3/4/5 trains to Franklin Ave-Medgar Evers College) and at Bronx Community College, 181st St & University Ave (4 train to Burnside Ave). We will call for accountability for health and safety and for no class cancellations or layoffs, not only at these colleges, but across the whole university. Let us know you will be there!

The transition to Spring semester feels stressful for many of us. While we press our employer to do better, we should also continue to take care of ourselves and each other. Please wear well-fitted, high quality masks at work and while teaching, and protect yourselves and your community by reducing the chance of severe disease by getting vaccinated and boosted. Continue to report unsafe conditions to your campus COVID liaison and PSC Health and Safety watchdogs. Test yourselves and urge your students to get tested, too. Please don’t come to work if you are feeling sick – rest and take care of yourself, use your sick time, the sick leave bank, and paid family leave, as needed, to protect yourselves, your families, and your colleagues and students. We will get through this by showing each other the care and mutual respect we deserve.

In solidarity,

James Davis, President
Professional Staff Congress

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