Immediate Aftermath of the Austerity Contract

$7K or Strike organizers, including CUNY Struggle, waged a fierce Vote No campaign against the new contract. We pointed out many loopholes that undermine the few crumbs we won and the inevitable budget cuts that would result, since the state and city didn’t commit new revenue for every gain in the contract. Not even a month since the contract was ratified, we are already hearing about cuts across CUNY caused by the contract. We report them here to be distributed widely, so that we can all stay vigilant of any attempts by our bosses to exploit the weaknesses of the new contract.

City Tech English department is attempting to use the new paid office hour to staff the Writing Lab.

In Fall 2019, the City Tech administration closed the school’s Writing Lab, leaving students with little support for their writing needs. The Vote No campaign warned that the contract language establishing new paid office hours for adjuncts is so vague  that it permits the administration to assign extra work during these office hours, for example, tutoring students in writing. The City Tech English department tried to do just that, announcing that, in the spring, adjuncts are to spend their new office hours tutoring any student who might walk in needing  help with their essay. Conversely, students are being directed to the English adjunct department office when they need tutoring: they are being told to look for anyone who might be available to help them. Adjunct labor is being redirected to make up for cuts elsewhere; adjuncts are replacing the Writing Lab. So much for the PSC’s argument that the office hour will compensate adjuncts for the work they already do, like grading papers and meeting with their own students!  What’s more, the City Tech PSC Chapter initially refused to step in, on the grounds that this kind of extra work is technically contractually permitted. Adjuncts pressed several times before the PSC ultimately took up the grievance:at the time of writing it is still being handled.

Hunter administration refuses to pay adjuncts teaching Composition for the new office hour.

Adjuncts at Hunter who teach English composition, a three-credit course, have historically been paid for four hours as compensation for an extra “conference hour” to work with students individually. PSC executives at multiple meetings have insisted that any adjunct teaching a three-credit course for four paid hours would be paid for a fifth hour – an office hour – under the new contract. But the Hunter administration plans to subsume the new office hour into the existing conference hour for adjuncts teaching composition. Worse yet, adjuncts teaching two sections of composition will see a pay cut, since the professional hour for teaching at least six credits will also be subsumed into the new office hour provision. English adjuncts, along with the English department chair and the PSC, are still fighting this grievance at the time of writing. This cat-and-mouse game could have been completely avoided if the contract language were tighter, but since PSC executives refuse to bargain openly, the rank-and-file had no input during negotiations and will never know why our bargaining team conceded to such a weak provision.

ARC Fellowship for graduate students eliminated.

One provision in the new contract allocates money to provide health insurance to Graduate Center students who are represented by the PSC but don’t already receive health insurance through a funding package or adjuncting. Rather than seek new funding from the state to pay for this, CUNY is instead cutting the Graduate Center’s Advanced Research Collaborative budget by 95%. ARC currently offers paid fellowships to roughly a couple dozen doctoral students each year, in addition to awards for full-time faculty. Although the latter will remain, student ARC fellowships will be completely eliminated. This has been confirmed by the Director of ARC.

New $320 tuition hikes for our students.

PSC executives said that the city and state committed tens of millions of dollars to pay for adjunct office hours. But what about the rest of the contract gains, including the 2% annual increases? When pressed on this question at a Retirees chapter meeting, PSC President Barbara Bowen admitted that Cuomo has not agreed to increase CUNY’s budget to pay for these increases. For the past three years, CUNY cannibalized around 2% of its annual budget to pay for the raises in our last contract. While this policy of “internal financing” is likely to continue, it appears that some of the costs of our contract will be borne on the backs of our students. Despite a rowdy protest by our comrades in Free CUNY, the Board of Trustees voted on December 16 to increase student tuition by $320: $200 as part of a five-year “rational” tuition plan and a new $120 student wellness fee. The bottom line is that without new budget money for contract items like raises, the PSC’s “wins” will continue to create losses throughout the CUNY system—borne mostly by our working class students—as admins just shuffle money out of already starved programs to meet contract obligations. PSC executives know this, but don’t put up a real fight because the alternative to capitulating to Cuomo’s austerity regime would require actual labor militancy.

Class cancellations explicitly due to the new contract.

While voting on the contract, we had already heard that BMCC was planning on cutting 300 classes in spring 2020, likely in anticipation of budget shortfalls caused by contract gains unpaid by the city. At Hunter, we have recently heard of widespread class cancellations due to the contract. Chairs of the German, English, Theatre, and Sociology departments have confirmed verbally that classes are being cancelled to meet budgetary constraints caused specifically by unfunded provisions in the contract. PSC executives at Hunter have tried to explain that the increase in class cuts resulted from a logistical snafu, in which classes were scheduled based on departments’ wish lists without budgetary adjustments. But this explanation flies in the face of department chairs’ accounts. No doubt, similar cuts are happening across the CUNY system.

Clearly management is finding loopholes within loopholes and PSC executives are not holding true to their promises. We welcome comments and emails from any and all adjuncts who are witnessing similar shoddy or dishonest employment practices across CUNY campuses and departments. The vote may be over, but in some ways our fight has only just begun.

2 thoughts on “Immediate Aftermath of the Austerity Contract”

  1. So, after this debacle, when we didn’t get 7K, and we didn’t have a strike, let alone a strike authorization: in short, where the New Caucus leadership once again merely schmoozed with management, ran roughshod over our rights as adjuncts, and then declared a “victory,” where is the balance sheet assessment of your (non-) strategy here? What has been the net result of “relying upon ourselves,” of hijacking the Campaign and booting out the Marxists, so you could transform the conference whose idea we initiated as a means of connecting to NYC labor and galvanizing them and making them aware of our precarious condition, into an anti-communist enclave full of nonsensical liberal happy talk about how the Taylor Law is a “paper tiger,” and having a strike is “turning ON a light!” (Wowie woo!) What’s the assessment of your behind the scenes SABOTAGING of our later call for a march and rally, once again attempting to reach out to NYC labor, and instead putting all your eggs into a strike authorization campaign for a strike that never happened?! Are you actually going to do a sober assessment of your utterly sectarian, repressive folly? Or are you going to continue to ignore your role in this debacle (what colossal BAD FAITH!)? And tell us all, just like the German Stalinists after Hitler took over, that your strategy was an amazing success and that you are ever so graciously presenting yourselves as out “stewards”?

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

  2. Please see the following from a speech given by James Cannon in 1953, after the split with the Pabloite-Johnsonite-Cochranites
    I submit that CS exists somewhere between these two styles of leadership–a clique and a cult. And thus I wouldn’t hold out much hope that CS will last much longer. Particularly, you will not be our “stewards.” Thanks, but no thanks.
    And I call your particular attention that the (Fearless and Magnificent?) Founder-Leader of CS is, from what I’ve heard, a Johnsonite:
    Factional Struggle And Party Leadership by James Cannon, November 1953.
    “A second kind of leadership is the leadership of a clique. In every leadership clique there is a certain coordination, a certain organization and division of labor, and it sometimes looks good – while it lasts. But a clique is bound together by personal associations – what Trotsky, who hated cliques, called “chumminess” – and has in it, by that very fact, a fatal flaw – that it can be broken up by personal quarrels. That is the inevitable fate of every political clique.”
    “There is no such thing, and can be no such thing as a permanent clique, no matter what good friends and chums may be drawn together in a tight, exclusive circle and say to themselves: “Now we have everything in our hands and we are going to run things fine.” The great winds and waves of the class struggle keep beating upon this little clique. Issues arise. Personal difficulties and frictions develop. And then come personal quarrels and squabbles, meaningless faction fights and senseless splits, and the clique ends in disaster. The party cannot be led by a clique. Not for very long, anyway.”
    * * *
    “There is a third method of leadership which I will confess to you frankly I noticed only after I passed my sixtieth birthday. That is the leadership of a cult. I will admit that I lived sixty years in this world before I stumbled over the fact that there are such things as political cults. I began rubbing my eyes when I saw the Johnsonites operating in our party. I saw a cult bound to a single person, a sort of Messiah. And I thought, ‘I’ll be damned. You’re never too old to learn something new’.”
    “A cult requires unthinking fools for the rank and file. But that is not all. In order for a cult to exist, it is not enough for a leader to have personal followers – every leader has personal influence more or less – but a cult leader has to :be a cultist himself. He has to be a megalomaniac who gets revelations outside the realm of reality. A megalomaniacal cult leader is liable to jump in any direction at any time, and all the cultists automatically follow, as sheep follow the bellwether, even into the slaughter house.”
    “That is what happened with the Johnsonites. The cult followed Johnson, not simply for his theory of the Soviet Union – other people have that theory; a lot of people in the world have that theory about “state capitalism.” The Johnsonites were personal cultist followers of Johnson as a Messiah; and when he finally gave the signal for them to jump out of this party for reasons known only to himself, but allegedly because of some personal grievance he imagined, of which they had no knowledge and which they had just heard about, they all left the party at the same hour, Eastern Standard Time. That is a cult. The Pabloite cult, like any other, is capable of jumping in any direction at any time, whenever the leader gets a revelation. You cannot trust the party of the workers’ vanguard to a cult or a cultist leader.”

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