By Maya H.
When hundreds of Professional Staff Congress (PSC) members marched on Wall Street last month, protesting the culture of austerity that keeps banks rich and the City University of New York poor, their rallying cry was “7K.”
The PSC represents some 30,000 faculty and staff who have been working for the last 11 months without a contract at the City University of New York (CUNY). A central demand in PSC’s contract negotiations with CUNY management is to raise adjunct pay per course to $7,000 from an average $3,000 per course now. With low pay and no job security, adjuncts—many who have PhDs—are barely scraping by.
Rank-and-file members at chapters in CUNY’s community colleges, four-year colleges, professional schools, and graduate center are showing support for adjuncts by passing resolutions in favor of a strike if management doesn’t agree to 7K. This despite public employee strikes being illegal in New York State under the state’s “Taylor Law.”
More than just an economic demand, 7K is a symbol of the value of CUNY, its mostly working-class students (most of them immigrants or people of color), and the working-class as a whole. The third-largest public university in the U.S., CUNY provides an education critical to social mobility in New York. Many of its students would not be able to reap the intellectual and economic benefits of a higher education without CUNY.
Yet CUNY has been shortchanged for decades by the city and the state. As a result, students have been burdened with increasing tuition costs, faculty are expected to work more for less pay and fewer benefits, and more than half of CUNY classes are taught by adjuncts.
Austerity at CUNY reflects the prevailing socioeconomic logic that privileges the few and starves the coffers of public institutions. Thus, the fight for 7K, and indeed the entire contract negotiation process, is about something larger than CUNY alone: It’s about a belief that everyone deserves access to a quality education and a better way of life.
Maya H. is an PhD Candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is an elected delegate representing the Graduate Center in the Professional Staff Congress and a member of DSA.