CUNY Faculty Disrupt Board of Trustees Meeting Demanding New Contract

Union members flooded the Board of Trustees meeting. After disrupting the meeting, the protesters were escorted out of the auditorium. Credit: Jean Brannum

By Jean Brannum |

Professors, CUNY staff, and students disrupted a Board of Trustees meeting demanding a new union contract, better job security, and liveable wages at Bronx Community College on May 20. 

“We are upset because CUNY management has come to the table with an economic offer that fails to keep pace with the rate of inflation and the increased cost of living in New York City,” Davis said. “Many of our members cannot afford to live where we work”

Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents CUNY professors, waited outside the board meeting at 4 pm to protest drastic budget cuts and changes that would make adjunct faculty’s jobs less secure. At 6 pm, the protesters flooded the empty auditorium. Members of the public were allowed to sit in on the meeting, but not permitted to make public comments. General board meeting rules state that disrupters will be given a proper warning and, if they continue, asked to leave, and subject to disciplinary action or sanctions.

After waiting for the meeting to resume around 6:45 pm, Union President James Davis stood up and read a letter from the union. After Chairperson William Thompson Jr. told Davis numerous times to be quiet and tried to carry on with the meeting, he ordered that the room be cleared. 

“We are fed up with the pace of the contract negotiation. We need real raises. We need job security, and we need a contract,” Davis said to the board. 

Barbara Bowen, a CUNY professor, leads a chant. PSC Members gathered outside the entrance to Bronx Community College and waited until the Board of Trustees allowed the public inside. Credit: Jean Brannum

Davis said that since the union has negotiated contracts in a formal manner numerous times, he now wants to show the board what union members need in a “visceral” way. 

The protesters chanted as campus security escorted them out of the building and gathered just outside to continue chanting. Eventually, campus security told the protesters to leave saying they were disturbing students who were preparing for final exams. The protesters left campus around 7 pm. 

One of the main pillars of the protest was CUNY’s proposal to change the job security rules for adjunct professors. As part of a pilot program that expires at the end of the 2024 academic year, an adjunct can receive a three-year contract after teaching a course for five years. Now CUNY wants to extend the time to get a contract to twelve years for a two-year contract. Davis said that 3000 members have been able to have health insurance and consistent income due to the current program. 

Elizabeth Hovey, an adjunct from John Jay College, expressed her anger at the CUNY administration for the significant budget cuts and discussed how they have affected the students. Hovey said that the John Jay Administration was forced to cut $10 million overall, which resulted in the cutting of 400 class sections. 

The board meeting was originally scheduled to be at the CUNY central campus in Murray Hill in Manhattan, but the board announced that the meeting would instead take place in the Bronx at the end of the day on Friday. Union members believe that the board was hoping to avoid a confrontation with the union after moving the location. 

PSC Members gathered outside the entrance to Bronx Community College and waited until the Board of Trustees allowed the public inside. Credit: Jean Brannum

The union has previously accused the board of moving meetings to dodge discussion about the contract. On May 9, CUNY alerted everyone that the board hearing scheduled for May 13 would be remote instead of in person. David Gerwin, a professor at Queens College, wrote a testimony for the board saying the Zoom format violated New York State’s Open Meetings Law. He also condemned the format because speakers are in the “waiting room” until it is their time to speak and cannot watch the rest of the hearing. 

“We are out here to send a strong message to the Board of Trustees. They can run, but they can’t hide,” one of the protesters said. 

A CUNY spokesperson sent the Queens Ledger a statement saying that the board meeting was moved to increase capacity for spectators. The conference room at the central office, the original meeting location, had a smaller capacity.

Some of the faculty and students, including members of the CUNY International Club, protested against the police response to the Pro-Palestinian protests. While not condemning the protesters, union Communications Director Fran Clark said that it was not the purpose of the union’s protest today and that they do not speak for the union. 

Union staff have worked without a contract for at least fifteen months. Davis said that the union will continue to discuss the contract with the CUNY administration. 


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