Getting CUNY History Right
I write to express my appreciation for Shomial Ahmad’s first-rate piece of investigative journalism in the March Clarion on student activism at City College in the 1960s. Not only did she uncover a vital CCNY link to the historic Selma, Alabama, march in 1965 (including the wonderful photographic work of Stephen Somerstein), but she also placed the article correctly in the complicated context of City College in 1965. City’s student body was overwhelmingly white (by one estimate 99%), while its campus was situated in the midst of Harlem’s African-American and Puerto Rican communities that barely had access. Ahmad’s work reminds us of how important it is to have a clear-eyed understanding of CUNY’s actual history unclouded by overly romanticized visions of past political glories. Kudos for a fine piece of journalism and historical analysis.
Stephen Brier, Co-Director
CUNY Digital History Archive
We had a good turnout for the March 31 contract demonstration and everyone was very energized and enthusiastic. I was glad to learn that we were more than street theater – we gave out nearly 1,000 leaflets explaining our campaign to passersby. We’ve had some radio and print ads as well, but I don’t think we have gone nearly far enough in telling the community what is at stake here. In addition to wearing contract T-shirts to class [editor’s note: see contract article], we should involve students and their parents in our struggle by having ads in more languages than English, and in the ethnic and neighborhood newspapers.
In addition, our fight for a fair contract is one that involves the whole labor movement. I saw representatives from DC 37 and ACT-UAW 7902 (The New School) at our march, but we should reach out for support from the other unions in New York City, especially those whose members work at CUNY, like carpenters, electricians, cafeteria workers and others. The PSC is not just fighting for the faculty, but for the survival of the institution of public higher education in New York City.
On Pensions: Responsible to Whom?
PSC members may have been reading recently about the latest attempt by the US Department of Labor to require investment professionals who are advising on individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to put their clients’ interests above their own – to assume a fiduciary duty to their client. The concern is that currently these advisors might recommend investments that enrich the advisors more than the advisees. It is estimated that the lack of such consumer protections costs IRA investors up to 1% of their assets per year.
Those of us in CUNY’s Optional Retirement Program might be forgiven for assuming that the wealth management advisors at TIAA-CREF – with its long and honorable history of providing secure retirements for academics – do have such a fiduciary responsibility to their clients, but they would be mistaken. The TIAA wealth management advisors must make sure that “transactions are appropriate and suitable for your financial needs,” but their annual bonus is based partly on how successful they are in “gathering, retaining and consolidating client assets” (from the TIAA Advice and Planning Services Disclosure Brochure). It is up to you to make sure that retirement advice is in your best interest. Perhaps our union, or NYSUT, or the AAUP could comment on the proposed rule and try to get advisors at all institutions managing retirement funds to assume a fiduciary duty.
John Jay College
My mother, Kathleen (“Kay”) Kier, who retired in 2010 as an associate professor of American literature at Queens College, died at age 80 on February 25. Kay was awarded tenure at CUNY in 1990 after a protracted, contentious fight on her behalf by the Professional Staff Congress. She was eternally grateful to the PSC. When she was denied tenure, she was crushed. When the union contacted her and urged her to let them fight for her, it restored her spirit. And when the PSC won the case, and Kay was awarded tenure by a select faculty committee, she literally wept tears of joy.
A Queens College alumna, Kay served on the faculty of the English department of Queens College for more than 30 years until her retirement in 2010. She was a very popular professor and supported the College’s Kay Kier Prize for an essay related to Herman Melville.
I’m writing to thank the PSC on behalf of Kay’s whole family for its action in support of her professional rights: she really saw it as the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her.
A Harmful Decision
For many, many years, students at CUNY have been able to call on Ron McGuire to support them in their court battles. After a long struggle in the case of Husain vs. Springer, in which students sued the College of Staten Island for violating their First Amendment rights, the students won a series of decisions that set five First Amendment precedents. Mr. McGuire worked on the case for over 3,000 hours and requested payment for that time. CUNY said he should be paid for less than a third of the total, and the court awarded him barely one-twelfth of the full amount. This completely disregards the time and energy McGuire gave to the defense of CUNY students. Something is wrong here.
This unfair decision sends a message to the legal profession and to the larger population that is chilling in more than one respect. Not only will lawyers think many times before defending students in the future, but students may feel pressured to confine their protests to those actions that will not need a lawyer.
This is an anti-democratic message that seems to fly in the face of what we teach our students as members of a democratic society. Mr. McGuire deserves a hearing and he deserves to be paid fairly for the work he has done on our students’ behalf. An amicus brief is being filed to support McGuire’s appeal by a committee of civil rights attorneys, and I invite CUNY colleagues to join me and others in signing on to it. (Those interested can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) A separate amicus brief will be filed by the Student Press Law Center of Washington, DC.
City College (emerita)