Op-ed | Addressing the ‘two-tiered’ system for CUNY professors

Male college professor gestures during lecture
College campuses have seen a rise in antisemitic activity, writes Leonard Gold.
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I proudly served as an adjunct art history professor at City University of New York Medgar Evers College for 11 years. Then, in June of this year, I was laid off.

I am deeply passionate about teaching and I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to educate thousands of college students in the past decade. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time working at Medgar Evers College, it’s that my commitment to the education and growth of my students is not reflected in the unstable role of an adjunct professor.

From the constant uncertainty on reappointments, to not knowing whether you’ll be given enough courses to pay rent, to feeling like you could be fired any minute — it’s an emotional and stressful rollercoaster.

Now, after more than a decade of employment, I am left without healthcare in the midst of a global pandemic as a result of my abrupt termination. As a second wave of the virus looms, my wife and I fear for what’s to come as my insurance has been ripped away.

Unfortunately my story is commonplace for far too many adjuncts who educate our CUNY students. That’s why it’s so critical we prevent more dedicated adjuncts from ending up like I did.

CUNY has already endured years of disinvestment and it’s getting worse. The state must put a stop to recessionary budget cuts that are endangering the livelihoods of the remaining adjuncts and hurting the education of our students too.

Let me be clear, these current crises are emblematic of long-term disparities at CUNY. It’s a deeply flawed system that deprives qualified professionals the benefits of full and dignified employment like a decent working wage, health insurance and job security.

As an adjunct, this puts you in a situation where you cannot survive alone on just teaching — you must have a second job or gig to cover your living costs. All of my fellow adjuncts know what it’s like when the time and energy that goes into lesson planning, teaching, grading and research goes undervalued and under-appreciated — and still won’t allow you to make ends meet.

To make matters worse, the current state of virtual class sizes is already untenable for students and instructors alike. As the pandemic forced New York City to shut down, CUNY colleges transitioned to what I can only sum up as a chaotic and poorly resourced remote learning experience for students and professors.

Now online class sizes have increased up to 42 students at Medgar Evers, and the situation is getting worse for everyone involved. It’s imperative for CUNY students that the University implement class size limits, especially for online classes.

The CUNY administration must take concrete actions to invest in and support its adjuncts and establish a pathway to much needed job security and benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has painfully exposed the two-tiered system and its consequences – it’s past time for CUNY to do the right thing.