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CUNY Adjuncts Dish Out Demands at “Brunch with Felo”

CUNY Chancellor has devastated student enrollment, faculty jobs with rigid in-person teaching requirement, protesters say from in front of his home.

Jenna Gaudino Feb 14

On Saturday February 5 a group of adjunct professors, Ph.D. students and allies gathered at the Pelham Metro North station in the Bronx before marching through the affluent neighborhood to the home of City University of New York Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez’s. Many carried signs reading, “CUNY adjuncts can’t pay rent! No more layoffs,” “Full public funding to make CUNY tuition free,” and “No class cancellations! No layoffs!” 

The protest was organized by Rank and File Action (RAFA) which dubbed the demonstration a “Brunch with Felo” as Matos Rodriguez is familiarly known to many at CUNY. They were protesting a CUNY-wide mandate imposed by Matos Rodriguez that requires 70 percent of classes to be taught in-person this semester. They say the mandate has devastated student enrollment as many of CUNY’s poor and working class immigrant students come from families that have suffered losses during the pandemic and are reluctant to take in-person classes. This in turn has caused adjunct faculty to lose course assignments when there are not enough students signed up for a class. 

During “brunch,” the 40 or so protesters called on the Chancellor to use federal COVID relief funds to avoid layoffs. They also criticized the broader politics of neoliberal austerity that have prevailed at CUNY for decades. Here is what some of the protesters had to say. Their comments have been edited for length and clarity. 

Joan Beckerman 
Adjunct Professor of American History at Hostos Community College; Member of the Bronx Hostos Action Committee 

They [the administration] have no plan. During this pandemic, it has really been faculty, staff and students trying to figure things out together, but there’s no sense of a plan. The biggest example of that, to me, was last winter. There were students who were allowed to register who were not vaccinated. The CUNY administration tried to keep their money but drop their classes. They were actually trying to profit and make money off of students during a pandemic. Not that I support students being unvaccinated but nothing was clear to the students. That’s a typical example of what you’re seeing at CUNY.

The conversations I’ve had with students are very localized. Students will call and say, “Professor, I don’t have a laptop. Do you know how I can get one?” It’s hard for them to navigate the day-to-day in a system that seems to have no regard for them. The conversations are very much about things that might seem minor but, for students, are actually very major. I would love to see more students here so they can see how the Chancellor lives. We have students who are homeless and unemployed. It’s two different worlds. 

Lawrence Johnson
Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College; Co-Chair of the PSC (Professional Staff Congress) Anti-Racism Committee; Member of the Anti-Racist Coalition at Brooklyn College; Chair of BFS (Black Faculty and Staff) 

I’ll start by saying that the reason I have so many titles is because there’s a tendency to overwork and under-appreciate, but the work must be done.

One of the most contentious things that has been happening at Brooklyn College is the topic of developing an Asian and Asian-American Studies program. We have a large number of Asian students and when it came down to funding, the response was, “Our market research does not show that this is something that will benefit the college.” But we have Asian faculty and students who are very concerned that, when the discourse of racism is brought up, they are invisible. An Asian and Asian-American Studies program would help that drastically. And they aren’t the only people who feel invisible. You’re talking about representation in our curriculum and in our community. It comes down to the question of what the market research says as opposed to what the actual need is. Market research reduces things to dollars and cents. 

Flerzile Rose Kenya
Dietetics and Nutrition student at Bronx Community College 

I am a student and we have demands that are not being met. The library hours are so unfair. Not every student has a quiet place to study, and the library helps people like me. The library closes at 5 p.m. and isn’t even open on the weekends. After class I stay in the library sometimes to do my homework and use the computers to do my assignments. But now I have classes that end at 5 p.m., and I have nowhere to go. I have to go straight home, to a noisy place, to do my homework. This is so unfair. I know a lot of students who couldn’t be here today but this is our battle to fight. 

Rebecca Smart 
Adjunct Lecturer of Psychology at BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College) and Baruch College; Member of RAFA

The overall austerity funding of CUNY affects everything. I tell my students that my working conditions are the same as their learning conditions and, compared to a full-timer, I’m grossly underpaid. It’s gotten a little better but it’s still not a livable wage. I basically work for CUNY full time. I teach four classes a semester, plus I teach two classes every summer and I’m on the Academic Senate at BMCC and I work with both chapters on each of the campuses. So CUNY is getting a real bargain out of me because of the labor that I put in. And I don’t get paid fairly for the service work that I do. The committee work and academic work. But I still do it because it’s important. 

I would like to be paid an equal wage for equal work. I would like better conditions on the campuses. My office doesn’t even have ventilation. I would like to see free tuition. That would solve so many of the stressors that my students have. I’d like for CUNY to come up with the funding that these students deserve. They refuse to acknowledge that this underfunding is what is causing the problems. They don’t really seem to care. They don’t have the will to find the money. 

Boyda Johnstone 
Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College; Member of RAFA

I’m really interested in adjunct rights. In my department, all adjuncts who are not on 3-year contracts were fired 2 weeks ago, which was very close to the start of classes. I feel a really strong obligation to try to uplift adjunct voices because a lot of them have vanished or are looking for other jobs or are filing for unemployment or are scrambling to find other sources of income. And they’re losing health insurance. 

A lot of classes were getting canceled if they were low in enrollment. Students clearly wanted online classes but they were being put on waitlists for online classes and the in-person classes were not being filled so the chancellor really held fast to this very arbitrary 70:30 ratio of in-person to online even though the demand wasn’t meeting that. And because of that callous disregard for students’ demands and workers’ demands, a lot of adjuncts were losing their jobs. Adjuncts teach 60% of the classes at CUNY. We know that the chancellor has a complete disregard for what the adjuncts are going through. He is clearly disconnected from what is actually happening on the ground, in the classes and on the campuses. 

Mugni Mirza 
Sociology student at Brooklyn College 

I’m here today standing in solidarity with the CUNY faculty and students for better rights for everyone as a whole, rights such as better PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), better safety protocols, better pay and better mental health counseling. CUNY is not doing anything. Everyone is on edge. You don’t know what’s going to happen. There are a lot of gray areas and uncertainty. The administration doesn’t care at all. They don’t care about setting up our applications to get into schools or the necessities that we need for school. We don’t have any of that and a lot of students have been feeling that chaotic energy. 

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