Testimony Before the Joint Hearing On Adjunct Labor Conducted by the New York State Assembly Committees on Higher Education and Labor

go to testimony by:

Steven London, First Vice President
Cecelia McCall, Secretary
Kristin Lawler, PSC Organizer
Eric Marshall, Vice President for Adjuncts


March 9, 2001


Delivered by

Steven London

PSC First Vice President


I would like to begin by thanking the Higher Education and Labor Committees for holding today's hearing, and especially the chairs of these committees, Assemblyman Sullivan and Assemblywoman Nolan. The issues that you have put before us are important, and I appreciate the opportunity to address them on behalf of the Professional Staff Congress.

My name is Steven London. I'm First Vice President of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents 17,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY). Among those 17,000 instructional staff are 6,600 teaching adjuncts, 600 graduate-teaching fellows, 850 continuing-education teachers, and 560 non-teaching adjuncts. This brings the part-time workforce we represent to 8,610 or more than half of the total instructional staff at CUNY.

The question of how part-time workers are treated is important not only for adjunct faculty, but for everyone who is concerned about the shape of work in America today-and in the future. The development of a contingent workforce in CUNY mirrors the global changing nature of work. From UPS drivers to academics, more and more workers have to depend on part-time labor to make ends meet. It is extremely valuable for the Legislature to examine how this developing phenomenon impacts higher education institutions, our students' education, and educational workers.

There are particular issues that affect part-time faculty at CUNY, and New York State government has a particular responsibility to help resolve them. As the numbers I cited above indicate, CUNY's instructional staff has been restructured into a majority contingent workforce. This has been brought about, not by some force of nature, but by funding policies enacted at the state and city levels. We trust the Legislature, in its wisdom, will seek legislative remedies to address the problems it finds and to correct the injustices it discovers.

CUNY has suffered from budget cut after budget cut over the last couple of decades, even as our society's need for higher education has increased. CUNY's public funding has declined by over 30% in the decade of the 1990s alone. A major result of this disinvestment is the decline in full-time faculty from 11,268 in 1975 to 5,594 today.

At the same time as CUNY's funding and full-time faculty have been slashed, the number of students has increased. The number of full-time equivalent students has grown from 136,000 in 1981 to 142,000 in 1990 to 146,000 in 1998. More students, but less money and faculty. How has CUNY managed to close the gap? The answer has been by an increasing reliance on underpaid, undervalued adjunct instructional staff.

In 1990, full-time faculty taught 54% of the courses at CUNY's community colleges, and taught almost two-thirds of the classes in senior institutions. By the end of the decade of the 1990s, these percentages had fallen to 44% and 51% respectively with the balance of courses being taught by part-time faculty.

In other words, CUNY's teaching workforce has been restructured. Today, you will hear eloquent testimony of the horrible working conditions suffered by our part-time faculty and the hardships born by our students because of governmental policies. Our part-time faculty are paid less, are more insecure and have fewer benefits than full-time faculty. Our students suffer because most of their courses are taught by faculty who have to run from course-to-course, are not paid to hold after-class consultation hours with students, and often are not allowed to participate in curricular-planning or professional-development programs. Even though our part-time faculty are highly qualified and volunteer their time to our students, such talent and dedication cannot make up for systematic exploitation.

New York State has helped to bring this about through its steady cuts to CUNY's funding, and it has a responsibility to help the University and the adjuncts themselves to deal with the consequences. These hearings are a sign that that responsibility is recognized. I would like to share with you the PSC's views on what now needs to be done.

1. The PSC's budget for CUNY provides for a three-year plan to rebuild the instructional staff. This will allow the many adjuncts that wish full-time employment to apply for these positions.

2. Those who remain as adjuncts should be paid for holding after-class office hours. Adjuncts are often the bridge for bringing students into the world of higher education. These part-time faculty are responsible for courses, which develop a student's basic academic skills, or introductory courses that provide the first exposure to a subject. It is not uncommon for their students to be those who most need individual assistance. If for no other reason but this, adjuncts should be paid for office hours.

3. Many part-time faculty are graduate students who need the support routinely given at most other quality graduate programs. The PSC budget contains requests for increased support for graduate students and tuition waivers. Our graduate students and new Ph.D.s who are adjuncting are trained in new fields and able to offer new insights about our rapidly changing world. They need to be nurtured, not exploited.  

4. The PSC has begun an initiative through the Municipal Labor Committee health and welfare bargaining with the City of New York to include eligible adjuncts in the New York City Health Plan. New York State has a role to play in funding the agreement arising from this initiative. We would appreciate the support of the Committee Chairs for this effort.

5. CUNY adjuncts should be allowed to join any of the Optional Retirement Programs available to the full-time faculty. This is currently done for SUNY part- time employees. We request that the legislature pass legislation mandating that adjuncts be treated the same as fu1l-timers for the purposes of pension benefits.

6. CUNY part-time employees are in great need of disability coverage. We request the Legislature to pass a law allowing our part-time employees to join the state disability program for part-time employees.

7. Unemployment insurance is unjustly denied our part-time faculty between semesters. The PSC requests the New York State Unemployment Insurance Law be changed so that adjuncts will be eligible to collect unemployment insurance when they are unemployed.

8. Finally, but not least, the PSC is pursuing in its collective bargaining with CUNY the principal of "parity pay" for adjunct-teaching faculty. At the appropriate time, we will appreciate your support in the funding of our collective-bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, we seek your continued political support, as exemplified by these hearings, to increase public awareness of the plight of part-time instructional staff.

Students need teachers who have time to teach, time to prepare, time for research and time to meet with students and provide individual assistance. To achieve this for every student at CUNY, adjuncts must be given more support—and so must full-time faculty. It will do students no good if some improvements for adjuncts are paid for by making things worse for full-time faculty. That would be a shell game in which everyone ends as losers. The interests of full-timers and part-timers are linked together. Improvement in the conditions of adjuncts must be part of a general improvement in conditions at CUNY, if Professional Staff Congress it is to do students any good. For this reason, the PSC urges you to support our budget and its 12% increase for CUNY.

We want the part-time instructional staff to be given the support that will allow them to do the best teaching that they know how. That's what students at CUNY deserve, and that's what a great public university should deliver.

Thank you.

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 March 9, 2001 

Delivered by

Cecelia McCall


Assemblypersons Sullivan and Nolan I first want to thank you for having this hearing for adjuncts associated with CUNY/SUNY and the other colleges in this area. After my colleague Steve London’s comprehensive presentation, I need not take too much time. This is an historical moment for us and I believe you as well. For while all of us have been attending to our duty and business the workforce at large and at CUNY has been restructured. It has been restructured so that the brunt of the burden of teaching at CUNY has shifted from a full-time workforce to a part-time workforce without a concomitant shifting of resources to that sector.  

I am not suggesting that we do that, but we do have to find justice for this group of workers, thus a major goal of the PSC is to achieve equity for the adjuncts and to give them parity with full timers in all areas that the contract covers – workload, work conditions, salary, benefits, and quality of life.  

In considering how to frame my remarks, I remembered some of the comments that have been voiced by part-timers during the course of the collective-bargaining sessions that the PSC has been holding with CUNY management since our contract expired at the end of July.   

For instance, a proposal is that adjuncts have paid office hours and office space. At a recent negotiating session, one adjunct mentioned his having to counsel his students in the hallway and a full-time faculty member mentioned that at her campus, there is one office with four desks shared by 100 adjuncts. That same teacher, however, who is a full professor, is currently sharing an office with four other faculty. She has little or no privacy and has to hunt for a place to counsel her students when they need confidentiality. Management admitted that it would cost too much to provide telephones, desks and offices for all of its workers, let alone computers.  

But can you imagine the indignities that are visited upon people who have to carry their offices in backpacks. Adjuncts literally carry their office on their back and the university is being carried on their backs as well.  

However, it seems to me that though the adjuncts are the most exploited and abused members of the professionals at CUNY, the full-timers are being abused as well. The conditions of part-timers mirror and reflect those of the full-timers. All of us are carrying this university on our backs. 

If the pay of part-timers is too low so is the salary of full-timers. The pay scale is so inadequate that we are unable to be competitive with other colleges or too infrequently recruit the caliber of faculty required for our programs.  

If the part timers do not have adequate health-and-welfare benefits, neither do the full-timers. Our adjuncts are the only part-time workers in the city’s public sector not covered by the city’s health plan. This is a primary goal of the new leadership, to get good health benefits for the adjuncts. But if it were not for the recent intervention and bargaining of the new leadership of the PSC, the Welfare Fund that covers full-timers and retirees would be almost bankrupt. 

A workload of 15 hours a semester, which adjuncts have to roam between campuses to pick up, is considered a part-time schedule for them but it becomes almost a full semester’s schedule for faculty who are also expected to do research, write scholarly articles, and perform service for their departments, their colleges and the university and counsel students.  

While the regular faculty strive mightily to do it all, adjuncts also want to do it all—to publish and flourish but are barred from doing so by impossible conditions. Adjuncts want to be bona fide colleagues, but can’t be. They want to spend more time in their departments, but can’t. They want to perform service, but can’t afford to.  

I want to suggest that this callousness, this treatment of adjuncts is indicative of the university and perhaps the state’s attitude towards CUNY’s workforce in general. If the state truly believed that faculty, both full and part time, had value, the salaries and work conditions would be commensurate with that value. They would be willing to pay for it.  

This is a paramount issue for the Committee on Higher Education and the Labor Committee. I hope you, as leaders of these committees, recognize this as an issue whose time has come. It is a labor issue; it is an education issue; it is an issue of justice.   

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March 9, 2001 

Delivered by  

Kristin Lawler

Professional Staff Congress/CUNY

Assemblyman Sullivan and members of the committees on Higher Education and Labor – greetings and salutations. My name is Kristin Lawler. I’m a Ph.D. student in Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, and have taught at Queens College for nearly six years as a Graduate Teaching Fellow and then as an adjunct. Now I’m a full-time adjunct organizer for CUNY’s faculty union, the PSC. I’d like to tell you a bit about myself and how I came to be involved in the movement that’ s making its case before you today. By the time I started graduate school, in the mid-nineties, I knew better than to expect the old ‘get a Ph.D., get a tenure-track job’ deal. I knew that it was getting more difficult to make a scholarly life; still, it was the life I wanted. What I didn’t realize when I started, though, was that the teaching I’d do as a graduate student would have everything to do with the increasingly bleak job prospects that my cohort was facing. I’d expected to enter a place that was stimulating and helped me to do my work, and in general, I did. What I wasn’t expecting to enter, however, was a sweatshop. But that’s just where I found myself. The CUNY Graduate Center, instead of being the vibrant hub of New York intellectual life that it has such potential to be, instead serves primarily as a pool of cheap labor for the CUNY colleges around the city. And the colleges, instead of living up to their potential, are full of faculty and staff trying desperately to do the work they love under the nearly impossible conditions of CUNY’s chronic underfunding. Pretty pathetic, it seemed to me, for New York in boom times.

Year after year, I’ve tried to devote myself to my intellectual work, in the spare moments I could find between teaching three courses per semester and working on several research projects at once to try to make up the difference between adjunct wages and the federal poverty level. It gets difficult after a while, let me tell you. Especially when you live in New York City. And when you look around your department and see how infrequently they hire new junior faculty, you wonder why you even bother. In their place, you see a bunch of adjuncts like yourself, motivated professionals who clearly love teaching, but are overworked and underpaid and simply unable to do everything they’re capable of doing as teachers, writers, and thinkers. CUNY’s budget has been balanced on the backs of these adjuncts for years, and this policy has resulted in a slow implosion of the university. Slow, but no longer silent.

We’re coming together and demanding an end to the two-tier wage system that keeps adjuncts poor and encourages a wholly contingent and vulnerable academic workforce. Part-time and full-time faculty are joining to resist the race to the bottom that’s characterized CUNY salaries for too long. The Professional Staff Congress has laid out a set of budget proposals that would begin to make CUNY into a place where education, and not exploitation, is the order of the day. I urge you to support these budget proposals for adequate funding for the City University, so that the pay and benefits of part-time faculty can be brought into line, proportionally, with those of full-time faculty. Only then can we reverse the trend that’s making CUNY a place where everyone works more and more for less and less money. Only then can we contest the trend toward CUNY as sweatshop with our own vision of the real value of education, and our understanding of the time and the funding that makes doing it right possible.

I don’t have to tell you that the world these days is long on crisis and short on new ideas. This is not unrelated to the callous way that we treat the intellectual life, and we’re headed for even worse trouble than we’re in now if we don’t shape up and start giving people some space to think, write, teach, and learn. And I don’t just mean adjuncts – the situation of part-timers is the crux of the whole crisis in the university. Our situation affects every aspect of life at CUNY – adjuncts stay in vulnerable, dead-end jobs, full-timers see their wages fall behind as their departmental workload increases and their time to do scholarly work dries up, and what students learn above all, watching their devoted, exploited professors, is that education is of little value in our society. And, by extension, that they are of little value as well.

When I finally realized that none of this would change until adjuncts stopped flooding the market with cheap labor, I joined the effort to get us organized and demand higher wages, better benefits, and a real professional future. And what I started to find out was that as a CUNY adjunct, I was fairly atypical. Young and healthy, I could afford to work an entire year before I was eligible for health insurance. Whether or not I could get disability insurance was not really on my radar screen. And with no children, it was primarily my dissertation work, not my family, that suffered from my ridiculously small paychecks. However, I am by no means the norm.

You’ll hear today from CUNY part-timers who have served the university for years and years in return for paltry paychecks and meager benefits, and now, simply cannot afford to retire. You’ll hear stories of older adjuncts who’ve lost their jobs and their health insurance after years of teaching because, for one reason or another, they just didn’t get reappointed one semester. The most awful stories will come from adjuncts who’ve become sick or disabled and as a result have lost their jobs, and their health insurance, and have not been eligible to receive the basic disability benefits to which every New Yorker ought to be entitled. You’ll hear personal accounts of what it’s like to be both a dedicated college professor and a completely vulnerable, contingent worker making poverty wages and hoping that you don’t get sick, or that you win the lottery before you have to retire.

I thought it was appalling enough that one could teach more than a full-time load of college courses (part-time refers to wages, not workload) and still be dirt poor. I didn’t know the half of it. When a CUNY adjunct becomes ill and exceeds the one week of (non-bankable) sick leave that he or she is allotted each semester, that adjunct loses income, health benefits, is ineligible for disability benefits, and is basically left to rot. Please don’t leave today without making a commitment to change this. The legislature must mandate that CUNY cover its part-time employees through the state disability benefits program. And it must happen now.

Still, mine is not a sob story. It’s a call to action. Because when I began organizing, I didn’t just encounter people in atrocious situations, although I saw plenty of that. Mostly, what I’ve come across have been talented, dedicated adjunct professors who are no longer willing to be treated like dirt. Who are standing up, raising their voices, and demanding the life, and the future, that they deserve. And it’s happening beyond CUNY as well. This movement is citywide, statewide, nationwide, and international too. I urge you to stand with us, to support our struggle for pay equity and fair disability and unemployment legislation for part-timers. Follow the example of the state of California and mandate eligibility for unemployment insurance for part-time faculty between semesters. Take the lead on the disability front and end all exemptions to New York State disability law that make it possible for CUNY not to cover part-timers: require CUNY to cover adjuncts under the state disability plan. And help us end the two-tier wage system at CUNY that’s put New York at the cutting edge of a national disgrace. Support a reinvestment in CUNY that will make pay equity a reality and create the great public university that we all know New York City deserves. Thank you.

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March 9, 2001

Deliverd by 

By Eric Marshall

Adjunct Lecturer, English Department, Queens College/CUNY

PSC Vice President for Part-Time Personnel


Contrary, perhaps, to intuition and popular impression, there is no “typical” CUNY adjunct. The approximately 8,000 adjuncts range in age from 22 to 87, and have CUNY careers ranging from one semester to 40 years. The median age of a CUNY adjunct is 50 years old—and that with only about 13% reporting that they are retired from another job. More than half are married. Three-quarters identify themselves as White, with Blacks, Latinos and Asians accounting for a little over 20% of the adjunct workforce. The gender breakdown reflects that of the general population—slightly more than half are women. Approximately a quarter hold doctorates, and many more hold terminal master’s degrees. In practice, on average, the CUNY adjunct teaches a course load roughly comparable to that of her full-time colleague. On average she makes under $9000 per year for her enormous efforts. Hundreds of CUNY adjuncts are forced, by necessity, to teach at more than one CUNY campus, and perhaps a quarter of them teach outside CUNY as well. More than 40% report that they only adjunct or that adjuncting is one of several part-time jobs. Nearly a third report that they have no office space in which to prepare for class, hold confidential meetings with students, relax, etc., and nearly half report having access only to a common room. Only a quarter reported having computer access on campus. The average number of students in a CUNY adjunct’s class is 40.  (That average includes the large “super-sections” in many 101-level courses.) On average, CUNY adjuncts have minimal input regarding the number and type of courses they will teach, or the days and times they will work.  They often learn their schedules just days (or hours) before the start of classes. More than a third of CUNY adjuncts reported maintaining office hours, despite not being paid for them. At least 8% of CUNY adjuncts live without health insurance. To the limited extent she may be defined, this is the “typical” CUNY adjunct.

Let me tell you a brief story of one CUNY adjunct who does not fit this profile, a colleague of ours from LaGuardia Community College. Linda Morales is a woman in her late thirties. She was born in Peru, and, after living for a time in Argentina, moved to New York City nearly 20 years ago. Linda is fluent in four languages, and has published poetry in two of them, including English. She is a singer. Since earning her B.A. from Hunter College, Linda has worked as a journalist and a newspaper and magazine correspondent, and has co-hosted and produced a daily radio program here in the city. Her desire to teach led her  to jobs at Renaissance School and the New York Language Center. Three years ago she began working at LaGuardia. Teaching, she told me, provides her the motivation for her writing, her poetry and her short stories; it energizes her. For the first 37 years of her life, Linda Morales was never sick—not surprising considering she never smoked or drank, and spent much of her adult life a vegetarian. And then, suddenly, she was sick. Her lymphoma was diagnosed by doctors in Peru, because the New York City medical establishment had given her the run-around. The round trip alone almost killed her. But she returned to New York, to her mother, her cat and her work at CUNY. A month or so into the Fall 2000 semester, however, Linda was too sick to continue, and had to leave LaGuardia. When she did, she lost not only her income, but her health insurance as well. And because current Disability Insurance laws exempt educational institutions from mandatory coverage, and since CUNY self-insures, Linda was left without Disability Insurance to cover her lost wages, and thus lost the means to pay her mounting medical bills. She was forced to accept Medicaid from New York City, though this does not cover her dosage of Neupogen (required to help regenerate her white blood cells) which costs $500 per pill for the 10 pills she requires after each chemo session. For years, Linda Morales has devoted her life to the education of the children and adults of New York City.  New York should not turn its back on her at this critical moment in her young life.

The current Disability Insurance laws must be amended to eliminate the exemption of educational institutions from mandatory coverage for all employees. We challenge the New York Legislature to lead the way, boldly, in writing laws that protect this large, vulnerable, greatly exploited, highly dedicated group of academic employees.

Disability Insurance is not the only legislative concern of adjuncts, however. Currently, adjuncts in New York State are not permitted to collect Unemployment Insurance during the summer months or between semesters if they are provided with “reasonable assurance” of employment. For years, CUNY has been using this criterion as the means for denying adjunct claims, and recovering payments already made. In practice, the highly conditional letters of contingent employment “offers” have provided far less than “reasonable assurance” of a job. In fact, adjuncts who receive these appointment letters are quite frequently not given schedules, for any number of reasons. Already grossly underpaid, frequently denied summer and inter-session teaching, and often leading fractured lives requiring them to bounce between several jobs in order to eke out a living, adjuncts must be able to depend on the Unemployment System to help them through this “down” time, during which they often do much of their scholarship, writing, and reading.

In 1989, the California Legislature (following the case of Cervisi v. Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board), wrote laws guaranteeing adjuncts “unemployment compensation for periods between semesters, including summer breaks,” determining that their similarly highly contingent employment “offers” did not provide “reasonable assurance” of employment. We ask the New York Legislature to follow this excellent model, and write similar laws protecting this state’s great adjunct faculty.

In Unemployment Insurance, New York needs to follow California’s progressive model. In Disability Insurance, New York must lead. Linda Morales must not simply be a symbol of institutional, bureaucratic disregard for the welfare of the individual, especially of those individuals living at the margins. Imagine yourself in her shoes, and let her case motivate changes ensuring an end to such horrible situations. I believe Linda Morales will survive her ordeal with lymphoma. I hope—and Linda joins me in this—that no CUNY (or any other New York State) employee henceforth will ever have to feel so completely abandoned at her moment of greatest need. As she wrote in a LaGuardia newsletter: “Thank you for allowing me to express my appreciation . . . because this effort has once more reinforced my faith in human empathy and solidarity—the main reason I love being a teacher. This story is not to be forgotten. This is what the world should be like. I thank God for having been the lucky one to experience it. This is the way we can turn the worst into the best, the way to turn the world around from darkness into light.”

The New York City community needs CUNY. CUNY needs the New York legislature. Please support the 12% increase in CUNY funding. Please write legislation ensuring unemployment insurance provisions for adjunct faculty during the summers and between sessions. And please lift the exemption of educational institutions from the Disability Insurance laws. Thank you.

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