NEW PSC COMMITTEE ON DIVERSITY BEGINS WORK 

By Peter Hogness

 

PSCcuny
NEWS BULLETIN

APRIL 2001

 

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‘‘We seem to have fewer and fewer people of color in faculty and administrative leadership positions around LaGuardia,” said Samuel E. Farrell, II, a PSC Community College Officer and chair of the union’s new Diversity Committee. “I often hear similar things from colleagues at other colleges, both faculty and staff. But to pursue these concerns, we need solid documentation. We need to secure the data, and see what it tells us.”

Established by the PSC Executive Council in January 2001, the Diversity Committee grew out of an ad-hoc group that met last fall to discuss strategies for increasing the hiring, promotion, and retention of full- and part-time faculty and staff of color at CUNY, and for increasing their participation in the PSC.

“The committee will be looking at affirmative action within CUNY, and within the PSC as well,” said Farrell, director of LaGuardia Community College’s Inmate Education Program and the Center for Veterans, Youth and Adults. “We want to get the union involved on this issue, and really follow through. This will send an important message to CUNY, that the union cares, that the union is making this a priority.”

“If we’re worth our salt as a union,” commented PSC President Barbara Bowen, “then we have to take on the question of racism. It’s a major workplace issue and a major intellectual issue, one that’s important for our whole membership.” The PSC’s proposal for state funding of CUNY includes a $2 million Diversity Fund for the fiscal year 2002, compared to the Board of Trustees’ proposed allocation of $750,000. Last fall, the PSC Delegate Assembly approved a $10,000 line in the PSC’s 2000/2001 budget as seed money for its own Diversity Fund.

Farrell, who is also chair of the CUNY African-American Network (CAAN), said the Diversity Committee will begin by looking at the statistics in the University’s affirmative action reports. “We need to look at them very closely and identify any patterns of discrimination in the hiring and promotion of people of color,” Farrell said. Committee member Carmen Vasquez, a higher education officer (HEO) at Hostos, said, “It’s important for us as a committee to go about this as scientifically as possible, without forgetting that it’s also a very personal issue.”

Randy Punter, a committee member who works in York College’s Office of Career Services, said that what the committee would be looking for was basic fairness. “I’m a union person,” he said, “and equality is part of what unions are all about.” A few years ago, Punter said, he carried out a study of HEOs at York between 1982 and 1995, and found “a clear pattern”: white HEOs and CLTs were promoted at a significantly faster rate than staff of color, even when the latter had stronger credentials. “I have nothing against my white brothers and sisters,” Punter said, “and I’m all for upward mobility—but I want some of it, too!”

In a series of interviews with people of color within the PSC—including Farrell, Punter and Vasquez of the Diversity Committee, and others who are not on it—all said that an independent review of CUNY-wide data on hiring and promotion was sorely needed. Descriptions of conditions at individual schools and work sites varied widely. For example, Vasquez said, “Discrimination could happen at Hostos, but it’s not obvious—so many of us there are minorities anyway.” But Iris DeLutro said that racial equity is a real problem at Queens College, where she has worked since 1984. “There aren’t enough faculty of minority status,” DeLutro said. “And certainly in terms of leadership positions—directors, vice presidents, provosts—there are very few Latinos or other people of color. I think that does not reflect the composition of CUNY or of this city, and we have to take a closer look at that.”  


Some members of the Diversity Committee in a meeting in the PSC office.  From left: Stanton Biddle, Baruch; Samuel E. Farrell, II, Laguardia; Bill Foster, Medgar Evers; Shafie Jayman, College of Staten Island: Carmen Vasquez, Hostos.

Henry Skinner, professor of health and physical education at Bronx Community College, said that diversity in employment remains a challenge at BCC, but that it is a challenge which the school has been willing to meet. “There is a commitment and support throughout BCC to the idea that diversity is critical to the mission of higher education,” Skinner said.

Skinner is active with Unity and Strength, a black and Latino faculty association at BCC. “Part of our program has been to encourage the enforcement of affirmative action guidelines, and to assist in a proactive way with the hiring and recruitment of minority faculty and staff,” said Skinner, who sits on BCC’s affirmative action committee. The administration at BCC has been receptive, he said, “particularly when faculty and staff take the initiative.” Recently, he said, members of Unity and Strength worked with the school’s Vice President for Academic Affairs to put on a daylong program on diversity issues that drew 200 students, “My biggest concern right now is our lack of financial support for recruitment, both for salary and for the process of outreach,” Skinner said.

Punter described a less positive atmosphere at York. A survey of African-American employees conducted last fall by York’s Concerned Black Faculty and Staff (CBFS) found that 94% felt that York had a history of discrimination, and that 87% felt the current administration had addressed these inequities “to a small degree” or “not at all.” York’s president “has made some difference, but not much,” Punter said. “It’s hardly touched the composition of the faculty.” He noted that making progress would be difficult regardless of who was at the helm. “It’s hard to change these patterns,” Punter said. “They’re very entrenched.”

Frank Kirkland, Professor of Philosophy at Hunter and the chair of that department, said, “There has been some expression of discontent here at Hunter, at least informally, about the extent to which people of color are reaching the higher echelons of administration.” The top ranks, he said, “are seen to be getting whiter.” As for faculty hiring, Kirkland said the existence of an affirmative action plan on paper is not enough; one also has to make sure that it is carried out. “The issue of whether one gets faculty of color on board—that’s always going to be an issue for a heck of a lot of departments,” he said.

“Another issue at Hunter, or maybe CUNY-wide, is the advancement of people of color in the HEO series,” Kirkland said. “I’ve heard a number of people of color who are HEOs say that they’ve run into a glass ceiling.” Vasquez, Punter, and DeLutro also said this is an issue that needs attention. “If you did a survey,” said DeLutro, “I’m sure you would find that the lowest-paid HEOs are people of color.” The fact that HEOs lack clear promotional opportunities is a problem for all of them, DeLutro said, but it also leaves more room for potential discrimination.

Amy Nicholas, chapter chair at the Brooklyn Educational Opportunity Center (BEOC), raised the question of unequal treatment of entire units. Employees at the four EOCs within CUNY are overwhelmingly people of color, she said, and had no post-retirement health insurance until the signing of the last contract in 1998. “Most people here have their master’s degree, and quite a few have their doctorates,” Nicholas said—yet while employees of the six upstate EOCs are on a tenure track, those within CUNY are not. “Even if this is not because of conscious discrimination,” Nicholas said, “that does not abrogate the reality of the situation.”

As for the Diversity Committee’s other focus, the participation of members of color within the PSC, Nicholas advised its members that they have their work cut out for them. “When I go to the Delegate Assembly, I usually see myself and three or four other people of color there—and I find that disconcerting,” Nicholas said. Partly, she said, this was due to weaknesses in the composition of CUNY’s own workforce: “For a university that educates so many people of color, CUNY does not have a good mix at the professorial level,” Nicholas said. Beyond that, she said, there is outreach work that needs to be done within the union, “generating the interest, and letteing people know that their involvement is welcomed.”

“There’s been a deep alienation among black faculty and staff as far as the union is concerned,” said Farrell. In his view, this is connected to the union’s past lack of action against discrimination. “The feeling I get from other faculty and staff of color is that the union has not really been helpful on these issues. The union was looked at as an exclusive group of white, mostly male professors, with very little relevance to our concerns.” He cited the case of a colleague at LaGuardia, who felt she had been discriminated against in promotions. “She felt she had to turn to her own private attorney,” Farrell said. “The responsibility we have on the Diversity Committee is to address this separation, and I see it being a very long struggle.”

“I’ve never heard the union say anything about discrimination,” commented Kirkland. Of course, he noted, some complaints of discrimination could have been brought and settled without ever being made public. Still, he said, “I think the union’s involvement in these kinds of issues generally has been very minimal.”

Skinner said that while he had never heard of the union bringing a grievance over discrimination, he thought it probable that some had been filed. “One of the strengths of the union on this campus is that there has been a real diversity in the leadership as well as the membership,” Skinner said of BCC. Within the PSC as a whole, Skinner said, “the union certainly can play a more proactive role in promoting diversity.” But Skinner said that both the previous and current leadership groups were “pretty diverse,” and that “as in the past, we need to encourage and support the leadership in taking up this issue.”

Farrell said that the Diversity Committee would soon meet with members of the previous leadership to learn about past actions against discrimination. “We need to use whatever was done in the past as a basis for moving forward,” he said.

Some PSC members, Farrell noted, have asked why the Diversity Committee has focused on race when diversity issues involve so many other questions. “The committee initially came together for the purpose of looking at concerns of people of color,” Farrell said. “At the same time, as an officer I see the need for the union to be reminded that we have to deal with the concerns of all of our members, all our constituencies.” He said that in practical terms, if the committee were to tackle all diversity issues at once, “I don’t think we would get anywhere.” But he noted that other parts of the union were discussing action on gender and disability issues, and that the union’s commitment to nondiscrimination also extends to religion, political belief and sexual orientation.

The committee is organizing a forum, currently slated for the fall, and may also organize smaller workshops. “I would hope they might organize some public hearings, possibly on different campuses,” suggested Skinner.

DeLutro urged the committee to examine how racism as a theoretical or political issue relates to CUNY’s mission. “It’s not just about headcount,” she explained. “CUNY is supposed to be about providing access to people who are locked out. So we need to think about how CUNY can help oppose racism—that’s part of why we exist.”

For her part, President Bowen stressed that the committee’s work is of importance to the entire union. “I think institutionalized racism is so entrenched, that if we don’t actively work to undo it, in both the union and the University, we run the risk of simply perpetuating it,” she said.

“It’s not about leaving anyone behind,” said Punter, “but including all of us.”

Those interested in joining the committee should contact Farrell at (718) 482- 5391, or e-mail him at samf@lagcc.cuny.edu.