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CUNY Faculty Firings Spark Outrage

Issue 285

Blueprint for austerity? A mass firing at Queens College could be a sign of things to come at the City University of New York.

By Indypendent Staff Feb 16

The firing of 26 full-time faculty at CUNY-Queens College has sparked outrage and concern that an era of deepening austerity could take hold at the City University of New York. 

“A lot of us here are angry. But anger doesn’t actually describe it; I’d go with furious,” said Professor David Gerwin, chair of Queens College’s Department of Education, who spoke at a campus rally on Jan. 25 as students returned for the first day of the spring semester. 

The 26 fired faculty members were lecturers who were slated to teach for the full academic year. Instead, they learned a couple of weeks before the new semester that they had been dismissed. For some, it also meant the loss of their health insurance. 

“Everything was going well. My classes were over-tallied with long wait lists,” said Ash Marinaccio, a lecturer in the Media Studies Department who was let go. 

In Marinaccio’s case, she was subsequently rehired as a part-time adjunct teaching the same classes for less pay and stingier benefits. 

“It was really important to me to be able to finish with my students, some of whom I’ve had for four or five semesters,” Marinaccio said.

Many of the fired professors had to scramble to find work elsewhere. The cancellation of their classes has left students reeling as well as they try to find the courses they need to complete their studies. 

“I came here because Queens College has a very robust arts department and sculpture department. And they’re the only place in Queens where you can do Bronze casting. It’s crazy that the person who was holding that down has been fired,” said Brandon King, a graduate student in the Arts Department at Queens College. 

The cancellation of their classes has left students reeling as well as they try to find the courses they need to complete their studies. 

CUNY encompasses 18 undergraduate colleges and seven graduate schools spread across the five boroughs. Founded in 1849 to serve “the children of the whole people,” CUNY was tuition free until 1976. CUNY is still a relative bargain and is the first rung on the ladder to the middle class for many immigrant and working class students. However, CUNY’s total enrollment plummeted by 17% from roughly 271,000 in 2019–20 to about 226,000 in 2022–23 before seeing a slight uptick in the past year.  

Karen Weingarten, the faculty union representative at Queens College, says a lack of academic advisors and other support staff contributes to the declining enrollment as students drop out before finishing their coursework. 

“CUNY has told the colleges that for every three people who leave or retire, they can only hire one person,” Weingarten told The Indypendent

Listen to Karen Weingarten and Ash Marinaccio on The Indy News Hour.

In 2023, West Virginia University made national headlines when it closed 28 academic departments at its flagship campus. Weingarten’s partner teaches at New Jersey City University which saw a similar situation unfold last year when 97 academic programs were eliminated along with the economics, ESL and physics departments. 

“As we see less and less support for public institutions like CUNY, I worry that a well-rounded higher educational experience is something only a small number of elite students will have,” Weingarten said. 

The eviscerating of both WVU and NJU was carried out with the help of the RPK Group, a consulting firm that specializes in restructuring universities. It lists CUNY as one of its clients. The Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents 30,000 faculty and staff at CUNY, has filed a Freedom of Information request demanding that CUNY hand over all documents pertaining to its relationship with RPK Group. To date, CUNY hasn’t released any information and insists it is not a client of RPK. 

Lane Dibler contributed reporting to this article. 

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