Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

CUNY Faculty On Verge of Wildcat Strike

After several hundred adjuncts were laid off at John Jay College, CUNY faculty — rank and file members of the PSC — have organized a wildcat strike to withhold spring grades. 

James Dennis Hoff

May 19, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share

On Monday, May 18, rank and file union members at the City University of New York (CUNY) launched a grade strike campaign to demand the reinstatement of all non-reappointed adjuncts and part-time staff at the university. This action comes just one week after the devastating news that almost 40 percent of the teaching faculty at John Jay College are slated to be terminated after their spring appointments are completed. In addition to the cuts at John Jay, other CUNY colleges, including City College and Brooklyn College, have signaled that academic departments should be prepared to preemptively cut their teaching budgets by 25 percent. Meanwhile the administration has asked presidents at some campuses to dismiss all part-time department assistants (members of the DC-37 union), college laboratory technicians, and higher education officers.

These cuts — which could leave hundreds or even thousands of adjuncts and staff without health insurance in the middle of a pandemic — are being proposed by the administration in anticipation of what they claim will be unprecedented budget deficits in the fall. However, there is not yet any indication from Governor Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio that the CUNY budget will actually be cut, and the question of whether or not fall enrollments will decrease is still uncertain. 

As Nicodemus Nicoludis, an adjunct faculty member at BMCC put it: “the fact that they are willing to enact these cuts without any direction from the state is both worrying and telling about where their loyalties lie. They are telling us that when push comes to shove, they are willing to slash and burn the most vulnerable employees to save their own positions.”

In response, members of the group Rank and File Action (RAFA) organized an online town hall to discuss ways of resisting these layoffs. More than 120 CUNY faculty, staff, and students were on the call and out of that discussion came the proposal for a grade strike pledge to put pressure on the administration to reinstate all laid-off faculty. The pledge has since been shared with several thousand faculty members across the university and has already been signed by more than 200  faculty teaching upwards of 400 sections. Signers are pledging to withhold grades until at least the last day that they can be submitted, but are further committing to continue withholding them longer if the pledge is signed by 70 percent or more of the teaching faculty. Though reaching 70 percent is unlikely, activists say that even without reaching that threshold, the pledge is still an important first step toward building a more radical action in the short term to defeat layoffs. “At some point we’re going to have to strike,” said adjunct lecturer and RAFA member, Carol Lang. And this sentiment is widely shared by many RAFA activists as well as the many hundreds of fed-up adjuncts facing layoffs.

Of course the choice to take such actions was not made lightly, and activists have gone out of their way to make it clear that this is not about pitting students against faculty but about fighting for a better university for all. If CUNY has its way, thousands of adjuncts will be laid off, meaning that course offerings will be significantly limited for the Fall semester and class sizes will almost certainly be bigger. For online classes especially, such increases in class size could have devastating effects on student retention and pass rates for the fall semester, which is almost certain to be entirely online. As one RAFA activist wrote in a letter to her students about the strike action:

CUNY administration will say that we are pitting students against faculty, but I know you to be empathetic thinkers who understand that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. And the budget cuts harm your education too: if adjuncts aren’t reappointed, there will be fewer course offerings and likely larger class sizes in the future. Eliminating adjuncts also eliminates the diversity of the faculty body, as there are more professors of color or from working class backgrounds who are adjuncts than there are in the ranks of full-timers. 

What makes this action particularly interesting and, in many ways groundbreaking, is that it was built entirely without the support of the leadership of the university faculty and staff union — the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) — and its resources. The PSC leadership has repeatedly argued against work actions or strikes to defeat these layoffs, choosing instead to bargain behind closed doors and lobby politicians at City Hall and in Albany. At the last delegate assembly meeting of the union, the question of a strike was brought up several times by delegates, and the union leadership’s response was that such actions would be illegal and therefore could not be considered. Such unwillingness to challenge the status quo, such deference to the closed-door negotiating process, over which they have full control, shows both the weakness and undemocratic nature of even so-called progressive unions. 

Although currently small, this grade strike shows the ability of the rank and file to take action even when the labor bureaucracy cannot. Such actions are the only way to build the kinds of class struggle unions that working people will need to survive this crisis. As such, Left Voice stands in solidarity with all striking workers and students at CUNY who are fighting to defend their jobs, eliminate tuition, create full parity between part-time and full-time faculty, and put an end to the decades of cuts to the university.

Facebook Twitter Share

James Dennis Hoff

James Dennis Hoff is a writer, educator, labor activist, and member of the Left Voice editorial board. He teaches at The City University of New York.

Twitter

Labor Movement

A banner reads "Real Wages Or We Strike" at a rally for CUNY, which is experiencing cuts from Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul.

CUNY Faculty and Staff Have Gone One Year Without a Contract — It’s Time to Strike

CUNY workers have been without a new contract for a full year and the university has yet to make any economic offers. It's time to take action.

Olivia Wood

February 29, 2024
Florida governor Ron DeSantis stands at a podium that reds "Higher Education Reform"

U.S. Higher Education Is Being Gutted, but We Can Fight Back

Across the United States, higher education is being gutted through program eliminations and budget cuts. We must prepare to fight these attacks with everything we have.

Olivia Wood

February 28, 2024
CUNY workers at a demonstration hold a banner that reads "STRIKE TO SAVE CUNY."

CUNY Workers Launch New Strike Campaign

As Governor Hochul proposes another $528 million in cuts, workers at the City University of New York are fighting back.

Olivia Wood

February 12, 2024
With the U.S Capitol in the background, demonstrators rally during the March on Washington for Gaza at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

AFL-CIO’s Ceasefire Call Shows Power of the Movement for Palestine

The AFL-CIO has called for a ceasefire in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. The labor movement must go further for Palestinian liberation and break with the bipartisan regime.

Otto Fors

February 11, 2024

MOST RECENT

Black UAW workers, a black-and-white image, holding signs that say "UAW ON STRIKE."

To Achieve Black Liberation, Class Independence Is Key

A united, working-class party fighting oppression is our only hope for Black liberation.

Tristan Taylor

February 29, 2024
Aaron Bushnell, who self-immolated in protest of the genocide in Palestine.

Aaron Bushnell’s Cry of Despair in the Face of Genocide

The media and international community was profoundly affected by the self-immolation of U.S. soldier Aaron Bushnell in protest against the genocide in Gaza. His death and desperate act of protest starkly shows the cruelty and brutality of U.S. Imperialism and Zionism.

Enzo Tresso

February 28, 2024

Berlinale: Filmmakers Say What the Rest of the World is Saying

At the Berlinale film festival, Israeli and Palestinian filmmakers called for equality and peace. German politicians want to ban such hateful talk.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 28, 2024

The U.S. is Putting Journalism on Trial: Interview with Kevin Gosztola

Left Voice spoke with journalist Kevin Gosztola about the political nature behind the trial of Julian Assange, the threat that extradition poses to international press freedom, and how the Biden administration has advanced other attacks on press freedom.

Samuel Karlin

February 28, 2024