CUNY Lays Off Hundreds of Adjunct Professors


Amid the economic and health crisis that came as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, CUNY, the city’s public university system, is laid off hundreds of adjunct professors and lecturers yesterday ahead of budget cuts.

Yesterday was CUNY’s deadline for notifying all the staff they will be firing that they have been laid off, with at least 422 professors who formerly received health insurance from being employed at CUNY losing it and their jobs during a deadly pandemic.

Funding has long been an issue for the country’s largest urban public university system. Just this past winter, students and staff protested a $320 tuition hike that ended up being passed by the CUNY Board of Trustees.

This time around, however, the fight is to keep professors, particularly adjunct professors who work part-time and get paid less per class, employed and with health insurance. was futile.

CUNY shared a list of adjuncts at each of the individual colleges that currently receive health insurance and the number of those that will be losing their insurance due to being fired. The list does not show the total number of adjuncts at each campus, as there are some that do not receive health insurance to begin with.

For example, Manhattan’s Baruch College in Kips Bay had 125 adjuncts with health insurance, but 41 are being laid off, leaving just 84 insured part-timers at the school. 

The university’s staff and faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC)  has been very vocal about the need to retain as much staff as possible, if not all, during the pandemic.

According to a PSC statement, 20% of all CUNY adjuncts with health insurance are facing these layoffs, which implies that the total number of firings and non-reappointments will be much higher if the amount of non-insured adjuncts are factored in.

Additionally, PSC claims that CUNY Central agreed to prioritize adjunct health insurance, but the union does not feel that the university is actually doing so.

“The layoff crisis the union has been anticipating has begun. It is a crisis for all of us, whether we are full-time or part-time, faculty or staff, because it reveals CUNY management’s willingness to treat employees as disposable and to betray the mission of the University,” another PSC statement reads in part. “It is unconscionable that a public university serving the city’s most vulnerable population would jettison its most vulnerable workers in the middle of a pandemic and a recession. The CUNY administration is exploiting the contingent labor system to make what are expected to be deep cuts in the University’s workforce.”

CUNY officials, however, said that the layoffs are necessary due to the budget cuts imposed on the university from the state government. This was also part of the reasoning that CUNY gave when it voted to pass the tuition increase late last year.

It is also important to note that not all of the people losing their income from CUNY are necessarily being fired. Some professors have had their course loads reduced or cut fully, but had not received non-reappointment notices that would effectively remove them from the university.

Part-time faculty are valued members of the CUNY community who make important contributions inside and outside of our classrooms,” a CUNY spokesperson told Kings County Politics. “As is customary, in making reappointment decisions for adjuncts, the University and its colleges relied on the best fiscal information and enrollment projections currently available and endeavored to protect as many jobs as possible. Unfortunately, CUNY is not immune to the challenges and uncertainties engendered by the COVID-19 crisis, and in the absence of federal funding to support New York State and New York City through this crisis, our fiscal outlook is dim and uncertain.” 

“This uncertainty is why we reached out to PSC leadership to seek a third extension to sending appointment letters, but they would not agree to it. As a result, colleges are informing a large number of adjunct professors that their reappointment for the Fall 2020 semester cannot be guaranteed,” they added. “If the federal government acts as it should, and the fiscal outlook improves, many could be re-hired to teach in the fall.​”

PSC is not the only organization that feels that the university is at fault for the mass layoffs ensuing at many of the campuses. Several electeds have also been very vocal about CUNY funding and adjuncts losing their jobs.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes
State Senator Andrew Gounardes

For 422 adjuncts to lose health insurance in the midst of a pandemic is an outrage both for those individuals and the CUNY system as a whole,” State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D- Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park) told Kings County. “It is not an exaggeration to say that our CUNY system, the engine of our City’s social mobility, is facing an existential crisis — both due to Covid and the decades of neglect that came before it. Until we as a city decide we truly value education for all, our CUNY system will continue to struggle. It’s time to fully fund CUNY and show that even or especially in a crisis, we can invest in the next generation.”

Beyond the issue of people losing their incomes and health insurance during a global pandemic and a recession is the fact that CUNY received a total allocation of $236,955,656 from the federal CARES Act which was then split up among the individual colleges.

According to PSC, for a university to get CARES funding, the university must pledge to keep as much staff on payroll as possible.

At least half of each college’s allocation had to go directly toward emergency financial aid for students, with the rest of the money being left to the colleges to use where they see fit, with a potential for use is keeping more staff on payroll.


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