More than one-third of the roughly 1,000 part-time faculty at Queens College (QC) received no paychecks in the first pay period of the new semester. By the end of the second pay period on October 3, about 100 adjuncts remained unpaid. Throughout this time, the QC administration failed to notify adjuncts of the payroll problems or of existing procedures that allow them to receive a 60% “advance” on unpaid wages.
“I think it’s unconscionable that the administration allowed this to happen and then did not inform unpaid adjuncts of what was happening or take rapid steps to repair it,” said Jonathan Buchsbaum, the PSC Chapter Chair at Queens College.
QC part-timers were supposed to receive their first paychecks on September 19. Within days, Buchsbaum began to hear reports of adjuncts going unpaid. Over the next two weeks, Buchsbaum and Renee Lasher of the PSC’s contract enforcement department pressed top QC administrators for information on the scope and source of the problem.
On October 9, QC Director of Human Resources Oswald Fraser reported to the college’s Personnel and Budget Committee on how many of the school’s adjunct faculty had not received their first paycheck of the semester by the end of the first pay period, September 19, and how many had still not been paid by Oct. 3.
“I was stunned,” said Buchsbaum, who attended the P&B meeting. According to CUNY central administration, about 340 adjuncts were not paid in the first period, while 94 would not receive a paycheck until October 17 – seven weeks after the start of the semester.
QC’s failure to properly pay its adjuncts affected them in a variety of ways. For Cameron Pearson, an adjunct lecturer in Classics, the back-to-back payday failures came as he tried to cover his regular bills and $600 to renew his British wife’s green card, the government document that allows immigrants to live and work legally in the US.
“I was furious that I was being put in this situation,” said Pearson who is teaching two classes this semester and had to borrow money from his sister to get by. “My wife could have been kicked out of the country.” He eventually received a 60% advance on the wages he was owed, after speaking with an administrator. But other unpaid adjuncts never learned that this emergency pay was an option.
When Pearson and two other adjuncts interviewed by Clarion individually sought explanations from Fraser, they were told that the fault lay with their departments. But these adjuncts said that they had checked with their departments, and that the required paperwork had in fact been submitted in advance of the August deadline for the necessary personnel forms.
Pearson said the response from Fraser and top human resources officials was not helpful. “They blamed the problem on other people,” Pearson said. “No one seemed to want to take responsibility.”
Lack of Communication
Buchsbaum told Clarion he learned that a bureaucratic bottleneck developed after an overworked Human Resources employee responsible for approving the personnel forms abruptly quit his job in August. Part-timers were particularly angered by the college’s failure to notify them of the looming problems with meeting payroll or the option of receiving a 60% advance on unpaid salaries.
“They knew beforehand that they weren’t going to pay us, but they just kept quiet,” said Kristine Rosales, an adjunct lecturer in sociology who wasn’t paid in the first pay cycle.
“I try to teach my students that they should let me know if they are going to be late with a paper so we can work something out,” said Arthur Shippee, an adjunct lecturer in English. “I’m surprised that leaders at my own college won’t follow that advice.”
“Virtually all” adjunct personnel forms that were submitted on time were processed in a timely manner by Human Resources, maintained Queens College spokesperson Maria Matteo. She offered no explanation of why the number of unpaid adjuncts was suddenly so high this fall.
“Departments have access to tracking [personnel forms] online,” Matteo added, “which provides them with the ability to identify those who had been processed too late and alert them to contact HR.”
Adjunct pay delay problems have occurred repeatedly at other campuses in the CUNY system. For Rosales, who has been a QC adjunct for six years, it highlights the irrationality of CUNY’s system of constantly rehiring all 13,000 adjuncts as if they were new employees.
“I absolutely believe there should be a seniority system for adjuncts,” she said. “They clearly can’t handle things with the current system.”