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Letters to the Editor

Office Work and Healthy Bodies

At the March 13 Delegate Assembly, we learned that the City and municipal unions are talking about the possibility of introducing wellness programs in an attempt to keep health care costs under control. The examples that were shared include smoking cessation programs, exercise programs and incentives for improving key health indicators.

While these programs are worthwhile, they place the blame for health care expenses and the responsibility to change on employees, when, in fact, a growing body of research shows that one of the largest contributors to poor health outcomes is prolonged sitting at work, and that the damage done by sitting for long periods cannot be completely undone with regular exercise.

Many CUNY employees, including many PSC members, have jobs that keep us sitting most of the day. An investment by CUNY in ergonomic, adjustable-height office furniture that allows workers to stand for at least part of the day would result in improved health outcomes for employees and almost certainly save the university money in the long run.

Even better, I’m sure CUNY would find plenty of volunteers for a pilot program to investigate the feasibility of making treadmill desks available to employees who want or need them. A plan to reduce prolonged sitting should be part of any conversation between labor and management about wellness programs and health care costs.

Michele Doney
John Jay College

Equity in teaching load?

I understand that CUNY Central views community college professors as second-class citizens when it comes to teaching loads, though we are required to do research and publish papers in peer-reviewed journals. I understand that professors at the four-year colleges will be most interested in reducing their own teaching loads. What I don’t understand is why my union is more interested in promoting a reduction in four-year teaching loads than in parity across the board! PSC has called for “contractual teaching load requirements to be reduced CUNY-wide,” thereby continuing to uphold the divisive status quo, rather than striving to represent all of its members equitably.

As an academic committed both to teaching and to research, because I am teaching at a community college, my research time is mostly relegated to the summer. Teaching a 4-3 teaching load “makes it hard to sustain research or give students the individual attention they deserve,” to quote a faculty member at John Jay in a Clarion article a year ago. Do community college students deserve less individual attention? Yet, their professors carry a 5-4 teaching load!

How can my union advocate for a course load reduction from 4-3 at four year colleges, “to support both research and faculty activities aimed at improved student retention and graduation rates,” (same article) and then expect community college faculty to be grateful that the very same union is advocating for us a course load of 4-4? Should community college faculty not be concerned with improved student retention and graduation rates?

I feel that PSC has abandoned the community colleges on the issue of teaching load.

Margaret Dean

PSC President Barbara Bowen responds: Thank you for your letter, Margaret; I have heard your concern at many community colleges. Yes, reducing the contractual teaching load for full-time faculty is an urgent priority, and no, the union has not abandoned community colleges. The real problem is that CUNY is funded as a teaching institution, but attracts – and expects faculty to perform as – research faculty.

The PSC officers and bargaining team are aware of the increase in research demands at community colleges. There are similar increased demands at four-year colleges, where the need for a more manageable teaching load is different but equally urgent. By arguing for a reduction in the teaching load at community colleges, the PSC is taking a strong stand for the special character of community colleges at CUNY, whose faculty are part of a research university faculty – something found almost nowhere else. The national average for community college teaching loads is above the load at CUNY, but CUNY community colleges have a much higher than average percentage of PhDs and much higher research expectations.

Winning any reduction in the teaching load through contract negotiations will be extraordinarily difficult, in part because the economic cost is high. Our best chance of success is in taking a united position that all CUNY faculty need a teaching load that allows us to do the work we came here to do for our students, our colleges and our academic fields.