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.”
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.”