International grad students demand the fellowship money they were owed three months ago

As if the usual gross exploitation of part-time workers at CUNY weren’t enough, the administration regularly uses bureaucratic maneuvers to further extract cost-savings from its most vulnerable employees. Adjuncts are rarely paid on time, they’re forced to give up their classes to full-time professors whose sections don’t meet the enrollment minimums, and fifth-year graduate students are forced to work as Writing Across the Curriculum fellows for twice as many hours as the contract permits but for the same pay. Adding to an endless list of injustices, this semester many international students at the Graduate Center have not been paid their fellowship money. Normally paid in August, fellowships can be as much as half a student’s income for the semester, which is especially vital for international students, who are barred from working outside of CUNY. The administration has offered no recourse besides broken promises and shady “advances” that were actually loans. Meanwhile, the PSC, which usually refuses to intervene in any issue not covered by the contract, has only further mucked up the situation by suggesting that the GC issue these loans rather than mobilizing its rank-and-file to demand immediate payment.

Thankfully, the rank-and-file aren’t waiting for the union leadership for direction. International graduate students have been organizing at the grassroots level to demand the money they were owed three months ago, as well as mechanisms to prevent future late payment. We share below an open letter explaining and raising these demands. At the time of publishing, over a hundred GC students and faculty have signed. You can sign onto the letter here.


Open Letter from International Students

To: The Graduate Center, CUNY and CUNY Central

At the end of September of this year, a number of international students found out that the lump sum payment of our fellowship had been delayed to mid-October, and for first- year incoming students, it would be delayed until the end of October. It’s not necessary to emphasize the possible negative outcomes for anyone with the PhD fellowship who have apartment leases, family dependents, and monthly utility bills and living expenses.  Some solutions on the part of The Graduate Center have been offered via e-mail. The Office of Financial Aid is willing to issue loans to those in this situation. However, this process itself is limited and involves further delays, which is exactly the problem we want to address in this letter. In addition, having to request a “loan” from the institution that owes you from the start is a clear abuse of power. As it is, the fact of working for two months, from mid-August, when one starts preparing different classes to impart at CUNY, to mid-October or later, without receiving the most important part of one’s income as international PhD students, amounts to unpaid labor. Options are limited for international students: besides being restricted to teach a limited number of hours within the CUNY system, international PhD students also face legal limitations to work outside of campus.

This situation has made evident what needs to be addressed, which is, first, the disparity in the payment schedule between international and local PhDs.  The difference in the payment dates of stipends just because of the status of the student employee, foreign or local, should be addressed and corrected. There must be provided, at least, an explanation that does not assume such divisions as a “natural” part of the administrative process. This aspect must be immediately tackled, unless the message is that we should feel comfortable with these kinds of structurally discriminatory practices, especially in our own place of work and study, and especially at CUNY.

Second, this problem has made visible the lack of communication between the Graduate Center administration and international students, who were deeply concerned about the vague responses given by administrative personnel. The lack of any prompt explanatory e-mail to international students coming from the institution that hosts us, diminishes our existence as part of the student and employee body in this campus.

We are proud members of CUNY and defend the social function that the institution is leading in the midst of an increasingly privatized educational system. Most PhD fellows who teach at Lehman, Brooklyn or Hunter College, just to mention a few, and even those harmed by this current situation believe in what this intellectual space stands for and the opportunities it creates. It is precisely because of this that we believe The Graduate Center, CUNY must strive for improvement and an exemplary role.

We believe that to accept a set of rules that divides the student body and employees by nationality without even a proper explanation given to these students, negligently disempowers its own future and makes it much more difficult for international students teaching as adjuncts to enter CUNY classrooms and teach the idea of equality.

From this letter, we want to propose three solutions to The Graduate Center, CUNY and CUNY Central.

  1. Administrative action towards the elimination of the disparity in payment schedules between international and local PhDs.
  2. A standardized schedule of fellowship stipend payments, starting Spring 2019, indicating the week in which international and local PhDs will be paid.
  3. The release of the full fellowship for students who are still awaiting their delayed payment.

These immediate and short-term measures seek to eradicate the unequal treatment given to international students in this institution.

Sincerely,

International, local students and professors

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$7K or Strike Resolution Passes at Hunter College

At today’s meeting of the Hunter College chapter of the PSC, attendees passed the $7K or Strike resolution that passed at the Graduate Center last spring and Bronx Community  College last week. After significant debate, the vote was twenty-eight for, one against, and one abstaining.

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Making the case

It is worth noting that many adjuncts cannot attend chapter meetings because low wages and punishing conditions demand that they shuttle back and forth between the several jobs they must hold to stay afloat. Recognizing this fact, colleagues from Hunter’s Film & Media department circulated a petition through which members unable to attend could signal their support for the resolution. In just two days, eighty members of the department, including a few full-timers, signed the petition.

Also significant is that the number of undergraduate students in attendance doubled from the last meeting. The support of students is a prerequisite for any successful mass action by teachers. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions, but just saying it is not enough—we need to mount a fierce campaign to actively enlist students on our side by making their teachers’ plight visible and asking them to participate actively in the life of the union. We should also make students’ concerns—tuition, class sizes, building conditions, advising, and more—part of our bargaining agenda in service of building a democratic bloc that can redirect the university away from the cruel logic of profit-seeking and in the direction of our ideals. This is not how it is done, the savvy will tell you. Pay them no mind. Formal structures have failed us—a democratic revolution is our only hope.

$7K OR STRIKE!

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BMCC Endorses 7K or Strike!

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Another PSC chapter has thrown its weight behind a strike for $7K! As Hunter College voted on its successful 7K or Strike! resolution, a similar resolution was on the floor at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The room was packed to capacity and the energy was palpable. Chair Geoffry Kurtz remarked on the rarity of debating and passing such a resolution at the chapter meeting level. Members across titles, including multiple tenured faculty, spoke about the importance of supporting $7K, not just as a moral issue, but also as a strategic one: adjunct precarity, after all, is simply the principle means of imposing austerity on the entire university system. When adjuncts lose in the short term, everybody loses in the end.

The Executive Committee at BMCC had prepared a resolution, inspired by the initiatives at the Graduate Center and Bronx Community College, calling for $7K to be won by “large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike if and when such an action would unite PSC members and help the PSC win $7K.” Now, we at CUNY Struggle have earned something of a reputation for intransigence bordering on impracticality. But we were happy to support this resolution in the spirit of compromise  without which a strike would be impossible. When the resolution hit the floor, however, the rank-and-file had other ideas. Multiple members unconnected to CUNY Struggle spoke up to say they were not satisfied with its indirect “waffling.” There was broad support for an amendment to state a clear commitment to striking for $7K. Therefore a motion was called and passed overwhelmingly in support of “large-scale collective actions, up to and including some form of job action or strike.” Period.

Today BMCC took a stand for CUNY’s future. Which campus is next?

7K or Strike!

Bronx Community College Endorses 7K or Strike!

The strike wave continues to roll through CUNY! On October 11th, the Bronx Community College chapter of PSC voted unanimously to support 7K or Strike! for the coming contract. This means if adju32544032_1824121131216450_7540257486939357184_oncts don’t get 7K per course, we say shut it down! Roughly forty-five members came out for this exciting meeting, many bringing colleagues and friends who don’t normally attend PSC events. Discussion pointed to the need for strategy and prudence in approaching a strike. Nobody was kidding themselves about the magnitude of the task we are setting before ourselves when we say 7K or Strike! When it came time to vote, however, the result was unanimous. We understand the difficulties ahead, but we know with enough preparation, smarts and solidarity we can win!

BCC is the second chapter to endorse 7K or Strike, and similar resolutions are coming up at Hunter College and Borough of Manhattan Community College in the coming weeks. Who will be next? If you’d like to bring this to your campus, get in touch!

It’s a new era. Join us!

7K or Strike!

Why Should Full-Time Faculty Support the Demand for 7K?

by Charlie Post

This year, the PSC has prioritized winning $ 7,000 as the minimum salary for anyone teaching a three hour course. Over the years, many full-time faculty wonder why the PSC has put so much time and energy into championing the demands of adjunct faculty. Many believe that gains, like $7K/course for part-timers come at the expense of salary increases for the full-timers.

This argument is wrong—the existence of a low-cost part-time faculty undermines the salaries of full-time faculty.

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Unions exist to stop the destructive competition among employees which allows employers to cut wages, increase work load and and generally degrade the conditions of labor. In the past forty years, corporate and government employers’ have created multi-“tiered” workforces—workers doing the same work who are paid lower wages. The result is a downward spiral of wages for all employees.

The growth of a low wage part-time faculty is simply higher education’s version of the “two-tier” workforce. Low salaries for adjuncts mean lower salaries for all of us. It is no accident that CUNY has both one of the highest percentages of underpaid adjuncts and some of the lowest salaries for public sector full-time faculty.  Winning $7K/course puts a floor on salaries, and gives CUNY an incentive to hire more full-time, tenure-track, rather than part-time and contingent, faculty.

Winning $7K will require all of us—full-timers and part-timers—to mobilize over the coming months. We all need show up at demonstrations for $7K and vote at our chapter meetings for resolutions supporting a strike if CUNY doesn’t offer $7K at the bargaining table.

An earlier version appeared in the BMCC faculty newsletter The Gadfly.

CUNY Rallies for 7k or Strike!

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Carly Smith from the Committee of Adjuncts and Part-Timers speaks on behalf of the $7k demand

The red wave has come to New York City! Earlier this week, rank-and-file workers and students from across the CUNY system descended on Wall Street to deliver a clear message: $7k or strike! For the newcomer, this means the CUNY community is demanding a $7k per course minimum wage for CUNY adjuncts in the coming union contract, and if we don’t get it, we’re ready to shut it down!

It was a beautiful sight. The sterile sarcophagi of Wall Street echoed with chants of 7k or strike! and “Education is a right; strike strike strike!” CUNY workers from across titles joined with students and other working class New Yorkers to affirm our shared commitment to do whatever it takes to win $7k the coming contract. This was nothing short of a dress rehearsal for a CUNY-wide strike of workers and students, which we must prepare for in case the PSC fails to win $7k at the bargaining table. And just like the red wave that is remaking teachers’ organizing all across the US, the movement at CUNY will be led from the bottom-up, by the people with the most on the line! It’s no coincidence that the small handful of PSC members who oppose the message of 7k or Strike! all seem to hold some elected office.

Continue reading “CUNY Rallies for 7k or Strike!”

Cuomo Administration to Public University Trustees: Sit Down and Shut Up

Thanks to the state Freedom of Information Law, the New York Times has obtained “the lobbying emails Cuomo fought hard to keep secret.” Among the revelations is that the Cuomo administration demands total subordination from public university trustees. In an email to Jim Malatras, a top Cuomo administration official, now-disgraced lobbyist Todd Howe explained the governor’s expectations with regard to trustees.

Howe sought to remind board members that “The Board and the Chamber” (i.e. the Governor’s office) “are one and the same.” A dissenting trustee should know that “the governor and you expect him to carry the chamber’s water, and if he can’t do that day to day, he should rethink his commitment, and you’ll work with him to find a diplomatic way to move off the board.” Any break with the “family” headed by the governor is, in Howe’s words, “totally unacceptable.”

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The guys who call the shots

For those of us who care about CUNY, this news would be another drop in the putrid sea that is the Cuomo administration, if it weren’t for the ongoing contract negotiations between the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), CUNY administration, and our ultimate boss, the governor. The most important demand in these negotiations is a $7,000 per course minimum salary for the adjuncts who teach over half of all classes at CUNY.

It is a safe bet that the austerity-minded Cuomo does not intend to double the salaries of thousands of CUNY adjuncts, even if that is the only way for them to approach a modicum of dignity in their working lives. Yet a strategy emerging from an influential corner of the PSC purports to enlist the Board of Trustees and the college presidents, whom the Board selects and oversees, in a campaign to convince state lawmakers to buck the governor’s wishes and carve out a chunk of money in the state budget to fund the $7K demand.

But given this airtight embrace between the governor and trustees, is there any reason to expect they should suddenly want to flip on their patron? This latest news suggests that if $7K is to become a reality in this contract, it may take more than moral appeals.