Faculty and staff from the City University of New York will soon vote on the ratification of a new union contract. I’ll be voting “yes” on the contract bargained by the Professional Staff Congress — my union — because I believe the deal will improve the lives of the union members who elected me chapter chair at Lehman College.
The contract also has my support — and it should have yours — because it represents a critical investment in the quality of the education CUNY provides for Bronx students.
Roughly 42,000 degree-seeking CUNY students live in the Bronx. Tens of thousands of Bronx families depend on CUNY for a chance at a better life. There are nearly 2,000 CUNY faculty and staff living in our borough. We are all connected: The teaching and working conditions at CUNY are the learning conditions of CUNY students. Investing in CUNY means investing in the Bronx.
The students of Bronx Community College, Hostos and Lehman deserve well-funded colleges with faculty and staff who are fairly paid and have the time and resources to help them succeed. The 12,000 adjunct faculty who teach more than half the courses at CUNY deserve a big raise. The university could not operate without them, and most CUNY adjuncts have received near-poverty pay starting at $3,200 per course up to now.
The new contract, if ratified, will require a paid office hour for every course so that some (not nearly all) of the time adjuncts spend being available to help students is paid time. The paid office hour combined with the union-wide across-the-board raises will mean a 39 percent raise this spring, and a 71 percent increase by Fall 2022 in the per-course pay of the lowest paid adjuncts, lifting their salaries to $5,500 per course.
Adjuncts in higher titles and on higher steps will see increases as well, but this contract directs the largest raises to the lowest-paid workers. It is an investment that will pay dividends for Bronx students.
There are 1,300 adjunct instructors teaching at Bronx Community College, Hostos and Lehman. More than 500 CUNY adjuncts live in the Bronx. Every student from the borough who attends a CUNY college anywhere in the city takes courses taught by adjuncts, especially entry-level courses and the composition courses needed to prepare students for college-level writing.
The PSC-CUNY contract, if ratified, will result in new public investment in CUNY and its students at a time when CUNY is significantly and chronically underfunded. Adjuncts will still be paid less than they deserve, in my view, but the time they spend with students will be acknowledged for the value it provides. And the thousands of adjuncts who carry full-time loads (and then some) at “part-time” wages by teaching multiple courses, often at multiple campuses, will receive some much-needed relief.
Full-time faculty and staff will receive a raise of more than 10 percent by the end of the five-year contract, if it’s ratified, along with other gains. There are also needed contractual improvements for graduate student employees and equity increases for thousands of other faculty and staff in lower-paid titles. It is a contract to be proud of, but there is still more to accomplish for CUNY workers and Bronx students.
CUNY was once free and well-funded. It can be again. If New Yorkers have the will to make it so. Until that happens, we need city and state investments to end the funding crisis in our senior colleges.
Students need access to larger numbers of full-time faculty, mental health counselors, and advisors who can help them to stay on pace to graduation.
Full-time salaries must be competitive in the national academic labor market, and adjuncts’ per-course pay must continue to increase until it is at equity with full-time pay.
We must also address the root causes of student food insecurity on our campuses and fix what’s come to be known as the “TAP gap,” a structural under-reimbursement for tuition at CUNY when students receive state financial aid.
CUNY should never lose money by providing high-quality education to low-income students. Albany can fix this now.
The new PSC-CUNY contract brings us one step closer to the university New Yorkers deserve. The faculty and staff of CUNY will continue to fight to make that better university possible, for our students, for the Bronx, and for all of New York.
The author is an associate professor at Lehman College, and is the school’s chair for the Professional Staff Congress union.