Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pathways Summary: Speed up, Pay Cuts


Dear fellow adjuncts,
Last night, an adjunct from Hunter went to the emergency meeting called by the PSC* of English faculty to try to figure out what's up with Pathways. Management tries to keep us from fighting back by either withholding information, or making it confusing and contradictory. What's clear about Pathways is that it is just makes our working conditions worse. But even if Pathways is defeated, there is nothing to stop our hours from being cut, our class sizes from being overloaded, and so forth.

Here is our summary of the meeting and its implications for adjuncts:
  • The amount of adjuncts is 150-200% that of full time faculty in most community college English departments.
  • Pathways proposes a cut in hours, which especially effects adjuncts, who are paid by our classroom hours (as opposed to full time faculty who are paid the same annual salary guaranteed year after year).
  • Full time faculty are protected from being fired, while adjuncts are not protected from non-reappointment.
  • Pathways will result in a speed-up in English; we will be teaching the same material in less time. Other departments will also experience speed up and be expected to make up for the education in writing lost from Comp 101.  
  • Adjuncts need to take matters into our own hands. This is an enormous threat that is made possible only because of our already precarious and underpaid working conditions.  Pathways is a huge problem, but its only one expression of the increasing exploitation we face every day in oversize classes, no job security, and little to no resources. 
  • As individuals, we can do next to nothing, but as 70% of the workforce, the university cannot run without our labor.
A more detailed summary follows:
1. Who's teaching at CUNY? According to the English Department faculty who came to the meeting (there were very few adjuncts present), in the community colleges adjuncts make up well over 70% of most departments, and most of the composition classes (those that are being cut, see next item for details) are taught by adjuncts.
The breakdown is as follows:
Laguardia: 63 full time, over 90 adjuncts
Queens: 45 full time, over 100 adjuncts
BMCC: 60 full time, over 100 adjuncts
QCC: 39 Full time, 50-60 adjuncts
BCC: 30 full time, 82 adjuncts
CSI: 38 full time, 109 adjunct
2. What is the Pathways Proposal? As far as anyone can tell, Pathways is an austerity plan (which, to be clear, specifically impacts  academic workers—as adjuncts and as future workers in the form of students) put in place by CUNY central administration. Right now it exists as a proposal that presidents and provosts of the colleges can adopt or not. English has been the first test case, it seems, for this plan. In this case, CUNY Central is trying to change 4 credit composition classes to 3 credits. In some cases, this is 3-credits with one weekly office hour, so the rate of pay stays at 4 hours. In other cases, they have cut the credit and the hour. They see the “3+1” plan as a compromise from 3 credits/3 hours that was initially proposed.  In the case of 3 credits/4 hours, the 4th hour is understood by management to not be protected in our contract, so basically it is likely they are preparing to get rid of it.  As if this wasn't offensive enough, the response from administration for adjuncts losing pay is "well, they are lucky because now they could teach 3 classes and get more hours". This is clearly a poorly executed manipulation, seeing as this will not only add more work in less time, but also that we have to beg for 2 classes.  Another contradiction is that faculty are supposed to teach their students in that office hour, but adjuncts and full time faculty alike are overloaded per office, if they even have one.

3. There are three main issues for adjuncts in this plan:
a) The cutting of an hour is a 1/4 diminishing in semester wages because we're paid by classroom hour.  That's a lot of money.
b) This creates a total speed up in English, but also in other departments.  For English, its a speed up in the sense that they have to teach the same material in a shorter amount of time for less pay to more students.  For other departments, one of the admins plans for Pathways is that "other courses can take on the work of composition".  So while the humanities and social sciences are already being sped up with more students, we are also responsible for teaching people to write (and most of our students struggle with this anyway).
c) Cutting of courses means cutting of classes, and with adjuncts teaching most of these courses, no one is going to fight to save them but us.

4. What is the union's position: in short, not much.  They are "encouraging faculty to stand together", but they see this primarily as a curriculum/student issue.  B Bowen (the president) said over and over again how we have to protect our students, but barely mentioned once that this is a serious WORKER's issue.  We feel this is just reinforcement that the PSC is just merely a professional club for tenured faculty, while adjuncts pay a huge amount of the dues. While citing favorably the success of the Chicago Teacher's Strike, she said striking is already off the table for the PSC leadership, who are not facing the threats to their jobs, the speed up and overwork, and below-living wage conditions as adjuncts.

5. Adjuncts and retaliation: Most peope have heard by now that part of the retalitation against QCC refusing to accept the cuts is that the school has said they will not reappoint adjuncts, and at the other colleges adjuncts are being told they won't be reappointed.  The irony is, adjuncts can't vote on the curriculum committees that are responsible for rejecting Pathways.  So tenured faculty get protected regardless, junior faculty theoretically get protected under the contract and labor law (concerted organizing effort) but adjuncts get nothing, and on top of it have no "say" in how things go down.  Also, apparently adjuncts, we were told, are "legally" required to be invited to faculty meetings, but many of us have been told that we are not invited.  An additional interesting thing related to Hunter is that that a Faculty from QCC said he thinks appeared to be an issue as much at senior colleges because its almost all adjuncts teaching the affected courses, while at the community colleges its both full-time and adjunct.

Conclusions: Pathways is only possible because there are so many adjuncts who are isolated in our labor. As individuals, especially with no control over the curriculum, and as the ones who teach the classes being cut, we have very little power. At the same time, as the ones who teach the most basic courses at both the community and senior colleges, we have an enormous amount of power. Its clear the union is not even attempting to fight for the jobs or hours threatened by Pathways unless its fulltime faculty positions. But its also clear that the issues embodied in Pathways are not limited to the policy itself: instead, it brings into clear relief the conditions we face everyday: no long term contracts, pay by the hour that does not reflect the real work we do, oversize classrooms, no office space. Adjuncts need to take matters into our own hands. If management wants to treat us like we do not matter, we should show them what would happen if we refused to teach and submit grades. With adjuncts teaching over 70% of classes, the University would have a real crisis, and be forced to meet us on our terms.

*PSC is technically the “union” that Adjuncts are a part of. In other words, PSC (the Proffesional Staff Congress) holds a collective bargaining agreement with CUNY (all campuses) that all adjuncts, full time faculty, and higher education officers (HEOs) are eligible to be members of. Our union has automatic dues check off, which means even if you choose not to participate, you still pay dues automatically from your paycheck, and you are also still protected by the contract, but you cannot vote or otherwise take part. The union is part of the AFT, which is part of AFL-CIO. Some unions have locals, and all members of the union go to local meetings and can vote. In PSC, only delegates, who are elected by chapters, can vote, and meetings are not open to the general membership very often. While adjuncts are technically protected under our CBA, there are a lot of things that we are not protected from—like being fired, having hours cut, and having our workload increased. Historically, even though adjuncts make up a large majority of the bargaining unit, we have very little ability to participate in the union because of its structure. It acts more like a professional club, putting out statements on the conditions of exploited workers all over the world, but not representing and barely recognizing its own exploited majority. The union furthermore is “bound” by the Taylor law, which means public workers cannot “legally” strike. However, this problem is easily overcome when a majority of workers take action. The structure of the PSC however is such that workers are considered as individuals, with individual problems, even when the same things affect all of us. This means they rely on legalistic measures to protect one worker at a time, which rarely, if ever, works.

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