September 30, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The union representing City University of New York faculty and staff is about to make good on its promise to turn up the heat on Chancellor James Milliken — and they say the push for a fair contract is as much about the kind of learning experience CUNY students have been getting as it is about standing up for members’ rights.
CUNY educators haven’t had a raise in six years, and according to Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen, that sad fact is making it harder for good teachers to turn down better offers from outside the system, at the same time academic departments are finding it more difficult to attract fresh talent.
“When [CUNY] academic departments go to recruit people, they have terrific candidates — but when they hear about the salary, they are stunned,” Bowen told LaborPress.
CUNY professors, for example, earn more than $26,000 less than their counterparts at Rutgers University, according to figures reflecting average academic salaries at the time the last contract expired back in 2009. The union says the staggering disparity has only grown more acute in the intervening years.
Adjunct professors have it even worse. Although they teach half of all of CUNY’s courses, adjuncts have no permanent relationship to the university. Many struggle to pay rent, and some must even rely on public assistance to get by.
As dire as that is, the biggest losers might be the hardworking students of CUNY themselves who have both pushed enrollment levels to historic highs, and pay consistenly higher tuition costs.
More than half of the mostly minority students attending CUNY schools throughout the system come from homes with incomes of $30,000 or less. They work hard, many juggling work and studies in a time-honored effort to do better than their parents. What they are finding, however, are overcrowded classrooms and teachers spread too thin to give them the academic attention all students need.
“As a professor, you just don’t have time to spend with your students,” Bowen says. “I recently talked with a Columbia student who had a two-hour conference with a professor. I was thrilled for him, but heartbroken that CUNY professors rarely get a chance to meet with students — let alone two hours. You can’t spend two hours with students when you have 45 students in class.”
New legislation awaiting Governor Cuomo’s approval could help pump more money back into a system that has seen its funding continually wither over the last three decades.
Milliken, who reportedly enjoys a whopping $670,000 salary, has previously referenced the pending funding package as an impediment to achieving a fair contract with faculty and staff.
Bowen, however, argues that the CUNY chancellor has a responsibility to put a fair offer on the table.
“The city and state are both sitting on budget surpluses,” Bowen says. “This is the smartest investment they can make.”
Hundreds of CUNY faculty and staff are expected to rally outside Milliken’s 215 East 68th Street address at 8 a.m. on Thursday, October 1, to deliver that message.