submitted by: Michael C. Bohn, Sr.
On December 4, over 100 faculty and staff from throughout The City University of New York (CUNY) marched to demand higher pay and improved working conditions. They give CUNY’s administration a failing grade for its unwillingness to better support faculty members.
The Professional Staff Congress (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. They marched 15 blocks to Baruch College where a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting was taking place.
Led by their bullhorn toting union president, Barbara Bowen, these seemingly mild-mannered academics and support staff chanted in their protest, “What do we want? A contract. When do we want it? We want it now.”
Members of other unions including Local One, I.A.S.T.E. (the stage hand workers’ union), District Council 37 (city workers and librarians union), the Union of Clerical and Technical Staff at New York University, and SAG-AFTRA (film and television actors union) joined the march to show solidarity.
The PSC/CUNY contract expired on November 30, which freezes the pay-rate until a new document is agreed upon. The stagnant pay 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 Borough of Manhattan Community College (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- and part-time professors, as well as others covered under 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 is a full-time, tenured professor of Computer and Information Science at BMCC who said the protest and demands are important for everyone. “Either we all rise together or we all fall together,” she adds.
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 York City maintains low salaries and hampers CUNY’s mission.
“CUNY is often a political pawn in the bigger political game. When that happens, students are disregarded as unimportant,” continues Consenstein.