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CUNY Writing Teachers Fight Back against Cuts

At City College, administrators tried to cut the hours of pay for first year writing courses as part of university-wide budget cuts. Writing teachers responded with collective action.

Olivia Wood

April 5, 2023
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City College writing professors sit in a hallway at City College to protest cuts to pay in writing courses.

Last week, writing instructors at the City College of New York received a crushing email: by order of the Provost, their classes would be “worth” fewer workload hours, despite the workload not changing at all. For part-time faculty (also known as adjuncts), this would mean a 20 percent pay cut, or $1,375 less per course. For full-time faculty, it would mean a workload increase of 33 percent with no change in pay. 

This change comes as part of the “college savings plans” mandated by the Chancellor for every school in the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Administrators are claiming this change will bring City College in line with the way things work at other CUNY schools, but an email thread checking in with the other first year writing coordinators of CUNY confirmed that this is false. 

Class sizes in writing classes at City College are already among the highest in the CUNY system (26 for the first required course and 28 for the second), while professional recommendations for sound writing pedagogy state that the ideal number is 15 students per class, with 20 as an absolute maximum. These recommendations also note that regardless of class size, a single writing instructor should not teach more than 60 students at once — otherwise, they will not be able to offer students high quality feedback on their work. Currently, a full time writing instructor at City College teaches an average of 81 students per semester. Under the new proposal, this number would rise to 108. This change would not just place additional burden upon the instructors, but also upon the students — with instructors stretched thinner, each student will receive less individualized instruction and feedback on their writing.

This proposal is one way university employers can implement a speedup. This term comes from factory labor, in which an employer might literally speed up how fast the factory belts move in order to increase productivity per hour. It’s a tactic of profit-maximization in the private sector, and austerity in the public sector, as governments try to provide shoestring services with as little investment as possible. While the official rationale for the cuts is the budget crisis resulting from Covid-19 relief funds running out, CUNY has been trying to cut writing classes in exactly this way for decades, and the budget for next year isn’t even set — both New York State and New York City have yet to finalize a budget. The administration is using “the budget” as an excuse to hollow out public education and the livelihoods of public education workers.

Twelve or so faculty members wearing red union sweatshirts standing and sitting with laptops in a hallway

Tuesday, writing instructors and their allies gathered for a grade-in outside the Dean’s office in protest of the proposed changes. Hundreds of faculty, composition students, and other supporters have also sent emails to the City College Provost and President opposing the cuts. Faculty at City College are unionized with PSC-CUNY, American Federation of Teachers Local 2334. The union and the English department are working on several additional responses to the proposed cuts. As the university continues to cut costs across all of CUNY’s colleges, and Mayor Eric Adams and Governor Kathy Hochul continue to propose budget cuts and tuition increases, workers must be prepared to continue the fight against austerity and the ruling class’s attempts to force the working class to pay for economic and social crises.

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Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

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