TEACH CUNY REACHES 18 CAMPUSES, HUNDREDS OF CLASSROOMS         
By Greg Morris, Hunter & Peter Hogness

 

PSCcuny
NEWS BULLETIN

APRIL 2001

 

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The CUNY Budget: Moment of Truth

TeachCUNY reaches 18 campuses, 100s of classrooms

Negotiations Update

Letters to the Editor

New PSC Committee on Diversity Begins Work

Health and Safety Update: It's in the Air

New Faculty Speak Out at Brooklyn College

DA Approves Dues Change for Part-Timers

Lights Out for Edison 

Spotlight on Adjunct Concerns at Legislative Hearing

Washington State & California Take the Lead on Adjunct Equity

What the Statistics Say

What the Adjuncts Say

ACTing Out: Giuliani & Media vs CUNY (with bibiliography on testing)

"Teach CUNY" and the Classroom

How Not to Teach at CUNY

The Past Year and the Union's Future

Against Common Sense

 

 

 

 

Thousands of faculty, staff and students engaged in an unprecedented CUNY-wide teach-in on March 28. Organized by the PSC in coordination with undergraduate student governments, NYPIRG and other student groups, and endorsed by the University Faculty Senate, the day’s events focused attention on how the PSC’s contract demands and budget proposals would help to restore the University.

The theme of the day was “Teach CUNY,” with public meetings on the 18 college campuses of CUNY. Hundreds of faculty members also “taught CUNY” in their classrooms, examining how their subjects are connected to the health of the University. In its size, its scope and its focus on union issues, the day was unlike anything City University had ever seen. “We made CUNY history,” said PSC Senior College Officer Nancy Romer, co-coordinator of the union’s contract campaign.

“Our main goal was to make a link between New York State and City budget allocations for CUNY and our union contract,” Romer stated after the day was over. “We collected thousands of postcards and letters to send to Albany and City Hall to strengthen our position. We made the case that good teaching and working conditions equal good learning conditions.” Most of all, said Romer, “On March 28 we initiated an alliance of faculty, staff and students that can mark the renewal of activism at CUNY.”

The public events described the de-funding of the University in graphic terms via multimedia presentations, guerrilla theater, lectures and discussions. Students played an active role, and there was also participation from college presidents, administrators, community activists, elected officials, aspiring candidates and civic leaders. Many events were quite large: those at Brooklyn, Bronx CC, Hostos, Hunter, John Jay, Kingsborough, BMCC, NYC Tech, Queens, and York drew totals of 250 to 500 people during the course of each event. Members of the union’s negotiating team fanned out to cover the five boroughs, with some attending teach-ins at four different campuses.  


Frederick Lane speaking at a "Teach CUNY" discussion at Baruch.  Seated from left: PSC Chapter Chair Howard Ross (at rear), David Tepper, Sultan Catto

Some of the most significant discussion went on in students’ classes. Hundreds of faculty members taught about the connections between their disciplines and the crisis of City University. Calculus and statistics classes analyzed graphs depicting the savage cuts to CUNY’s funding and its workforce. Sociologists asked students to consider how the political and budgetary attacks on CUNY are related to cutbacks in the social “safety net” around the world, and whether these are related to the pressures of globalization. Science professors described the experiments they would have had students conduct if adequate equipment were available, and what those experiments would show. Many faculty members reported that their “Teach CUNY” discussions were the liveliest classes they had taught all term.

The CUNY Administration used this part of “Teach CUNY” as an occasion to attack academic freedom. Vice Chancellor Brenda Malone wrote to the PSC on March 19, mischaracterizing the union’s organizing as a “call for faculty to suspend the regular curriculum” and asking that plans to discuss CUNY in the classroom be “reconsidered.”

But the union stood its ground. “Exploring the relation between an academic subject and students’ own lives is a normal part of education, characteristic of the best college and university teaching,” PSC President Barbara Bowen wrote in a March 21 response. “But the real point is that you as management are not entitled to invade the province of individual faculty members in making the pedagogical decision on the materials to be used to fulfill their professional mission.” Noting that PSC members’ professional rights are protected by their collective bargaining agreement and the standards of national organizations in higher education, Bowen stated, “We emphatically reject any effort by you or anyone else at CUNY to diminish the academic freedom of our members.”

Malone’s letter had also questioned whether some of the campus teach-ins had secured authorization for use of school facilities. The union responded, “We will instruct our attorneys to contest vigorously any effort to deny spaces for ‘Teach CUNY’ events.”  In the end the Trustees’ letter proved an empty threat. Both the union and individual faculty went ahead with their plans, and no action was taken against them.

PSC contract committees and student organizers pulled out all the stops to organize for each campus’s public event. Publicity tactics ranged from announcements in faculty meetings and large lecture classes to “table tents” in the cafeteria. Student papers at Baruch, Brooklyn, City College, John Jay, Queens and elsewhere ran special articles—or in some cases special issues—with a “Teach CUNY” theme.

At John Jay College, in a crowded cafeteria, Blanche Wiesen Cook, a professor of history, opened the teach-in with a call to arms: “We’re experiencing a crisis in democracy. There’s segregation and injustice all over the land again. Who can just sit in their study and write?” John Jay Provost Basil Wilson argued that the attacks on CUNY are part of a broader pattern. “In this country recently we’ve been seeing the deprecation of the public sector,” said Wilson. “What we’ve not been told is how the contribution of the public sector has strengthened the civilization of the United States. We need it to ensure that the society remains democratic. The greater the shrinking of the public sector, the greater the imbalance of power.” John Madison, an assistant professor of English, received a tumultuous response when he told the packed lunchroom, “Well, Mayor, I’m not garbage, my students are not garbage, this institution is not garbage—it’s time to stop treating us like garbage!”

At Hostos Community College in the Bronx, “Teach CUNY” ran in three separate shifts at noon, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. PSC Vice President for Community Colleges Anne Friedman told students, faculty and staff that the large turnout “sends a powerful message to the CUNY administration: This is our university. Community colleges need more full-time faculty, more counselors, smaller classes, lower tuition and more financial aid. We do not need to be bullied, micro-managed and treated as second-rate.”

Haile Rivera, president of student government at Hostos, urged students to support the union’s fight. “Many students complain that Hostos is dirty,” he said, “that there are no books in the library, no full-time faculty, no services for evening students like yourselves. Well, that all comes down to budget, and that’s what the PSC is fighting for.”

At Queens College, PSC President Bowen asked the students in the audience, “How many of you have been shut out of a class?” Almost every one of them raised a hand. Bowen proceeded to outline how the PSC’s contract demands would mean more faculty, more classes and smaller class size. “How many of you have a job?” she then asked, and over a third of the students raised their hands. “OK, so you know about the boss. We’re up against our boss. We are bargaining with the same Board of Trustees that is cutting classes for you.”

Bowen asked students to join the PSC’s April 23 rally to demand progress on its contract. “Become part of our fight,” she said, “and we will become part of yours.” Hong Wu, Associate Director of the Queens College Asian American Center, pointed out that CUNY has produced more CEOs than any other university in the country by “providing a good and affordable education to people who have historically been locked out.” And Aida Gonzalez-Jarrin, director of cultural affairs for the Borough President of Queens and a Queens College alumna, told the crowd that this mission was now in jeopardy. Gonzalez-Jarrin voiced her agreement with a point made earlier by Bowen: “There is now a lack of political will to provide what’s necessary for CUNY, and this lack of political will has grown as the immigrant presence in New York City has grown.”

“We need adequate funding for CUNY,” said Queens student Justin Engel from an open mike at the side of the auditorium. “We need better pay for faculty, and more full-time positions.  We need pay for office hours for adjuncts, who give us so much help when they’re not even paid for it!” After the forum was over, contract liaison Tony O’Brien commented, “I was interested to see many student speakers focus on the exploitation of adjuncts, which has been hidden from students’ eyes. They were obviously shocked and felt compelled to share the news.”

About 300 at Borough of Manhattan Community College cheered on a panel that included former CUNY student activists now running for city council. Said Anthony Worgs of the BMCC Student Government Association, “The politicians who decide not to fund us, their kids don’t go here, their grandkids don’t go here. We’re the ones who are affected.” BMCC alumnus George Martinez, now an adjunct lecturer in political science at Hunter, said, “The names have changed, the immigrant populations have changed, but the struggle is the same: Do we believe that education is a basic human right?”

“We believe!” a student shouted.

At Hunter, PSC Chapter Chair David Winn told a crowd filling a large lecture hall about former Hunter President David Caputo’s account of his meeting with the editorial board of the Daily News to discuss the paper’s coverage of CUNY. After listening to the former President’s detailed accounting of the significant accomplishments of students and faculty, the board ended the meeting with these words, according to Winn: “It’s simply not the policy of the Daily News to publish anything positive about the City University.”

PSC Senior College Vice President Mich-

ael Fabricant, contract campaign co-coordinator, told the Hunter teach-in that without information, “You won’t understand where we’ve been and what we have to fight.” Using data from the PSC’s “budget book,” Fabricant said that New York ranks last in the country in per capita increases in investment in public education in the 1990s. He described the “extraordinary disinvestment in this University”—$375 million during the 1990s—and how that has harmed students.

At Baruch College, Professor Frederick Lane took up the same subject, and compared growth in the prison industry with what has been happening in public education. “No courts have ruled that the state must provide adequate higher education, but they have ruled that the state must provide adequate correctional facilities,” he said.

At Kingsborough Community College, it was standing room only as more than 250 people filled the auditorium. For members of KCC’s PSC chapter, the day was a breakthrough.  Said Norah Chase, an associate professor of English, “It’s energizing for the chapter, seeing this come to fruition.”  When PSC Vice President Steve London laid out the facts of the de-funding of CUNY, students in the audience were shocked—and were even more shocked to learn that tuition had once been free. “Before we know it, CUNY as we know it will be gone,” said one student in exasperation.

Several students from Kingsborough attended an afternoon rally at City Hall, organized by the New York Public Interest Research Group. A City Council resolution proclaimed March 28th to be “CUNY Day.” London,  PSC Secretary Cecelia McCall and Executive Director Deborah Bell lobbied members of the City Council to support the PSC’s proposals on city funding.

The hundreds of classroom discussions were less visible than a City Hall rally or a campus-wide teach-in, but they were one of the most important aspects of the day’s events. As students examined how CUNY has been affected by decades of budget cuts, their reaction was often intensely personal. Adjunct Instructor David Tillyer said he showed a technical writing class at City College a graph “showing the 1990-1999 comparisons for the contributions of the state, the city and tuition to the total CUNY budget. When my students saw this there were a few quiet questions—and then someone said, ‘Hey, they’re cheating us!’” Then the discussion was off and running.

“I was struck by how energized and angered my students were,” said Hester Eisenstein, a sociology professor at Queens College and the Graduate Center. “This day had made them see the connection between their own individual lives and the larger structures and forces that impinge on them.” She cited a colleague’s comment: “This is exactly what sociology tries to do!”  


Teach-in at Queens College on March 28

In the days leading up to “Teach CUNY,” students in Kathleen Lawrence’s class at Baruch wrote letters to Chancellor Goldstein about their views of the school and its budgetary needs. “Life for immigrants differs a lot from a regular student’s life,” wrote one. “Most of us don’t feel the romance of being students. We simply do not have time for that. Almost all immigrants, especially newcomers, work full-time to earn their living.” To get an education, he wrote, “We have learned how to steal the time that we used to have for entertainment and rest.” While he values the opportunities that CUNY has made available, he wrote, the shortfalls in funding must be reversed: “Lack of qualified personnel sometimes makes it difficult to get proper advice and correct information. Lack of money for proper equipment affects students as well as our teachers.”

In Tony O’Brien’s class on prison writing, students considered the many different relationships between schools and jails in the United States today. They discussed the values and ethics that have led to rising spending on prison construction while support for the operation of universities has been slashed. One wrote about how a friend currently in prison struggles to keep his spirit from being crushed, and in class discussion spoke of the very different challenges that he himself faces as a college student. When he encounters a new idea in school, he explained, it can be hard to share his excitement with family or the friends he grew up with. “If you’re poor, if you grow up in the ’hood,” he said, “when you go to college it’s a journey you are making on your own.”

O’Brien’s students also examined the punitive language in which much of the debate over CUNY has been framed. Social theorist Michel Foucault “argues…that in the method of punishment we have today, criminals are punished by having their rights taken away from them,” wrote student Amanda Silva. “Foucault says, ‘Physical pain, the pain of the body itself, is no longer the constituent element of the penalty…. [P]unishment has become an economy of suspended rights.’ Are we, the students of CUNY, criminals—since we are having our rights taken away from us?” Silva asked. “What was our crime for the loss of remedial classes, for shrinking course offerings and growing class sizes, for the longer time to graduation…?”

Many different events came together in “Teach CUNY,” and they focused attention on the union contract and CUNY’s budget in a way that has never happened before. But they had other effects as well. The teach-ins and the classroom discussions “washed away layers of alienation between teachers and students,” O’Brien commented at the end of the day. “We taught well today and we learned well.”