By Victoria Merlino
A number of Queens College faculty and students demonstrated for higher professor salaries during the college’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, with members and supporters wearing red stickers over their graduation regalia demanding “wage justice.”
The Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s staff union, organized the action at commencement. Since November 2017, PSC has operated without a contract with CUNY as union officials try to negotiate higher wages for both underpaid full-time faculty and adjuncts. Professors at other public universities in the area, such as Rutgers-Newark, University of Connecticut and SUNY-Stony Brook, earn more on average than CUNY professors, according to the PSC.
Adjunct pay — which starts at $3,200 per course and averages at around $3,500 per course — has been an especially contentious topic in the last few months as some adjuncts work various jobs and struggle to pay their rent. Several adjuncts formed their own strike movement, an issue previously reported by the Eagle.
Many faculty members wore union stickers as they marched into the official commencement on Queens College’s quad. Some faculty and students handed out stickers that said, “United for Wage Justice at CUNY,” before the ceremony. A banner hung from a building facing the graduation read, “PSC Contract Now,” “CUNY Needs A Raise” and “$7k For Adjunct” — a reference to the popular demand for adjuncts to earn $7,000 per course.
“‘Teachers need a living wage,’ basically what we are saying. And we deserve a living wage, and we can do a better job for Queens College students and beyond,” Karen Sullivan, associate professor of French language and literature, told the Eagle.
Sullivan said that professors’ salaries affect more than just the professors.
“We train a lot of teachers. I know most of the teachers of French in Queens and Long Island and some in the Bronx and Manhattan because they are my former students. So it’s not just Queens College, it’s sort of like a ripple effect,” she said.
Jonathan Buchsbaum, a professor of media studies at Queens College since the late 1970s, lamented the rise in tuition at CUNY and what he called the school system’s “defunding” by the government.
“The PSC wants everyone to recognize how popular the institution of CUNY is among everybody in the city — that they support proper funding for CUNY,” he said, calling CUNY a “great public resource.”
A frustrating thing for him and others in Queens, he said, was how there seems to be no public advocates for CUNY, including the CUNY Board of Trustees, which governs the system of 25 undergraduate and graduate schools.
“That’s part of why we feel it has to get more public exposure, and an event like this is a perfect one because it’s one of celebrating CUNY,” he said. “We’re here to celebrate CUNY, and we want it to still be offering a public education in the future. How can it do that if it’s consistently being defunded?”
CUNY’s recent funding woes have been well documented, from unpopular tuition hikes, to students decrying crumbling infrastructure via a “Brokelyn College” Instagram account.
Some students also expressed their support for the faculty.
Tenzin Namgyal, a Queens College freshman, and Javeria Zuberi, a sophmore, handed stickers to passersby.
“This is the perfect time to get representation for the professors who have taught these students for over four years maybe, and we need justice for them. They need to be able to pay rent and to teach these students like they do — like they have been for years on end,” Namgyal said.
Zuberi said she met an adjunct professor who performs on the subway to help pay for rent and food.
“This degree helps us to get better jobs … while [professors are] struggling to make ends meet?” she said.
A spokesperson for CUNY said the school system is continuing to negotiate with PSC.
“We have been negotiating in good faith and that process is ongoing,” a CUNY spokesperson told the Eagle.
The Queens College action is one of several that PSC plans to undertake at CUNY graduations.
York College hosts graduation today. LaGuardia Community College hosts its graduation ceremony on June 13.