By Nate Izzo
The following article was featured in the December 2019 edition of The Campus.
In late October, after a long battle, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) reached a tentative agreement on a contract with CUNY meant to improve conditions for faculty. The PSC is a union that represents over 30,000 CUNY staff members, and it is their mission to enhance the CUNY system by protecting the rights of its members. The PSC views this new contract as a major step towards achieving that mission.
The contract would raise salaries across the board, especially for starting adjuncts, whose salaries would increase by 71%. These raises would be retroactive, giving back-pay to eligible faculty members. The contract would also restructure hours so that professors can spend more time directly interacting with, and helping, their students. In an article on the CUNY website, PSC president Barbara Bowen said, “The proposed agreement represents a turning point in the history of CUNY’s treatment of contingent faculty. It is a principled and imaginative contract that constitutes a victory for every member of the union—and for CUNY students.”
The response to the contract has been largely positive, especially considering the long negotiations it took to get this far. The delegate assembly already voted on November 7th to move the contract to a ratification vote, which closes on November 26th. However, members of PSC and 7k, or Strike, a rank-and-file collective of professors, have voiced concerns about the contract. One of the people apprehensive about the new plan include Pamela Stemberg, vice-chair of the City College chapter of PSC.
The overarching issue with this contract is its myopic treatment of the issues that professors, especially adjuncts, have to face. Since CUNY is still underfunded, those raises will come with cuts to programs and the elimination of step increases for adjuncts. Stemberg believes that this exchange will be a net loss for staff: “There’s going to be different challenges, and those challenges may be even more difficult than the challenges we’re facing now,” she said, “I respect it very much, but I think that it’s short-sighted to take the money and run, and to not understand the effect it will have on the system.”
Stemberg’s ideal contract would feature a regularized path for adjuncts to become full-time professors; “[Being an adjunct] is the most dead-end of dead-end jobs. Even McDonalds has a path to full time. Really,” she commented, “Until we have that, there’s nothing to be said. The system is not right for the students.” Establishing the CUNY employment system by basing it on systems in California and Vancouver would ultimately be better protection for faculty than a raise.
Why should CUNY students care how much their teachers make? Possibly because how adjuncts are treated by the school affects how well they can do their jobs. “Your view of me as ‘less than’ has value in this system,” Stemberg pointed out, “You can pay me as less because everybody sees me as less.” If adjuncts are viewed as having value and paid accordingly, they will get more time to engage with students and help them succeed.
Until a system is set in place that protects all professors, especially part-timers, the system will remain fundamentally broken. Better funding for CUNY and better pay for professors are essential for their livelihood and the success of the students attending. “And really, until we’re there, what are we going to do?” Stemberg asks. “Fight.”