As of Fall 2014, the teaching load for full-time faculty at the New York College of Technology will, for the first time, be the same as the annual teaching load of their peers at other senior colleges. Under the agreement reached by PSC and CUNY, the course load for full-timers at City Tech will be reduced from 24 hours to 21 hours per year. This marks the final step in eliminating an inequity whose origins go back more than three decades. The accord came after a sustained organizing campaign by the City Tech chapter.
The agreement was signed by PSC President Barbara Bowen and Interim Chancellor William Kelly at the PSC office on the morning of September 26. That afternoon Bowen, PSC First Vice President Steve London and City Tech President Russell Hotzler joined a festive meeting of City Tech’s PSC chapter that drew 120 faculty members.
“We fought for this for so long,” said Bob Cermele, chair of the union chapter and a professor of mathematics. “People felt like second-class citizens in their own university, and that’s no longer the case.”
“Everybody wins with this agreement,” said Bowen. “The administration, the faculty and, above all, the students. Nothing matters more in college than giving students individual time with professors – and that’s what the agreement will provide.”
Bowen praised Kelly for responding to the union’s initiative and “moving quickly and decisively” to make the agreement happen after he became Interim Chancellor on July 1. She also saluted City Tech President Hotzler for his commitment to moving the agreement forward.
“We got there because you got us there,” Hotzler told the audience at the union chapter meeting. He lauded the faculty for scholarship and teaching that have boosted City Tech’s research profile and made it the largest public four-year college of technology in the Northeast, attracting more than 16,000 students.
For long-time faculty members like Cermele, who has taught at City Tech since 1972, the change was especially satisfying. “I’m still numb,” he told Clarion. “It will eventually sink in. We’ve been working on this a long time, and it’s been a heavy lift.”
“This is a critical step in making us the kind of school we want to be – one that integrates scholarship and teaching,” said Aaron Barlow, an associate professor of English.
Founded as a community college in 1947, City Tech became a senior college in 1980. The full-time faculty teaching load, however, remained at 27 hours – the standard for CUNY community college faculty. The PSC made reducing City Tech’s teaching load a priority in contract talks starting in 2000. In consecutive collective bargaining agreements reached in 2002 and 2006, the City Tech teaching load was reduced to 26 and then 24 hours.
The campaign for teaching-load equity gained force at the local level in recent years, propelled by the large cohort of new City Tech faculty hired in the past decade under Hotzler. These faculty members have seen their scholarship flourish, in part due to the junior faculty reassigned time that the union won CUNY-wide. But, upon receiving tenure, they found themselves straining to sustain their teaching and meet the scholarly expectations of a four-year college under a 24-hour teaching load.
“What gets sacrificed is health and not quite doing the job you would like to do,” said Carole Harris, an assistant professor of English. “I wrote three books in five years while I was on the tenure clock and I want to do three more books in the next five years,” added Associate Professor of Human Services Ben Shepard. “But now I’ve got a bottleneck. You need time to do that fifth edit.”
Such factors are key reasons the PSC has identified teaching load as a key area for change at CUNY (see Clarion, August 2012). “Workload reduction is something where everybody wins,” said Cermele, who expressed support for also reducing the teaching load of community college faculty. “If our teaching load is bad at 24 hours, then theirs is worse at 27 hours per year,” noted Cermele, who is a member of the PSC contract bargaining team that put forward a demand to CUNY that the community college course load be reduced to 24 hours. At one point, members of the City Tech chapter dramatized their call for equity by holding a bake sale on campus, in which they sold cookies for a symbolic 21 cents apiece. “This gave us an opportunity to talk to our students,” said Costas Panayotakis, an associate professor of sociology. “It made the administration uncomfortable.”
In January 2012, the chapter began a petition campaign to highlight the extent of faculty anger with the 24-hour teaching load. Harris, who spearheaded the petition effort, and other members of the chapter’s executive committee worked with teams of four and fanned out through the college’s 30 departments, gathering signatures while discussing union issues. By the end of the semester, the petitioners had gathered signatures from 350 of the college’s roughly 400 full-time faculty members.
“It brought us together. I got to know people in so many other departments,” said Harris, who called the petition campaign “a testament to the power of conversation.”
More Time for Students
At the end of the Spring 2012 semester, the City Tech chapter executive committee presented the petition results in a labor-management meeting with President Hotzler that was also attended by Bowen and London. Several faculty members offered testimonials about why they felt so strongly about City Tech’s achieving course-load equity. By the end of the meeting, Hotzler had committed to seeking the additional funds in the college budget to enable the change.
The final decision rested with the CUNY central administration, which had in the past failed to sanction the change or provide the required funds. Bowen reinforced the chapter’s efforts by discussing the importance of the change with CUNY management, and Interim Chancellor Kelly made the decision to say yes. Final details of the agreement were negotiated in September.
For chapter activists, the lesson from their long campaign was clear.
“The only way we get what we want is if we push,” said Shepard who urged all PSC members to bring the same spirit to building a successful contract campaign in 2014: “If we don’t push, we won’t get anything.”
“Organizing and bringing pressure are what gets results,” agreed Panayotakis. “And the big winners are our students who will now be able to have more time with their professors.”