For those of us who work and study at CUNY, the story of Los Angeles schools is all too familiar. For decades, LAUSD was kept alive on a starvation budget, the inadequacy of which was exacerbated by a rapid rise in charter schools which further ate up public reserves. Teachers were asked to do more with less. Teach more students. Prepare for more (standardized) tests. Work more hours. Accept less pay. Lose support staff. Note that, though your students and their families are often in crisis—struggling to make ends meet in a hyper-segregated city where affordable housing is a thing of the past—you are to deliver better academic results. Do not focus too much on the alienation and fear of your students as they attempt to make sense of their place in the City of Angels, where all new infrastructure is built for the rich.
With class sizes of 40 and upward, there is no time to pause and no money to pay a counselor or school psychologist anyway. If you as a teacher are also struggling to find your place in the city, do not question it. Never mind that you, too, are increasingly being pushed to the city’s edges, giving more of your waking hours to your commute. Watch as your Democratic elected officials bend over backwards to lure billion-dollar tech companies into your town, but cry poor when you ask for funding so that your buildings might stop crumbling.
The story is familiar because it is part of a nationwide pattern of attacks on public education, a chronic defunding of the kind CUNY has been subjected to since the 1970s. The end goals of these attacks—to incrementally shut down public institutions and keep the working class in survival mode—are no longer hard to see. We at CUNY Struggle find ourselves in rare agreement with PSC President Barbara Bowen, who noted in her most recent email: “UTLA’s fight is, in a very direct way, our fight,” since “we at CUNY know exactly what austerity education means.”
My mother and father both attended CUNY schools, both were the children of immigrants, both were the part of the first generation in their respective families to attend college. My mother, Rosalind Elowitz graduated from Hunter College in 1944. I wear her college ring. My father, Robert Engler, worked through his undergraduate courses at City College quickly so he could go off to Europe and fight in Patton’s army in World War II. Upon return he attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin where he was granted a PHD in political science. He taught in many places: Sarah Lawrence, Columbia, and Princeton. But he ended up at CUNY, at Brooklyn College, Queens College, and the Graduate Center. His seminars there were legendary; his guests ranged from government officials, to scholars of all stripes, to poets. I still run into people who remembered his classes with awe. He returned to CUNY and ended his career here because he strongly believed in public education and appreciated the range of students who attended this giant urban institution. Today I teach at CUNY’s City College, continuing this legacy. Continue reading “CUNY Runs in My Family and I Support #7KorStrike”
On December 10th a small group of PSC leaders were intentionally arrested outside a CUNY Board of Trustees meeting at Baruch College as the meeting continued uninterrupted. They demanded increased funding—including to fund a $7K per course minimum wage for adjunct faculty—in the Trustees’ budgetary request to the State. The staged arrests were the culmination of a semester of lobbying, including a campaign to pressure university presidents to in turn pressure Trustees. These activities drew significant time and energy from adjunct activists who picketed Wall Street, collected signatures, and spoke out at public Trustee meetings—despite the knowledge that the Trustees scarcely attend these meetings and are accountable to the Governor and nobody else.
This week, with significantly less fanfare and no comment so far by PSC leadership, the Trustees released the text of their budgetary requests through the 2020 Fiscal Year, to be ratified next week after another perfunctory hearing. The document contains not a single reference to adjuncts. CUNY gets nothing it wasn’t already getting, and tuition is going up yet again. The budget does not even provide funding for the course release for full-timers, which PSC leaders claim was won in the last contract. (It wasn’t.) In the end, all the petitioning and testifying and letter-writing and scripted protesting yielded the same predictable result: nothing.
Nonetheless, just yesterday members of the Graduate Center Chapter received a message from their chair wishing a “7K New Year” and unveiling yet another lobbying trip to Albany to accomplish it. But the Trustees’ budget request is testament to how little can be accomplished by speaking truth to power without wielding the power that comes from our ability to withhold our labor and shut the city down. It’s time to stop addressing the powerful with moral suasion, and focus on building some real power of our own. The sooner we face reality, that preparing for a strike is the only way forward, the better our chances will be. We cannot afford to be backed into this necessary militant action—we need to begin preparing now.
Campus by campus, adjunct activists are leading the way. Join us!
CUNY Struggle and many of our comrades from the campaign for 7K or Strike! are featured prominently in a documentary short about the campaign by filmmaker Martine Granby. Granby should be applauded for refusing the usual narrative of adjuncts as powerless and debased, and choosing instead to showcase the great power we can wield if we get organized and stop doing what we’re told. Check it out below, and be sure to share it around!
On Wednesday, December 5th, PSC chapters representing two CUNY campuses, City College and Lehman, passed resolutions supporting 7K or Strike! At City College, 45 PSC members voted unanimously to support a strike if CUNY doesn’t offer 7K at the bargaining table! The solidarity was palpable. Discussion focused on the need to fight for a fully-funded CUNY that benefits everyone. The fight for 7K is not an adjunct fight, it’s a fight against austerity across CUNY and beyond!
Meanwhile at Lehman College, another 7K or Strike resolution was voted up enthusiastically, while a de-fanged version was roundly rejected by membership. We are honored to run a first-hand account of how it went down, from a comrade who has campaigned hard for for 7K or Strike in the capacity of a full professor (something we are often told should preclude any interest in the adjuncts’ plight). Stuart’s account also provides a clear-eyed assessment of the obstacles facing this campaign, not all of which are external to our union. It’s a must-read for anyone seeking to promote this campaign at their campus, or to understand more broadly how the PSC functions in its present incarnation. Continue reading “City College and Lehman College Endorse 7K or Strike!”