Amid CUNY Professional Staff Congress protesters with vibrant signs, the CUNY Board of Trustees held its monthly meeting on Dec. 4 on the 14th floor of Baruch College’s Newman Vertical Campus.
The meeting began promptly at 4:30 p.m., but was quickly interrupted by the protesters, who started marching and chanting loudly enough to propel the meeting into a standstill. Although the board tried to proceed with the meeting at first, the protesters proved to be too intrusive to allow the meeting to continue. The board called for an executive session, kicking the protesters and anyone not on the board out of the room.
The protesters exited the room and headed to the 25th Street Plaza to continue with their rally, as no one was going to be allowed back into the room during the executive session.
The executive session was livestreamed, and started with different board members giving reports and announcing honors, such as Hunter College being the recipient of the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline grant, which, according to the board, is a “$2.5 million grant that will bolster computer science initiatives and will allow Hunter to double tech grads who garner successful tech jobs in New York City.”
The board also mentioned and recognized Thamara Jean for being a 2018 Rhodes scholarship recipient.
After going through the reports and announcements, the board went over various policy points, such as the “CUNY reform of governance and administrative policies and practices, to enhance transparency and accountability.” According to the board, this reform resolution proposed the implementation of several additional and significant reforms that, when approved, would ensure the fiscal and ethical integrity of CUNY. The resolution was approved and was one of several that the board mentioned approving to enhance transparency and accountability.
After moving through all the points without any abstentions or disagreements, the meeting went on to officially appoint Vincent Boudreau as president of The City College of New York. Boudreau had been presiding as interim president for a year after the resignation of Lisa S. Coico.
The board also appointed Brigette Bryant as the first vice chancellor for university advancement. In this position, Bryant will be “charged with leading the development of a CUNY-wide advancement operation, essential to significantly increasing the University’s effectiveness in private fundraising.” The appointment will be
effective on Jan. 18.
The meeting adjourned after Bryant’s appointment.
Meanwhile, PSC mobilized hundreds of CUNY faculty and professional staff to protest their contract with CUNY on the Baruch plaza. The protest that started at the CUNY Graduate Center marched toward the plaza to join protesters who were ejected from the meeting.
The previous contract, which was enacted in October 2016, took six years to finalize. PSC decided to take advantage of the contract expiring four days before the protest to renegotiate its terms that affect 30,000 CUNY staff members. Inflation rates are rising, and so is the cost of college, but salaries are remaining stagnant. The contract campaign asks to increase and support salaries by offering a 5 percent raise each year and paying adjunct faculty $7,000 per course.
Nivedita Majumdar, a full-time associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the secretary of PSC, spoke out against the period of stagnation before the passing of the last contract. “Our last contract took six years. And that is not the kind of delay we can ever have again,” she noted.
In order for the union to have a contract ratified, it must go through a complicated process. First, the union itself has to come into a majority agreement before the contract moves along. CUNY is unique because the process for approving the contract involves both the city and state. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo must be in agreement for the ratification process to continue. CUNY receives funding from de Blasio, but Cuomo also holds financial power over the CUNY and SUNY schools.
CUNY has been hiring part-time staff members or adjuncts to fill the faculty roles in the public university system. Adjuncts face long hours to ensure the success of CUNY students, but are poorly compensated for their time and energy, receiving around $3,400 over the semester per course. Part-time CUNY staff are not being hired into permanent positions due to the lack of financial support.
Faculty at other institutions, such as Stony Brook University and Pace University, earn more wages than full-time CUNY staff members while adjuncts are earning near-poverty level wages.
Anthony Kolios is an associate professor at Queensborough Community College and has been within CUNY for 26 years. In an interview with The Ticker, Kolios said he previously worked in the private sector and would receive a salary increase every year to match the inflation rates rising in the economy. As a professor at CUNY, he has to negotiate for a salary increase every time a contract expires and bear with the consequences.
The PSC argues that students are the ones who suffer in turn for the lack of economic evolution and underinvestment. CUNY’s student population is mostly made up of students from families of color or students who come from low-income families. Without a stable staff, the quality of education is compromised, hindering the success and economic stability of CUNY for the students.
Barbara Bowen is the president of PSC and frequently holds rallies or events to inform politicians, CUNY faculty, staff and students about the concerns of working for CUNY. She organized the protest on Dec. 4 and gave a speech to
reiterate the union’s intentions.
“It’s time for the CUNY trustees to provide decent salaries at CUNY; anything less is an admission that the education — and the future — of New York’s working people and their families does not matter.”
At the protest, the union was chanting many phrases such as “No contract, no peace,” and “Workers united will never be defeated.” This was one protest out of many initiatives to fight for a salary increase and better working conditions for CUNY faculty and staff.
Bowen, however, made one idea clear at the end of the protest: “We can go back to our campuses where the fight continues, go back with our students, meet in your workplaces, fight every day and we will turn out. And I believe that we have the power, we just have to organize.”
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