I am an adjunct professor at a CUNY college and I love being part-time. I don't have to get swept up in the politics. All I do is come in, teach my classes, and go. I have my day business as a medical expert and all I want from CUNY is the stability of a little income coming in at regular basis, just in case there are gaps in my business income.
And when I say little, I do mean little. I last worked adjunct for CUNY in 1996. And my pay was substantially the same. I was shocked. I expected that the pay had doubled in 20 years. But it had not. CUNY used to pay adjunct the best salaries at that time. Now all they can say it, "We're not the worst."
But the thing I love about CUNY: I have a union. The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) now accepts adjuncts as members, which was not so true in 1996. This is mostly a bow to realpolitik: Over half the teaching faculty at CUNY is now adjunct. So if they didn't take in adjuncts, they would diminish as a union. And I love having a union. A union collectively bargains on behalf of ALL of its members for better wages and benefits. A union protects its members when they complain of harassment and unfair treatment. A union does not say to its members, "No one else complains about this." Instead, they investigate the charges. I couldn't say that at Touro. At Touro, when I asked for a raise, I was harassed and told, "No one gets that kind of money here." Well, I don't know. Salaries are rather hush-hush. It is whispered that the men make over 25% more than the women do. I tried to see what could be done with these allegations, but the state told me that the only way I could find out was to sue them: NYS has no way of making them open their books, though sexual discrimination in pay is illegal. And I know that the women of Touro will never back me in an actual class action lawsuit to force the school to address these issues. So any pay raises are given based on personal relationships, not academic merit.
Even better, the PSC's contract with CUNY allows adjuncts to receive health insurance after three semesters. As of today, I now receive comprehensive health care with minimal co-pays and very minimal monthly payments. Happiest day of my life since Trump took office.
So when the PSC holds protest marches, I'm there with bells on. CUNY adjuncts have been working without a contract for some time. We are asking for a bump in pay to $7000/course. We are asking to be treated as the professionals we are. We are not scruffy graduate students. Many of us, are as am I, already holders of doctoral degrees. Many of us are, as am I, doing this to ensure continuity of income, not as a whole income. However, there are the stereotyped CUNY adjuncts who run around from campus to campus, like lab rats negotiating a labryinth, eking out their entire income here. And, in doing so, earn less than $40,000/year. This entails probably working 14 hour days. Nonetheless, we all deserve to make a respectable salary for our endeavors. CUNY should not base its employment model on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Fittingly, the protest march started at the Stock Exchange, then wend its way to Wall and Water Street, near the tower offices of CUNY Trustee Bill Thompson. This scenic background sported an uninterrupted view of both the FDR and the East River. It is also the former site of the NY Slave Market (1711-1762). Speakers made the point that Wall Street profits soared to over $25 billion dollars this past year. CUNY's entire budget is $3Billion. Neither the state nor the city is paying its fair share to enable CUNY to thrive. Instead, they are demanding that CUNY cannibalize itself from within. Cannibalization means that research labs cannot conduct cutting edge research. It means that routine maintenance of classroom computers, classroom furniture, and campus libraries goes wanting. It also means that technicians and adjuncts continue to be inadequately paid. Tuition increases do not go to professional salaries or even basic maintenance.
Did Mr. Thompson hear us? Doubtful. No one from his office even came downstairs to greet us or offer sympathy. We had each other. We had our cause. And we have little anticipation of success. We have no sticks to make them fear us. We are not going to strike. We are not going to commit violence. We are not going to stage sit-ins of their private offices. There is no impetus for them to change. Change only comes when their present is rendered uncomfortable. And their present is golden. Billions for profit, not one cent to educational investments.