News Release: PSC Calls on CUNY To Close Campus Buildings and Libraries

Updated: March 18, 2020
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For Immediate Release: Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Contact: Fran Clark, 914-364-8925, fclark@pscmail.org

Faculty Union Calls on CUNY To Close Campus Buildings and Libraries, Shift to Working Remotely

Amid Multiple Confirmed COVID-19 Cases on CUNY Campuses Union Demands CUNY Change Course Immediately and Stop Putting Health at Risk

New York, NY - The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union that represents CUNY’s 30,000 faculty and academic staff, today demanded that CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez immediately close all CUNY offices, libraries and buildings, and shift to working remotely, leaving only campus food pantries open.

Despite the rapid move to social distancing in New York City and CUNY’s shift to online and distance classes last week, many staff and faculty working in college libraries, counseling centers and other offices continue to be required to work on campuses. The work being done by PSC-represented employees can and must be done remotely at all CUNY colleges, the PSC stated.

Multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified among CUNY students, faculty and staff: there are confirmed cases at Brooklyn College, Bronx Community College, Guttman Community College, John Jay College, Lehman College and Queens College. Other CUNY colleges are responding to suspected cases: Borough of Manhattan Community College, City College, College of Staten Island, Bronx Community College, Graduate Center, and York College. The CUNY administration’s refusal to close all college libraries and discontinue in-person training is putting lives at risk.

“PSC members want to work. We want to keep supporting CUNY students and we want students to be able to continue their education. In this time of crisis we can do that through distance technology. Our members should not have to put their lives and the health of the city in danger by being ordered to come to work in a city that is rapidly shutting down,” said Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress.

More than one of the cases of the virus has been identified among the faculty and staff who work in CUNY college libraries, and librarians are outraged that many campus libraries remain open. On March 16, CUNY’s chief librarians wrote to Chancellor Matos Rodríguez:

“We understand better than anyone the critical role that libraries play in teaching and learning at CUNY, from broadband Internet access to desktop computers, laptop loans, and circulating library collections. However, in a public health crisis that relies on all New Yorkers to practice social distancing in order to quell the spread of COVID-19, libraries must play a different role. We are committed to continuing to provide high quality remote research services and access to online research resources. Keeping CUNY students, faculty, and staff away from our physical spaces is the best way to ensure continuity of those services in the coming days and weeks.”

The PSC asserts that the CUNY administration is abusing the term “essential personnel” and using it to require thousands of non-emergency workers to report to campus. Chancellor Matos Rodríguez has left it to individual college presidents to make decisions with life-or-death consequences, and many are continuing to prioritize college operations over public health. A few colleges, however, including Lehman and Brooklyn College, have now closed all campus buildings and found ways for all work to be performed remotely.

“In a public health crisis priorities must shift. It’s past time for the CUNY administration to wake up and take the comprehensive, University-wide action the crisis demands,” said Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress.

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