The Professional Staff Congress (PSC) staged a demonstration and rally on the first day of Spring Semester classes to protest what they believed are unsafe and unfair working conditions at several CUNY institutions. The rally was held simultaneously at two CUNY locations; Medgar Evers College and Bronx Community College (BCC), with organizers passing out 1,000 N95 masks along with sweatshirts and other memorabilia and council members in attendance.
The rally, organized by the PSC Union on Jan. 28, was attended by protesting faculty and staff who alleged that the CUNY system was deliberately endangering students and staff members by allowing in-person instruction to continue in buildings that did not meet sufficient ventilation requirements. The group also alleged that CUNY schools were not providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and had already canceled 10% of classes despite certain classes being necessary for graduating students.
“Many colleges are facing enrollment that is much lower than they anticipated for the spring [semester],” said PSC President and CUNY faculty member, James Davis in an interview with amNewYork Metro. “They overscheduled in-person classes and so they are compensating for that now by canceling low-enrolled classes. This means students have to scramble and may either lose classes or have their path to academic progress impeded.”
Cancellation of classes — especially for specialty classes taught by adjunct faculty members – means that students are unable to get credits for courses they need to take in order to graduate. But this also means that adjunct faculty are at higher risk of losing their jobs due to low or no enrollment in their classes, and also the healthcare benefits negotiated with their CUNY employers. During a global pandemic, losing healthcare and income spells dire situations according to the PSC.
“We are here to encourage every CUNY school President to let classes run, even if they have an enrollment of only five or six students, so that students can maintain their schedules and graduation tracks but also so faculty members can stay on payroll and insured,” said one faculty member attending the rally.
Another point of contention for the group was the allegation of poorly ventilated classrooms, which during an airborne viral pandemic could jeopardize the health of students and professors.
“The union has been reduced to having to file a FOIL request for ventilation data on some of these campuses and Medgar is one where the administration hasn’t responded yet,” said Davis. “It doesn’t really inspire confidence in the safety of these facilities if they’re not willing to offer up ventilation data or even provide it for the FOIL.”
Councilmember Crystal Hudson from District 35 was also at attendance at the event and spoke, encouraging staff and faculty to continue their advocacy for safer schools and better educational opportunities for students.
“The demands are very clear,” said Councilmember Hudson. “We are two years into the pandemic and there’s absolutely no reason why basic workplace safety should still be in question. The pandemic can no longer be used as an excuse, we need to make sure everyone has a safe workplace and we want to see CUNY do the right thing.”