Nearly 20 union leaders were arrested and hundreds of faculty, staff and students demonstrated in the wintry cold Dec. 10 to demand full funding for the City University of New York. They are insisting on a budget that ensures high-quality education for CUNY students, faculty salaries that are competitive with those at comparable institutions, and raises for adjunct faculty who are currently paid at a poverty level.
The protest, led by the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s faculty-staff union, was held outside the CUNY board of trustees meeting, where trustees were late in working out their budget proposal for the state. PSC is urging trustees to “stop defending austerity” and instead demand full funding for CUNY, which serves an extremely diverse group of students and has been a gateway to the middle class for countless low-income families. The union is also pressing for a contract; it has been without one for a year, and CUNY has still not made an economic offer.
“Faculty salaries are thousands of dollars below those at comparable institutions, adjuncts receive poverty-level pay, college libraries are cutting hours, and the students are being asked to pay higher and higher tuition,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen, who is an AFT vice president. “It’s time for the CUNY board to … start demanding the funding CUNY needs.”
PSC is particularly concerned with its 12,000 adjunct faculty members, who teach more than half of CUNY’s courses and collectively represent a low-wage workforce that has been exploited for years in order to save money. Despite holding multiple degrees and performing work identical to full-time faculty members, adjunct faculty are paid $3,500 per course, which is the equivalent of $28,000 a year for someone who teaches a full load. PSC is requesting $7,000 per course.
It’s hardly the first time PSC has demanded better support from the state. Earlier this month, Bowen joined two more AFT vice presidents—Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, which represents faculty and staff at State University of New York campuses, and Andrew Pallotta, president of the New York State United Teachers, which represents teachers, school-related professionals, and academic faculty and professional staff in higher education—to testify before the state Assembly’s Standing Committee on Higher Education. The unions are united in urging legislators to sign an “enhanced maintenance-of-effort” bill that would cover mandatory expenditures such as building rentals, utilities, salaries and benefits, and correct a decade of flat or reduced spending. This funding would also close the gap between the maximum Tuition Assistance Program grant and tuition—the “TAP gap”—which is currently covered by the schools.
“In the absence of a full MOE [maintenance of effort], CUNY is being forced to cannibalize its own inadequate budget to cover costs that should be automatically funded by New York state,” Bowen testified.
“The CUNY board of trustees has the opportunity and the obligation to stand up for CUNY students,” said Bowen at the Dec. 10 protest. “Without a vigorous request for more funding, they will simply be turning their back on the hundreds of thousands of CUNY students.”