Queens College Lays Off 26 Faculty Two Weeks Before Spring Semester

Queens College (courtesy @queenscollegeofficial on Instagram)

By Celia Bernhardt and Charlie Finnerty | [email protected]

Administrative leadership at Queens College CUNY informed department chairs and deans Wednesday that they would not reappoint 26 full-time substitute faculty for the spring semester. The decision leaves professors scrambling to fill gaps in course schedules with two weeks until the start of classes.

Media Studies Department Chair Amy Herzog said department chairs and deans were unaware the decision had been made until receiving an email Wednesday morning from Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Patricia Price.

“The [chairs and deans] received an email with this list of substitutes — the list of who was going to go and who was allowed to stay,” Herzog said. “[They] left us, the chairs, the job of calling them to let them know they’ve been let go two weeks before classes begin, without ever having been consulted about other ways we could have saved money.”

Karen Weingarten, an English professor at the college since 2009 and the chapter chair of Queens College Professional Staff Congress (PSC), said that the last-minute decision upended staff’s lives.

“[For] these faculty members, it’s too late to find new classes,” Weingarten said. “They lose their jobs, they lose their health insurance, and chairs are left scrambling to find a way to either staff or run many, many sections. There are hundreds and hundreds of students in these classes that the faculty members are teaching and now won’t be able to teach.”

Mayor Adams’ revised municipal budget this fall cut the public university’s budget by $23 million. Last month, Queens College was among eight CUNY campuses ordered by CUNY’s central administration to produce “enhanced deficit reduction plans” to accommodate those cuts, according to the Daily News.

In a statement on behalf of the college, Associate Director of News Services Maria Matteo confirmed the details of Price’s email and said the college was responding to updated budget requirements released in December.

“The information in the memo circulated by Patricia Price, interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, is accurate and reflective of the challenges in meeting the budgetary target set for Queens College as indicated in the communication to college department chairs,” the statement said. “Queens College had a short period of time in December to submit a savings plan showing mid-year cuts.”

Substitute professors teach a full course load and help to maintain each department’s course offerings when tenured faculty leave the college or are otherwise unavailable.

“The college has long relied on these positions to staff classes when faculty leave,” Weingarten said. “A lot of them hold really critical roles at the college and they are full-time positions. They get all full-time benefits, like health care and pension plans.”

Nora Carr, a professor in the department of European languages and literatures who was affected by the layoffs, taught at Queens College since 2012.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,’ Carr said. “I’ve been teaching at Queens for 11 years and I finally got this position that was a full time position. And yeah, it’s pretty emotional.”

Carr was informed of her termination by a colleague and then confirmed the news with her department chair.

“I haven’t even received official notification yet. I got a text from someone I know in the English department,” Carr said. “Then [the department chair] called me and was like, ‘Yeah, your name is on this list. I’m so sorry.’ But I still haven’t received any official notification or notice of termination from the college.”

Queens College (courtesy @queenscollegeofficial on Instagram)

Herzog said that a substitute professor in her department was scheduled to teach multiple classes required as part of the major. Without that professor returning to campus, she does not know if she will be able to offer those courses.

“Two of those classes were our upper level writing seminars that students need a certain number of to graduate,” Herzog said. “We would very directly be putting our students in danger of not graduating if we have to cancel these classes.”

Price’s email discouraged chairs from hiring additional adjunct professors to take over courses left without an instructor, advocating raising enrollment caps on other classes or using existing faculty instead.  

“Adding additional adjuncts to your teaching roster increases instructional costs, subverting the achievement of our savings target and raising concerns by CUNY that were surfaced in February of 2023,” Price’s email read. “Please avoid this strategy.” 

Herzog, for now, is hoping she might be able to hire back one substitute faculty member as an adjunct professor. 

Weingarten said it is extremely rare that substitute professors are not reappointed in the middle of the academic year, particularly this close to the start of the semester.

“I’ve been teaching at Queens since 2009. People are usually hired in these lines for a whole academic year,” Weingarten said. “The majority of these people signed reappointment letters in the fall, saying that they would be reappointed for the spring, except that their reappointment letters had a clause saying […] that this is liable to financial ability. And of course, now the college is using that clause.”

Herzog echoed that sentiment.

“I’ve been teaching at Queens College for 20 years,” Herzog said. “This is absolutely unprecedented as far as I know.”

Herzog said the decision is a result of budgetary issues that span CUNY management from the state government level to the Queens College campus specifically.

“The chronic underfunding of CUNY has increased under Mayor Adams and Governor Hochul,” Herzog said. “Then there’s CUNY Central, who is issuing these budgetary demands that are coming from people who have no experience in the classroom, and they seem very arbitrary. And then there’s the local management. No other CUNY campus, as far as I know, has made a decision like this that is so completely lacking in humanity and with no transparency and without even consulting the chairs who are left to do the dirty work of firing these people.”

Herzog was required to inform a faculty member of their termination after receiving Price’s email.

“It was the most awful thing I’ve had to do as a Chair, ever,” Herzog said. “To let someone know, on such short notice, that they have no income and no health insurance.”

While budgetary concerns and cuts at CUNY have been well-documented, Carr questioned the efficacy of cutting faculty as a method of alleviating CUNY’s larger financial concerns.

“Obviously, CUNY does need funding, we are in a budget crisis, but this seems like a misapprehension of the problem,” Carr said. “We are educators. A lot of us have been at Queens College for a long time. We know our students, we care about our students, we’re good at what we do. If we want to get the enrollments up, if we want to get the numbers up, we need people like us at the school.”

With two weeks until the start of the spring semester, Carr said the chances of finding another teaching position soon are slim.

“I haven’t even thought— I mean, I have no idea what to do,” Carr said. “I have no idea what to do.”

Queens Firm Named Exclusive Personal Injury Law Firm of the New York Mets

Personal injury and accident law firm Chopra & Nocerino has reached a deal with the New York Mets as the team’s exclusive personal injury law firm. According to partner Sameer Chopra, the new partnership will include brand licensing, advertising and joint event coordinating.

“It’s a partnership where we can service the community together,” Chopra said. “We have similar crowds and obviously we’re servicing the same people.”

Fans can find Chopra & Nocerino advertising material on the stadium walls and LCD screens and look forward to giveaways and promotional events as the Mets look forward to the 2024 season opening in March. Chopra said the firm is excited for the advertising and branding benefits, but the connection between the firm and the franchise is deeper than an ordinary branding deal.

“I think part of what was compelling to them was the fact that I’ve grown up in Long Island. As a kid I went to their games sitting literally in the nosebleed seats,” Chopra said. “Talking to them and saying how I was a fan back in the day, to now come 40 years later and be sitting in their corporate office talking to them about our mom and pop shop that has now become one of the biggest faces in New York for personal injury from their backyard. As a long-term fan it went a long way.”

Chopra said the exclusivity of the deal sets it apart from a typical branding deal to establish a reliable partnership between the two organizations.

“We weren’t just given this. A lot of other companies try to advertise with the Mets but what we wanted was a specific exclusivity deal which essentially creates a partnership where we are the only [personal injury law firm] allowed in that space,” Chopra said. “We can effectively service the community together and those rights show the partnership and willingness on both ends to try and boost each company’s followers and clientele and those things, but yet also service the community the best we can.”

Chopra said his firm had to compete with larger national brands for the exclusive deal but emphasized the importance of Chopra & Nocerino as a local business.

“A lot of these national brands that come in, they advertise or they say things on the radio but they have no connection with the people here in New York. They’ve never been in a courtroom in New York, they’ve never seen a courtroom in New York, yet they come and spend millions and millions of dollars in advertising and essentially lie to people as if they’re the best attorneys in New York when they’ve never practiced here,” Chopra said. “I think that was a very very big factor and we showed the most gratitude for their interest in us because of that. The fact is that they wanted to give a homegrown mom and pop firm, two kids from New York, the opportunity to partner with them instead of a national brand that has no ties to New York.”

Chopra said his firm’s community service history also plays a major role in the partnership. Chopra & Nocerino’s food giveaways have fed thousands of New Yorkers, according to Chopra, and sets their firm apart from similar competitors for its investment in the local community.

“They saw the amount of good deeds and our background, our ethics and our willingness to help the community. There’s really nothing we get out of that, it’s just something we want to do,” Chopra said.

The Woodhaven Beat: Lewis’ of Woodhaven

By Ed Wendell

Over the past few weeks, the windows of GEM Discounts have been plastered with signs announcing their pending closure. The storefront sign has now been removed and the inside is pretty much stripped down to the bare walls and ceilings. The GEM era in Woodhaven has come to an end.

It was a decent store, with good prices and selections but it suffered from Babe Dahlgren Syndrome. Dahlgren was the first baseman who replaced Lou Gehrig when the legendary Yankee first baseman ended his consecutive game streak at 2,130 games.

He wasn’t a bad ballplayer, but he couldn’t come close to the man he replaced, and so it was for GEM 20 years ago this month as the legendary Lewis’ of Woodhaven closed its doors after 70 years in business on Jamaica Avenue.

The doors are closing for GEM Discount, 20 years after they took over the space which the legendary Lewis’ of Woodhaven operated out of for over 70 years. GEM was a good store but suffered from comparisons to its predecessor, something no other store could live up to.

The Lewis story began in the 1920s when Louis Lewis came to the United States and after selling items from a pushcart, he opened a store in Brooklyn. Soon, the family moved to Woodhaven and opened the store at 85th Street, next to a Sunbrite supermarket.

Over time, Lewis’ of Woodhaven expanded into Sunbrite’s space, and a second Lewis’ of Woodhaven was opened on Jamaica Avenue near 91st Street. There never was nor never will be quite another store like Lewis’ of Woodhaven. Most everyone reading this right now can think back to the times they went to Lewis’ looking for the impossible and they had it.

When talking to people about the store you’ll hear them say things like “If Lewis’ didn’t have it, it didn’t exist!” or “If Lewis’ didn’t have it, you didn’t need it!” and those were the unofficial mottos of the store. But on a Lewis’ of Woodhaven business card from back in the 60s was an even more perfect slogan: “We Sell Everything!”

And sell everything they did; you could walk in there any time of year and get any kind of item. And if they didn’t have it on their shelves, they’d have it in a back room somewhere or in their big warehouse right across from their 85th Street store.

A lot of work goes into selling everything. It takes a lot of knowledge of your customers and the Lewis family had that knowledge because they were us. They were residents of Woodhaven; they knew their customers and were friends with the people they serviced. They had been in many of our homes and knew the kinds of supplies we would need.

Here’s one of my Lewis’ of Woodhaven stories as an example. Back in the 1990s, we were in desperate need of a new Mortise Lock for our front door. But the one we had was old-fashioned and a replacement was not easy to get. Home Depot didn’t have any and local locksmiths were charging about 80 bucks for them, and they would take weeks to be delivered!

Jeff and Robbie Lewis, outside the 85th Street location where Louis Lewis first opened in 1933. Lewis’ of Woodhaven had “We Sell Everything!” on their business cards and they lived up to that motto.

We went to Lewis’ (which is where we should have gone in the first place) and we asked Jeff Lewis if they had any and he asked me if I needed a right-handed or left-handed lock. I didn’t know so he gave me one of each and told me to bring back the other one. It cost three dollars and fifty cents.

But besides all the magic of the store itself, Lewis’ of Woodhaven was also special because of the staff and the relationship between the Lewis’ family and those that worked there. The people who worked there were your friends, they were your neighbors. They were a close family and that came across every time you walked through those doors.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a more perfect fit between a business and a community and for 70 years, they supported each other; a marriage made in heaven.

And when the Lewis family finally closed their doors for good in 2004, it was as if Woodhaven had lost a member of the family. Twenty years later and people still vividly remember the store, and everyone who worked there, as fondly as ever.

Simply put, Lewis’ of Woodhaven will never be surpassed or even matched. Those who used to shop there know what I’m talking about. And those who have never had the pleasure of shopping at Lewis’ of Woodhaven can only imagine it.

And no matter how good you imagine it to be, it was even better than that. After all, they sold everything.

The Woodhaven Beat: A Walk Down Forest Parkway

By Ed Wendell

f you ever want a quick walk in Woodhaven that’s packed full of history, Forest Parkway is your best bet. Look around and enjoy the local history on your way to the celebration at the Woodhaven Library, which turns 100 this weekend.

The Woodhaven Library on Forest Parkway will celebrate its 100th anniversary this coming weekend with a celebration on Saturday January 6th. The day kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with “Hero Story Time” sponsored by Councilwoman Joann Ariola followed by Nick the Balloonatic at 1 p.m. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society at 2 p.m. with proclamations by elected officials, raffles and cake at 2:30. At 3 p.m., you’ll be treated to a suite of Dominican music by Berto Reyes and at 4 p.m., the Woodhaven Library will be burying a time capsule.

Forest Parkway is likely the most historic street in Woodhaven. Starting at the T-intersection at Jamaica Avenue, if you look at the top of the northwest corner you’ll see what residents of Woodhaven have seen for well over 100 years, the name Forest Parkway emblazoned on an old building (courtesy of the old Forest Parkway Pharmacy). Anyone passing through Woodhaven on the elevated train will be familiar with that sight.

On the other side of Forest Parkway, right at Jamaica Avenue, there is a monument to the many young soldiers of Woodhaven who lost their lives during World War 2. For many years, the Memorial Day Parade here stopped to pay tribute to these heroes and up until the early 1970s they used to include a 21-gun salute.

Although there hasn’t been a Memorial Day Parade here in Woodhaven for decades, local organizations and the American Legion still hold a ceremony each year in front of the monument, honoring those lost in all wars.

A little further along Forest Parkway is the Post Office and if you stop inside you’ll be treated to a large 80-year old mural by famed Lithuanian artist Ben Shahn that depicts the Bill of Rights and celebrates workers.

Keep walking up Forest Parkway and you’ll see one of the shooting locations for one of the most acclaimed television movies of all time, “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom.”

The 1975 film stars Maureen Stapleton as Bea, a lonely widow who lives on Forest Parkway and runs a small thrift shop on Jamaica Avenue. She begins visiting the Stardust Ballroom (the old Haven Theater in disguise) to go dancing where she meets Al, played by Charles Durning (both were nominated for Emmys).

Those watching the film will be treated to several glimpses of 1970s Woodhaven. Locals will be scratching their heads watching a bus roll down Forest Parkway and stop in front of the Post Office. Of course, there was never a bus line that traveled along Forest Parkway; that was just some creative license taken by the filmmakers.

Directly across the street from our soon-to-be 100 year-old library you’ll find the Betty Smith house, where the novelist famous for writing “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” once lived.

If you continue walking, you’ll reach Park Lane South, at the entrance to Forest Park, where most people assume Forest Parkway ends. But if you look at most maps, Forest Parkway continues a short distance into the park, ending outside the historic 120-year old Golf Clubhouse.

These days, the Golf Clubhouse serves as the main office for Forest Park. If you go inside, you’ll be greeted by an old carousel horse, the sole survivor of the devastating fire which destroyed the original Forest Park Carousel in 1966.

And on either side of that road in the park you’ll find the Woodhaven Memorial Trees, planted in memory of each of the young men who lost their lives in the First World War.  Families used to come here to decorate their loved one’s tree each Memorial Day, a tradition the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has revived.

It may not be the longest road in our community, but Forest Parkway is long in history and remains one of the more beloved and well-known streets in Woodhaven. The Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has erected three different historical markers on Forest Parkway, and co-named a street sign within Forest Park commemorating the Memorial Trees.

If you ever want a quick walk in Woodhaven that’s packed full of history, Forest Parkway is your best bet. Look around and enjoy your historical surroundings of Forest Parkway on your way to the Woodhaven Library’s centennial celebration this weekend!

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