Thousands of part-time faculty and staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) have been waiting with bated breath since April to find out if their contracts will be renewed for the fall semester. Initially, administrators announced that as much as 40% of the teaching workforce of John Jay College would be laid off and that other colleges would be asked to cut their fall course offerings by up to 25%. Faced with intense backlash and a growing threat of a strike, the university extended the notification deadline first to the end of May, and then to the end of June.
Internal sources report that the finalized total number of layoffs for part-time faculty and staff is approximately 2,800. This information is expected to be made public in the next day or two and represents approximately 25% of the part-time instructional workforce.
Additionally, the faculty and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) received official word on Sunday that 422 part-time employees will be losing their health insurance coverage in the fall. Some have had their hours cut below the minimum threshold for insurance, and others have been “non-reappointed” entirely. This means that each and every one of these 422 workers will be losing some or all of their income in addition to their health insurance.
However, this number does not include the many part-time workers who receive their health insurance from elsewhere (such as through a spouse) who may have also been laid off. Because non-reappointment letters are currently being distributed and college departments are still creating their fall course schedules, there are so far no exact numbers on how many workers will experience a partial (hour reduction) or full (non-reappointment) loss of employment. Furthermore, college assistants (who are typically represented by DC37 instead of the PSC) will now be hired on month-to-month contracts contingent upon funding, a heinous decision that undermines what little stability they had as semester-to-semester employees.
Part-time faculty and staff constitute more than half (54.4%) of all workers represented by the PSC, and the percentage of part time workers among all CUNY employees represented by other unions is slightly higher (57.8%).
In more positive news, last night the NYC City Council passed a budget that, while terrible in most other ways, rescued CUNY’s nationally-recognized Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative from Mayor DeBlasio’s proposal to cut funding for the Fall 2020 class. ASAP is a program for low-income students pursuing associate’s degrees at any of nine CUNY community colleges. Participants in the program receive tuition and fee waivers, tutoring, free MTA passes, financial assistance with purchasing textbooks, career counseling, designated advisors, and more.
However, while ASAP can continue to provide resources to students, the budget is overall a loss for CUNY students. The budget includes only minimal cuts to the NYPD, cuts to the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, the closure of city pools, and reducing trash pickup, and stalling progress on the construction of 22,000 affordable housing units. Additionally, up to 29,000 city employees might be laid off in October if the city does not receive additional funding from the state or federal governments. Because CUNY students are predominantly working class students of color, they are disproportionately affected by police brutality, Covid-19, and cuts to public services such as these. In fact, CUNY has suffered more deaths from the coronavirus than any other university system in the United States. Now more than ever, CUNY students need more support both in school and out, not less.
Within CUNY itself, this latest batch of cuts to faculty and staff positions and/or hours puts part timers — who already have the lowest pay and least job security — at even deeper physical and financial risk, and losing faculty and staff means students lose access to resources and learning opportunities. Those lucky enough to still have their jobs are now still waiting anxiously for news of whether they will be forced to come back to work in person in the fall — or for staff, perhaps as soon as NYC enters Phase 4 of reopening.
While the PSC quickly stepped up at the beginning of the pandemic to negotiate the terms for distance learning and remote work, their more recent tactics have failed to protect the jobs of the part-time workers. If our most vulnerable colleagues lose their income and/or their health coverage during this time, more CUNY employees and students will die. To defeat these layoffs, we must build a strike and show CUNY, de Blasio, and Cuomo that we will not accept this treatment for ourselves and our colleagues. We must demand no layoffs from the administration, full funding from the state, and a promise that none of us will be expected to return to campuses until it is safe for everyone.