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Murphy Faculty comments and concerns re: SPS proposed governance

​To Dean Mogulescu, Governance Review Task Force, and SPS colleagues,

We did not submit anonymous responses to the proposed Governance documents for the School of Professional Studies. Instead, we write as a group to raise our concerns and objections directly to our colleagues across the school. The Murphy Institute is currently part of the School of Professional Studies.  Although our ultimate institutional status is not resolved, it is highly likely that we will not be part of SPS or working under governance plans created for SPS in the future.

Nevertheless, as current members of the academic community of SPS and as faculty at CUNY we offer here our deep concerns regarding the proposed governance plans. We do not see in the proposed structures meaningful shared governance.  Our concerns flow from two central structural elements, one of the school itself, the other from the plans as drafted.  The first is the school’s excessive reliance on contingent faculty positions; the second is the extraordinary powers granted the position of the Dean in the proposed governance plan.

Shared governance is a longstanding and fundamental principle of higher education throughout the United States.  It recognizes that the joint expertise of faculty and administration is necessary for the success of a school, college or university system. Authority should flow from responsibility, and those who are responsible for particular areas of work should have primary authority. Given shared responsibilities for many core university functions, consultation and representation should be the norm even when primary authority sits with either faculty or administration.

Academic freedom is an essential foundation for shared governance, but it is compromised by the recent explosion of contingent forms of academic employment, since these are outside the tenure system which protects academic freedom.  The contingent nature of the vast majority of SPS faculty thus diminishes the school’s capacity for shared governance. The instructional staff at SPS is overwhelmingly comprised of adjuncts. Even the “faculty”, as defined in the proposed governance documents, is overwhelmingly non-tenure track.  From the draft:

For these purposes, the “faculty” consists of all Academic Directors, Academic Community Leaders, Consortial Faculty, full-time faculty, Institute Heads holding faculty rank, and adjunct faculty holding three-year appointments at the School.

The un-defined “Academic Community Leaders,” Academic Directors, Consortial faculty, Institute heads, and adjuncts with three year appointments that make up the “faculty” (in addition to the (also unspecific) category of “full-time faculty”) all lack long-term job security, and most owe their appointments directly to the Dean. Given the contingent nature of such “faculty” positions, as defined in the documents, and the even greater job insecurity of the larger instructional staff at the school, independent voices who could raise challenging questions without fear of reprisal in the proposed council, its committees, or any governing bodies, will be few.

SPS is not alone in regard to the increased contingency among faculty positions, though it is exceptional in its embrace of the model in its staffing decisions and program development. We do not believe that contingent faculty should be excluded from governance. But we note that when the preponderance of faculty are contingent, and owe their positions directly to administrators, they cannot be said to have the same voice or power as their tenured peers.

But even putting aside the essential limits on shared governance in an institution lacking sufficient tenured or tenure-track faculty, the draft governance plan for the school further enlarges the powers of Dean and erodes the capacity for independent faculty judgment or leadership in regard to curricula, faculty hiring and teaching (leaving aside research and scholarship, the existence of which this plan entirely fails to recognize).

In the proposed governance plan, regular adjuncts without three year appointments, the bulk of the teaching staff, have no role in the governance of the school.  Academic directors are appointed, not elected. Program-level governance does not exist.  The plan is silent on how consortial faculty are to be chosen.  When tenured faculty do not comprise the necessary majorities for personnel decisions, Dean-appointed faculty take on that responsibility. In general, the proposed plans do not allow for the autonomous selection of faculty leadership by faculty.  This is an essential structural component for faculty consultative relationships with School administration. From our reading of the drafts, there is less consultation, less shared governance, in these proposed plans than in the bylaws that govern the school today.  We do not think that the proposed governance plans live up to the letter or spirit of Section 8.5 of the CUNY Bylaws.

Having worked within SPS for many years, we understand that the school is different from other CUNY schools.  But we think these differences, as codified in the proposed plan, represent deep liabilities, not just for CUNY’s norms of shared governance, but also for the future health of the School of Professional Studies itself.  Schools are not corporations.  They are ultimately answerable to governing boards, of course. All CUNY college governance plans recognize the authority of the President (in this case the Dean) to exercise her academic judgement in making recommendations on academic and personnel matters to the Board of Trustees.  But the tradition of shared governance recognizes that faculty independence and academic freedom, along with balanced interdependence of faculty, administration and students, is what makes universities function.  We believe that the concentration of authority in the hands of the Dean, and diminished roles for independent academic professionals  in consulting or deciding upon on all matters regarding the school, will have negative long-term consequences on morale, teaching effectiveness and student success.

We strongly recommend that SPS, in closer correspondence to its own strategic plan, commit itself to recruiting and empowering a full-time, tenure-track professoriat. We further recommend:

  • that the proposed faculty majority of voting members of the school’s governing council be increased to at least 65%
  • that the definition of faculty for governance purposes include only those working on faculty lines as specified by the PSC contract (full time and part time professors, instructors, and lecturers)
  • that council positions guaranteed to adjunct faculty be specified
  • that curricula, program development, academic standards, procedures for review and assessment, and other traditional areas of primary faculty responsibility be placed under the direct authority of committees or governance bodies in which a majority of the members are tenure-track or tenured faculty
  • that until such time that the Personnel committee of the school can be made up of tenured members of the faculty, any additional outside faculty added to the personnel committee be chosen by the tenured faculty at SPS
  • that program level governance be specified, and that such governance include direct input from the adjunct faculty that make up the vast number of instructors at the school
  • that Academic Directors be elected by their faculty
  • that faculty are included in committees that oversee general administrative direction for the school.




The full-time, consortial and visiting members of the faculty at the Murphy Institute, SPS


Mimi Abramovitz, Bertha Capen Reynolds Professor of Social Policy, Silberman School of Social Work, Hunter College

Kafui Attoh, Assistant Professor, Urban Studies, Murphy Institute

Juan Battle, Professor of Sociology, Public Health, & Urban Education, Graduate Center

Steve Brier, Professor, Urban Education, Graduate Center

Michael Fortner, Assistant Professor and Academic Director, Urban Studies, Murphy Institute

Josh Freeman, Distinguished Professor, History, Queens College, Graduate Center and Murphy Institute

Penny Lewis, Associate Professor, Labor Studies, Murphy Institute

Steve London, Associate Professor, Political Science, Brooklyn College

Stephanie Luce, Professor and Academic Director, Labor Studies, Murphy Institute

Ruth Milkman, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Graduate Center and Murphy Institute

John Mollenkopf, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Graduate Center

Ed Ott, Distinguished Lecturer, Labor Studies, Murphy Institute

Frances Piven, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Graduate Center


Cc: Katherine Conway, Chair, University Faculty Senate

Executive Committee Members, University Faculty Senate

Barbara Bowen, President, Professional Staff Congress

Luke Elliott-Negri, Chapter Chair, Graduate Center PSC​

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