Queens College Professors Stage Protest in Response to Layoffs

Protestors gather outside Kiely Hall. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

By Celia Bernhardt and Charlie Finnerty  | news@queensledger.com

The first day of the spring semester at Queens College saw a crowd of at least 100 picketing outside of Kiely Hall in response to last minute layoffs of over 20 faculty. 

The Jan. 25 rally was organized by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) union after administrative leadership at the college informed department chairs and deans that they would not reappoint over 20 full-time substitute faculty for the spring semester. Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Patricia Price announced the layoffs in an email Jan. 10, leaving department chairs to rewrite course schedules and laid-off faculty to search for new employment just two weeks before the beginning of the semester.

“It’s really outrageous the way the college handled this by not giving people any notice in advance of firing them,” Eric Goldfischer, a lecturer in the urban studies department, said.

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

10 of the substitute faculty affected by the layoffs had pre-existing 3-year contracts as adjuncts and will return to their adjunct roles, according to Kevin Birth, a professor of anthropology and member of PSC executive committee and Maria Matteo, associate director of news services at the college. Birth told the Queens Ledger that in his own department, substitute professors are paid approximately double the amount of adjunct professors who teach the same course load, but clarified that pay varies between departments, courses and individual professors. 

While previous reports indicated that 26 faculty would be affected by layoffs, a written statement from Queens College President Frank Wu last week listed that number as 24. At least one of the 26 substitute faculty members initially laid off was reinstated after negotiations by the economics department and dean of social science, according to Birth.

“They all should have been saved because they were all necessary,” Birth said. 

David Gerwin, professor of social studies education and chair of secondary education and youth services program, said PSC members are hoping to see all laid-off staff reinstated and, more broadly, a change to the austerity that has dominated decision making at Queens College for years in response to budget cuts on the state, city and CUNY Central levels.

“We would like a reversal of the decision,” Gerwin said. “We really want a change — both in Albany and the reversal of [Mayor] Adam’s cuts. But on this campus, to our administration, we want the collaboration with the chairs and academic affairs and other components on campus.”

Protestors gather outside Kiely Hall. Credit: Celia Bernhardt

In the Jan. 10 email, Price tasked department chairs with informing faculty members that their contracts had been terminated. Gerwin said he would have liked for the college to involve department chairs in the decision-making process earlier rather than the decision being passed down by administrative leadership.

“Is it too much to ask for coherent planning?” Gerwin said. “Talk to me December 4th and I can make a plan with you. If you talk to me January 10th then I’m just in crisis. We would like a complete change in transparency and shared governance.”

Alexandra Cohen, a program coordinator in the music department, explained that both recent faculty cuts and an overall practice of canceling classes under a certain level of enrollment makes it difficult for students to get the credits they need.

“Students are having a hard time getting into classes. They see their classes are getting dropped, especially in classes they need to graduate,” Cohen said.

Goldfischer said he’s witnessed his own students going through similar issues. 

“I think we’re undergoing a lot of austerity, which is causing students to be enrolled in really large classes, not getting enough advising support, not getting enough support for student services and the register,” Goldfischer said. “I see the impact of that on my students — that’s why I’m here.”

In an emailed statement, Queens College President Frank Wu said that the college is working to prepare for future budgetary concerns and ensure staff contracts are not subject to unexpected terminations.

“QC is working with CUNY and the state to assure that the next faculty and staff contract will be fully funded,” Wu said. “Advocacy on behalf of the college and the university is vital; we made it a priority, together with college representatives, to meet with legislators and their staff throughout this past year. We will continue to do so throughout the entire budgetary process—there is strength in numbers. ”

David Gerwin speaks at the rally. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Gerwin questioned the efficacy of layoffs as an austerity measure when the college’s ability to maintain financial stability is dependent on enrollment and tuition.

“It’s so wrong. There’s no accounting for what classes we lost in the savings,” Gerwin said. “They tell us that in total, we saved maybe $850,000. Yeah, maybe we did, but I don’t know if that accounts for canceling classes where people are paying tuition. […] It’s not a real accounting for what you save if you don’t take into account the losses of enrollment.”

Queens College was included on a list of campuses ordered by CUNY’s central administration to produce “enhanced deficit reduction plans” to accommodate those cuts in December, according to the Daily News. Gerwin said he was disappointed that Queens College seemed to be hit especially hard by austerity measures, even in comparison to other CUNY campuses included on that list. 

“There’s supposed to be nine campuses on the ‘bad list.’ We know that York is having cuts and we’re having cuts, but somehow the College of Staten Island seems to not have had the cuts or City Tech has not had cuts. So what happened there? What did they know that we don’t? What did their president do that ours didn’t?” Gerwin said. “There are a lot of possible ways to address things and we didn’t get to do any of them. We’re totally reactive.”

Protestors gather outside Kiely Hall. Credit: Charlie Finnerty

Queens College Lays Off 26 Faculty Two Weeks Before Spring Semester

Queens College (courtesy @queenscollegeofficial on Instagram)

By Celia Bernhardt and Charlie Finnerty | news@queensledger.com

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.”

Congresswoman AOC celebrates Halloween and connects with constituents at Queens Night Market

Credit: Charlie Finnerty

By Charlie Finnerty and Celia Bernhardt

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined Halloween festivities at the Queens Night Market in Corona Park Saturday Oct. 28. The congresswoman was a judge in the event’s costume contests, met dozens of community members and sampled food from vendors. After three weeks of chaos in congress following the Republican ousting of Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House, Ocasio-Cortez said she was glad to be back in the district connecting with constituents.

“You’ve got to be where the people are,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “To be able to be back in the community after being stuck in DC for a while, I just want to kiss the ground when I land at LaGuardia. It’s really great to be able to be here, bring folks together and just be a person, hang out, be with our neighbors.”

The Night Market was rained out the preceding four weekends, but visitors enjoyed a bout of good weather on Saturday night — just in time for the Halloween-themed finale to the Market’s season. Competitors in the costume contest vied for prizes including a football signed by Eli Manning, tickets to Forest Hills Stadium events and round trip Delta Airlines flights. After the contest concluded, scores of attendees lined up to greet Ocasio-Cortez.

Events like the Night Market provide crucial opportunities to meet with constituents in a casual setting and have open dialogue about community needs to break away from the broadly accepted policy prescriptions of the Hill, Ocasio-Cortez said.

“There’s often such a huge disparity between Washington consensus and everyday people,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “Being back on the ground — having these conversations with folks and actually hearing from our community what their thoughts and perspectives are — it’s super grounding and helps me give me a lot of confidence in being able to advocate for our community in Washington.”

The congresswoman said the recent violence in Israel and Palestine highlighted the especially rigid approach to US foreign policy in DC. An attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 killed over 1,400 Israeli civilians and ongoing mass bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Force has killed over 8,000 Palestinians. Ocasio-Cortez, alongside fellow Queens representative Nydia Velasquez, is one of 18 members of congress who have called for a ceasefire. She said constituents she spoke with at the Night Market expressed gratitude for her stance on the issue.

“Usually in Washington there’s a very strong foreign policy consensus, it’s very uniform and we never hear anything outside of that. For a very long time, you couldn’t even say the word ‘Palestine’ in Washington. People were just thankful in a borough with the diversity that we have, that we can hold space for the humanity of Israelis and Palestinans,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We can do both, we can fight for everybody. This is a borough that can be safe for every single community and can advocate and protect the rights of every single community.”

Asked about the current influx of asylum seekers to New York City and Queens, Ocasio-Cortez called for a measured and humanitarian response and highlighted the city’s history as a global hub for migration. The city has welcomed over 100,000 asylum seekers in the last year, a noticeable rise from recent years but a number that pales in comparison to 20th century peaks in immigration when some years saw over a million new immigrants enter the country through the city.

“There are of course logistical and resource constraints that accompany any migratory or refugee situation the way we have now, but they will not break our city. However, the rhetoric surrounding these migrants often makes the situation worse and can be inflammatory,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We don’t need to approach this with a deficit-based point of view. This is what our city has always been built on. We have dealt with waves of migration that were far larger than this before, the actual challenge has been that it was much easier to get a job and it was much easier to get documented. That’s really the path that we should look towards now. We have to make sure that we can make this logistically as easy as possible so that people aren’t stuck in these systems.”

Ocasio-Cortez said the values and strength of Queens’ communities inspires her work in congress as she heads back to DC this week.

“Our community is important,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “If we can make this work in Queens, we can make it work anywhere in the country. I’ve always felt that way and that’s why I’m so proud to represent this borough.”

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