by, Michael C. Bohn, Sr.
December 4, 2017
They came armed with protest signs instead of red pens. Several hundred City University of New York (CUNY) professors came out to demand better pay and working conditions. They give the CUNY administration a failing grade for its unwillingness to support professors who teach more than 500,000 students.
The Professional Staff Congress or PSC/CUNY, the union representing more than 27,000 faculty and staff and the CUNY Research Foundation, rallied in front of the CUNY Graduate Center at Fifth Avenue at 34 Street on December 4, 2017. From there they marched 15 blocks south to Baruch College where the CUNY Board of Trustees was meeting.
Led by their bullhorn toting union president, Barbara Bowen, these seemingly mild mannered academics and support staff chanted, “What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? We want it now,” as they marched.
Members of other unions including Local One, I.A.S.T.E., the stage hand workers union, DC 37, representing city workers, librarians, and the Union of Clerical and Technical Staff at New York University as well as SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors, joined the march to show union solidarity
The PSC/CUNY contract expired on November 30th. That freezes the pay-rate until a new contract can be agreed upon. This is particularly tough for part-time professors known as adjuncts who typically teach two classes each semester, “We teach two-thirds of a full course load and get one-third of the pay,” said Adjunct Professor David Hohl. He has had part-time status at Baruch College for seventeen years and says he earns $26,000 a year.
The union claims that 12,000 part-time adjuncts, earning $27,000 a year or less, teach more than half the courses. In a news release PSC CUNY said, “CUNY is the single most successful university in the country enabling poor and working-class graduates to achieve long-term economic security. Yet leading professors consistently turn down positions at CUNY and many current professors leave because the salaries are so uncompetitive.”
Peter Consenstein, professor of French at BMCC and the Graduate Center said, “We serve as a pipeline into better jobs and the middle class. We work our butts off.”
The pay freeze worries full as well as part-time professors, and others covered by the contract, because of the rising cost of living. The last time their contract expired it took six years to negotiate a new one. “We are not waiting six years for a new contract,” said Scott Sheidlower, staff librarian at York College in Queens.
Paula Whitlock a full-time, tenured professor of Computer and Information Science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) said the protest and demands are important for everyone. “Either we all rise together or we all fall together,” she said.
CUNY’s reliance on part-time adjuncts reflects a practice in the corporate world where companies rely heavily on free-lance employees who don’t get the full package of benefits. The union claims underfunding by New York State and New City keeps salaries low and hampers CUNY’s mission.
“CUNY is often a political pawn in the bigger political game. When that happens students are disregarded as unimportant.” said Professor Peter Consenstein.
Supporters can follow on Twitter with the following hashtags, #7KCUNY, #FAIRPAY4ALL, and #NO6YEARWAIT.