By: Nate Izzo
This past Thursday, a group of professors marched from the New York Stock Exchange to 100 Wall Street, where the chairperson of the City University of New York Board of Trustees has his office. Holding red and white signs, they chanted over the sounds of tourists and traffic: “Tax the rich, not the poor! Stop the war on CUNY!” This protest, organized by PSC-CUNY, is the latest move in the fight for a fair contract and livable wage for adjunct professors. The PSC, or Professional Staff Congress, is a union representing thousands of CUNY employees and working to better their lives.
Among the protesters were professors from a wide variety of fields. One teaches Ethnographies of Work at Guttman. Another used to teach US History at Hunter. Yet another among them, holding a handmade pink sign and sporting matching hair, was Pamela Stemberg. Stemberg teaches Composition right here at City College and has done so since 2012.
Stemberg was there alongside her colleagues with the hope that they would all be paid a livable wage. “We’re fighting for 7K. That’s a big deal. I earn 30,000 dollars a year and I teach between two CUNY campuses,” she said with determination. Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon among adjuncts. While they teach several CUNY classes, they are only paid around $3,200 per course. This salary is unfit for life in this city for many, and Stemberg is no exception. “I commute. I stay in the city a couple of days a week but I can’t afford to live in New York City on this wage at all,” Stemberg noted.
A salary of $7,000 per class, the goal of the PSC, would drastically change the lives of professors across the CUNY system. Talking about this potential future elicits a look of longing from any professor you ask about it. “I could actually afford to support my family,” Stemberg said. “I could afford to work at CUNY. Right now, I mean, I need another job just to support this job!” She told the story of a fellow professor who went shopping at IKEA and encountered another adjunct working there. “People teach at City College and they bartend,” she explained. “They work at City College and they clean houses.”
As it turns out, a vast majority of adjuncts, according to a survey that Stemberg conducted last semester, would prefer to have full time jobs in teaching. Such a thing would benefit professors and students alike. In the current situation, with adjuncts scrambling across the city to different campuses, there simply isn’t enough time to spend it with students. Stemberg spoke regrettably about this situation: “If you need to earn money to live, what choices do you have?”
However, if adjuncts were paid a livable wage at a single campus, time would suddenly be much more available to them, time that could be spent connecting with students. Stemberg herself dreams of “being able to work with my students, see my students, mentor my students, maybe even mentor a club. All of these things, and none of them can I do now, because I don’t have the time.”
Professors teach because it is their passion to educate, but the professors at CUNY are simply not paid enough to do so to their highest abilities. By fighting for a $7,000 per course wage, adjuncts and the PSC hope to make change that will benefit professors and students alike, and professors like Pam Stemberg are on the front lines. “I could mentor, I could work with them, I could give them recommendations,” she said. “I could help them more than I can now.”