The Advance – February 2011

The Advance

Fighting to Defend Our Jobs

During the last months, troubling reports of impending layoffs of adjuncts started coming out of  various campuses of the City University of New York. An early warning occurred when adjuncts in the City College English Department were told to expect no more than one class apiece. Soon, across CUNY, adjuncts were losing jobs, courses, income… For quite a few, this means losing health insurance – bringing home the point that maintaining health benefits in the face of threatened layoffs is a crucial demand for CUNY contingents.
Among the most alarming situations developed at Baruch College, where adjuncts alerted the CCU regarding impending course consolidations and layoffs. What emerged was an administration plan to push new “jumbo” classes, upping the work-load (speedup) while putting large numbers of adjunct jobs on the chopping block. The CCU reached out to the campus chapter of our union, the Professional Staff Congress, as well as full-time faculty and students opposed to this attack on the quality of education.
Our organizing efforts led to a series of four meetings at Baruch that included adjuncts, full-time faculty (including two department chairs), the PSC chapter chair as well as the vice-chair of the CUNY-wide College Lab Technicians  chapter

The Baruch administration  clearly intended to offload its budgetary constraints onto the backs of contingent faculty.  The plan from the Provost’s office was to create  jumbo classes in a number of required lower-level liberal arts courses.  In a glaring case, it was proposed that class sizes in the English Department’s “Great Works” program be increased from a maximum of 34 students per course to a new limit of 110! This increase would have  led directly to large-scale adjunct lay-offs, since many such courses are taught by contingent faculty.
Crucially in the struggle, a number of full-time faculty spoke out against this degradation of academic life, faculty working conditions and student learning conditions. Notably, Sociology-Anthropology chair Glenn Petersen wrote an open letter to the Baruch administration stating that his department “opposes and will not cooperate” with the jumbo class/adjunct layoff plan.

As a result of the intensive organizing, the administration has now partially retreated. For example, the“jumbo” assault on the “Great Works” program has reportedly been halted, at least for the next two semesters.  How-ever, it looks likely that class sizes in some courses will be increased from 28 to 31 students and that fewer sections of ENG 2150 will be offered. Moreover, the adjunct budget in total will likely be cut. All this illustrates that while our organizing efforts helped save a number of jobs, the situation is far from resolved.
Baruch PSC chair Peter Hitchcock noted that his chapter has formally re-quested, to no avail so far, to see the Baruch “all funds budget.” CCU members emphasized the importance of raising the demand to “Open the Books!” This met with enthusiasm at the meetings, which unanimously agreed to publicize this demand.  Faculty, students and staff have to see the books, verify and inspect the numbers. As one clerical worker told us, administrators “know nothing about education,” but those involved with its real workings of education can and will unveil the real story (like the ongoing search for a new $165,000 bigwig at Baruch!). Don’t let your job be next on the chopping block; join us! 

Last November 4, the Professional Staff Congress held a special Delegate Assembly to vote on the official “bargaining agenda” released by the union leadership the previous night. Over 50 activists from CUNY Contingents Unite (CCU) and the Adjunct Project (AP) – joined by many other guests and observers – came to the meeting to fight for our four demands for the union contract struggle. (See box on p. 1.)
Wearing the distinctive orange shirts created by the AP, we presented 1,400 signatures in support of our   demands, which were gathered in weeks of intensive work on CUNY campuses. Speaking from the floor, union delegates who are members of the CCU, joined by full-time allies, called for an adequate number of days to be allotted to analyze, discuss and debate the leadership’s proposal. Instead, a vote was pushed through at the meeting, approving the official agenda – but not before we put up our four demands for an official vote. Despite in-tense pressure, approximately a quarter of the delegates voted in favor.
Though the contract demands promoted by the union leadership were approved by the assembly, our mobilization resulted in most of the discussion focusing on the situation of adjuncts and other contingent CUNY workers, together with the need to overcome the two-tier labor system.    We reiterate what we said on November 4: the “official” bargaining agenda does not meet our needs, and does not represent the kind of drive against the two-tier labor system that all of us who work and study at CUNY so urgently need.
This is a crucial fight. Today, we are suffering the effects of the last con-tract settlement, which not only left the two-tier system intact but actually increased its inequalities.

Thus, a luta continua (“the struggle continues”) is no empty phrase for us today. The CCU must continue to mobilize, organize and educate for our 4 contract demands.
CUNY’s contingent workers won’t take “No” for an answer to our demands.  The defense of our rights is more urgent than ever in the face of the aggressive anti-worker stance  of the new Cuomo administration in Albany.
Academic Freedom Under Attack
It’s not so often that CUNY adjuncts wind up in the New York Times, but on January 28 the  political purge of a Brooklyn College ad-junct made the “paper of record.”  Scheduled to teach a seminar on Middle East politics, Kristofer Peter-sen-Overton had his appointment rescinded days after a Brooklyn assemblyman wrote the administration to denounce the supposedly “slanted” political content of the instructor’s writings, which this politican deemed too critical of Israel.
You could hardly ask for a clearer example of how adjuncts’ lack of job security is an academic freedom issue. It’s not the first time CUNY academics have been given the Joe McCarthy treatment, but there is an ominous upswing in such attacks. Brooklyn College English prof Moustafa Bayoumi was targeted after the undergrad writing program decided to use his book How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America. Now Grad Center distinguished Poli Sci professor Frances Fox-Piven has been receiving death threats after being demon-ized by Glenn Beck.

Speaking of intimidation, at Medgar Evers College,  “non-reappointment” letters were given to a number of professors in class, in front of their students – by security guards. Located in the largest African American neighborhood in the United States, MEC has – in the words of one historian – long been given “second-class treatment” by CUNY Central.
Now the administration of President William Pollard has taken a series of measures that have aroused the indignation of many faculty at the campus, leading to a vote of “no confidence.”
At meetings on the crisis, CCU representatives heard faculty members describe what they characterized as “disrespect and contempt” toward  their initiatives, events and programs, as well as campus governance.  A center initiated by formerly incarcerated students was closed down, with personal computers seized.
Remarkably at a campus named for the civil rights leader murdered in Mississippi, the provost reportedly derided bringing to campus a press that publishes books by “activist” scholars. (The reference was to  South End Press, which publishes works by bell hooks, Manning Marable, Cornel West and others.)
Defending our colleagues throughout CUNY – “part-time” and full-time alike –  is crucial to the rights of us all.
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