NEW FACULTY SPEAK OUT AT BROOKLYN COLLEGE

by Michael Lumelsky

 

PSCcuny
NEWS BULLETIN

APRIL 2001

 

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More than 50 non-tenured faculty members at Brooklyn College have written an open letter to the school’s new president, Christoph Kimmich, calling for an end to conditions that hinder their ability to do their jobs. Their proposals focus on increasing salaries and decreasing workloads for new faculty, to help them remain in New York and thrive as researchers.

“First, and most important, is the issue of salaries,” the letter states. It notes that assistant professors at Brooklyn College are the lowest paid among CUNY’s nine senior colleges, according to a 1998 survey by the CUNY Vice Chancellor’s Office of Budget and Finance. The signers emphasize that many new faculty have moved to New York from areas where the cost of living is much lower, and now “are finding it difficult to pay rent, buy groceries and pay for access to libraries and other professional resources and services.” Accordingly, they ask that salaries of new faculty at Brooklyn be raised by two steps.

The letter goes on to say that released time has often not been available to new faculty, even when promised or alluded to during hiring interviews, or else has been less available than in the past. With as much as four courses to teach or several syllabi to create, it argues, new faculty find it difficult to conduct the research necessary to advance towards tenure while also adjusting to their new surroundings. The letter calls for a cap of two courses per semester for faculty who are in their first year at Brooklyn and five courses per year for all other non-tenured faculty.

Finally, the letter examines how new faculty are affected by departmental responsibilities. When they take on such duties as heading programs or developing curricula, the letter asks that this work be included in annual evaluations so that it can be recognized when applications for tenure are considered.

According to faculty signing the letter, having to work hard is not the problem—it is the kind of work they must do, and the conditions under which it is done. “We are working very hard, and under impossible conditions,” says PSC Chapter Chair Tibbi Duboys. “The teaching load at CUNY is unheard-of and unreasonable.”

“A lot of people are suffering in a lot of different ways, but the root cause is the same,” says Scott Dexter, an assistant professor of computer science. “There has been a political agenda to underfund and make us as ineffective as possible.” Dayton Clark, a chapter executive committee member in the same department, said the letter has been an effective organizing tool because it “has shown to those who signed that their problems of poor facilities and excessive workload are not theirs alone, but are shared by their colleagues.”

While the letter paints a stark picture of the conditions new faculty face, it takes a non-adversarial tone, stating that new faculty look forward to “a long and productive relationship” with President Kimmich in his new position. “Underfunding is certainly not the fault of this particular president,” explained Duboys. “A lot of people see him as a potential ally,” adds Dexter. “We all recognize that he is faced with running the campus with limited resources, and we think he wants to do the right thing.”

Dexter expressed hope that President Kimmich would respond to the letter with some concrete action. “The important thing is that he does something, that he recognizes that there are a lot of people who are upset on campus, particularly about how new faculty are being treated,” Dexter said.

“I believe that Kimmich will see the letter as an earnest statement of concern from the junior faculty,” says Clark. “I hope and expect that he will use the letter as he presses the case for Brooklyn College to CUNY, the city and the state.”

In times past, new faculty might have hesitated to speak in public about such problems, but Duboys said that the new level of activity in the PSC has changed the atmosphere. “New faculty are feeling encouraged,” she said, “and empowered to express their dissatisfaction.”