New York — A cabal of bourgeois higher education policy wonks, media moguls and bankers have devised a scheme that undermines the academic foundation of the 166-year-old City University of New York. CUNY is the largest urban university in the United States and provides education to more than half a million students on 24 campuses.
In September, the CUNY administration is set to implement the “Pathways” initiative, which will eliminate a number of classes — and jobs for the teachers who teach them. Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY teachers’ union, has called the program an imposition of “austerity education.”
A PSC fact sheet says Pathways “will save the University money, and … prepare CUNY students for low expectations in the austerity economy.” (psc-cuny.org)
Pathways is supported by such institutions as Goldman Sachs, Clear Channel, General Electric, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IBM, the Helmsley group, Walmart and a score of other capital management groups, corporations and private foundations. It is part of a “Master Plan” developed by CUNY management in 2012. (cuny.edu) The PSC fact sheet asserts, “Pathways assaults faculty power and governance; it is a dramatic step towards the corporate, management-driven university.”
While the Master Plan for CUNY involves almost $6 billion in capital improvements, no money is allocated in the budget for wage or salary increases for CUNY workers.
Under the direction of CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, whose salary tops half a million dollars, the Pathways program excluded any input from the faculty or the union. The CUNY administration strategically selected professors whom the administration’s corporate, intellectual and financial backers know they can depend on to support Pathways.
The students most affected are at CUNY’s community colleges, where the majority of CUNY students begin their higher education. These students have been told that Pathways will make it easier for them to transfer to the four-year schools. The administration has boasted that Pathways will reduce the number of courses needed for graduation and suggested that this is an advance for students.
But it is an attack on New York City’s working class and their historic right to a comprehensive education. It also endangers the integrity of the entire CUNY system.
Thousands of teaching jobs, classes under attack
Pathways, in nearly every department and school, will eliminate thousands of classes and end science labs in the community colleges. Few part-time teachers, called adjuncts or contingent workers, know what is in store. For example, at LaGuardia Community College most introductory history courses will be eliminated. In the spring 2013 semester, 25 adjuncts were teaching two to three history courses. Beginning in September, LaGuardia will eliminate 22 of these positions.
Adjunct teachers earn about $25,000 in wages per year if they work every term, including summer. They have no tenure, limited health care and narrow pension rights. They do not have sick days or paid pregnancy leaves. Yet adjuncts teach more than half the courses in the CUNY system. Across the United States, adjuncts represent about 70 percent of all university and college teachers. (chronicle.com, Nov. 5, 2012)
The PSC has gathered petitions and filed lawsuits accusing the CUNY administration of attacking “the principles of shared governance and academic freedom.” (psc-cuny.org)
The union is currently conducting a “No Confidence in Pathways” referendum among the full-time teachers at CUNY. However, the exclusion of adjunct and part-time staff from this vote has angered the workers whose jobs are in jeopardy. They say that preventing adjuncts from participating in the union leadership by claiming the tactic is part of a larger strategy has denied the majority of CUNY teachers their democratic rights.
The adjuncts remain without a voice in the union vote. PSC President Barbara Bowen has told them to wait until the lawsuits against the university have been adjudicated, which could take years. (LaGuardia Community College PSC meeting, May 14)
Many adjuncts are unaware that they are about to be laid off. CUNY’s full-time professors, whose starting salaries are more than double those of adjuncts, do not want to consider a strike. But the union slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” expresses the view of the thousands of their fellow union members whose jobs are in peril.
This crisis occurs in the midst of an austerity program that is riding the backs of workers everywhere. In New York City, according to Bowen, 134 municipal unions are without a contract. A large rally at City Hall of all these unions is set for June 12.
Meanwhile, as public workers, CUNY adjuncts are forbidden from striking under New York State’s Taylor Law. Under that law, a worker is fined two days’ pay for each day on strike. But, as Bob Dylan sang, “When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.”
Contingent teachers and staff, facing financial oblivion, have nothing to lose by striking. Students at CUNY have nothing to lose by organizing against Pathways.
Cottin is an adjunct teacher at LaGuardia Community College.