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What a union is

Dear Graduate Center Colleagues –

This semester the Graduate Center wrote checks to approximately a dozen graduate employees in the Math department for more than $1,000 each. This outcome was the product of several years of chapter building, and the hard work of many individuals.

At least once in the past, GC management has reduced the stipend portion of the graduate employee five-year funding packages in response to contractually negotiated raises and/or step increases – in effect recouping the money. To prevent this in the last contract round, PSC chapter and central leadership met with then-President Chase Robinson, who proceeded to communicate to graduate employees that this practice would not continue.

Around the same time, Maya Harakawa set out to build a union steward program, one which Harry Blain has continued to build. Our ultimate goal is to have a union representative for every ten members, so that we truly have a structure that makes the union alive to everyone. Getting to this point takes hours of thankless work that both Maya and Harry have engaged with cheer and energy.

Now, where the rubber hits the road: Chris Natoli has been the union shop steward in the Math department almost since the inception of the program. This semester, he discovered that for two years, grad employees in the Math department had their fifth-year stipends decreased in precisely the amount of the contractually negotiated raises – the very practice that management had committed not to do several years earlier. Chris brought the issue to the chapter EC, and the chapter brought it to management; management acknowledged the error, and quickly issued checks, also changing the practice going forward.

I write this email precisely because the work that Maya, Harry and Chris did to produce this outcome – putting thousands of dollars back in the hands of graduate employees – is generally not visible and is not always exciting in the day to day. Events like the WAC fight last year that resulted in a reduction in workload for all 5thyear GCFs certainly put the chapter on the map. But this patient work of finding leaders and formalizing their leadership, of paying attention to the details and enforcing both the contract and the commitments of management are an essential part of making a union what it is.

Long story short: reply to this email if you want to become a shop steward J

Solidarity & power,

Luke Elliott-Negri, PSC-GC Chapter Chair

G.A. Summer Agreement

Below are copies of the letters from Human Resources that Graduate Assistants recently received. They outline the ability of G.A.s to adjunct over the summer.

December 6th SPS Labor-Management Notes


Management: John Mogulescu, Dean; George Otte, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs; Washington Hernandez, Interim Associate Dean of Administration and Finance; Tracy Meade, Senior Associate Dean for Strategy and Innovation; Lia Kudless, Chief of Staff; Pat Stein, Legal Counsel and Labor Designee for SPS.

PSC: Susan Fountain, Adjunct Professor, PSC Delegate; Jennifer Lee, Associate Registrar, PSC Welfare Fund representative; Jean Grassman, Associate Professor, CUNY School of Public Health, and head of PSC Environmental Health and Safety Committee.


  1. Water issues
  2. Appointment letters
  3. Tableau display of course evaluations
  4. Next steps on governance plan
  5. Update on active shooter training
  6. Update on PSC orientations
  • Water issues

Management stated that “We would never think of jeopardizing anyone’s health…We go by the University’s recommendations,” and said that Howard Apsan (University Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management) has stated that further testing is not necessary. Management also noted that the piping in the building has been changed in recent months, so that water in various locations on floors occupied by SPS is coming from a single main line.

The PSC responded that this change in the piping is of concern, since the latest water test results (from sampling done on Aug. 15, 2018) show the presence of lead in more rooms, and at higher levels, than in any previous testing. PSC stated that further testing is needed now that the filtration systems in office suites have been worked on, and that testing of the water fountains should also take place.

Management stated that they are not opposed to further testing if the University allows it. They would like to check with Howard Apsan, and said they would respond to the PSC in writing after doing so. (As of 1/11/19, the PSC had received no written response.)

The PSC presented a series of four emails from Rachel Levine, former Associate Dean of Administration and Finance, dated January and February 2018. In each email, a member of the PSC’s Environmental Health and Safety Committee asked Rachel Levine for specific assurance that water from the fountains in the hallways would be tested before being put into service. She responded affirmatively to each email. The PSC argued that assurance had been given, in these emails and in Labor-Management meetings held on 12/15/17 and 4/30/18, that the fountains would be tested before being put into service. Management countered that the emails from Rachel Levine only showed that she agreed to water testing, and not specifically to testing of the water fountains before they were put into service.

The PSC disagreed with this interpretation, and insisted that on the necessity of:

  • Immediate signage on drinking fountains
  • Testing of the drinking fountains
  • Retesting of water in office suites after “refresh” of filtration systems
  • Continued provision of bottled water in office suites
  • Prompt release of any further water testing results to PSC

Members of the management team then turned to Jean Grassman, demanding to know if she had tested all drinking water sources at the School of Public Health. Dr. Grassman pointed out that the purpose of this meeting was to discuss the water at SPS, not the School of Public Health. The PSC distributed a handout with quotes from the EPA’s website saying that there is no safe level of lead in drinking water, and arguing that everyone who uses the building at 119 West 31st St. has the right to know what is in the water, and to make an informed decision about their own health. PSC requested that at a minimum, signs be posted at the water fountains in the hallways, informing students and other users that the safety of the water has not been determined. Management refused to post these signs. Given the stalemate over this issue, the meeting moved on to other agenda items.

  • Appointment letters

The PSC noted that while in the past, adjunct letters of appointment included mention of the course name and number that the adjunct was appointed for, this is no longer the case. The PSC asked for information about the reason for the change. Management replied that that were unaware of the change, and that the question should be directed to OFSR. Pat Stein suggested that the change could have something to do with unemployment benefit claims.

  • Tableau display of course evaluations

The PSC has received questions about how long course evaluation data has been publicly available on the SPS website. Management replied “Years”, and said that some CUNY schools publish these results in the student newspaper. It is seen as a response to student requests for this information, and as a measure of student satisfaction. PSC asked if faculty can opt out of having their data made public – it has been reported to the PSC that this is an option at at least one other CUNY college. Management stated that this is not an option at SPS, and doubted that it is an option elsewhere.

  • Next steps on governance plan

PSC asked for a timeline for the draft proposed governance plan. Management said that the process has been a compromise, that they have listened to the concerns of the PSC and the University Faculty Senate, but “At some point, this is our school’s document.” PSC asked if any revisions to the governance plan had been made based on the PSC’s input at the 11/12/18 town hall meeting. Management responded, “No.” PSC asked again about the timeline for the plan. Management replied that it would be voted on by the SPS Governing Council on 12/6/18. It will then go to the Board of Trustees for a vote, likely in February 2019.

  • Update on active shooter training

PSC asked for data on attendance. Management provided data showing that six sessions had been held with a total of 53 attendees. PSC expressed thanks to management for holding these trainings, and said that the feedback had been overwhelmingly positive. Attendees appreciated the flexibility of scheduling, the quality of information provided, the opportunity for hands-on practice, and the chance to ask questions. There was great appreciation for the willingness of Washington Hernandez and Brian Smith to follow up with staff in office suites on specific issues they could potentially face.  PSC asked if additional training could be held in Spring 2019 for new faculty and staff. Management agreed to consider this.

  • Update on PSC orientations

The PSC expressed appreciation to the OFSR staff, especially Ema Izquierdo and Alexis Rodriguez, for their cooperation in helping with the smooth roll-out of the PSC orientations for new hires. The PSC also expressed appreciation to Andrew Reynolds for assistance with room reservations for orientations, sometimes on short notice.

PSC pointed out that since most adjuncts are reappointed on a semester or yearly basis, they should be eligible for a paid orientation after not being on payroll in January or over the summer. Pat Stein countered that adjuncts should only be eligible for an orientation in the first semester that they are hired. This issue was left unresolved.

October 25 SPS Labor-Management Notes


Management: John Mogulescu, Dean;  George Otte, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs; Rachel Levine, Senior Associate Dean for Administration and Finance.

PSC: Pete Zwiebach, PSC Legal Director;  Susan Fountain, Adjunct Professor, PSC Delegate; Jennifer Lee, Associate Registrar and PSC Welfare Fund representative;  Marc Kagan, Graduate Center Chapter of the PSC; Nelly Benavides, Academic Operations Manager, Murphy Institute.


  1. Preparation for Teaching Online course
  2. Update on Governance Plan
  3. Course caps
  4. Communication issues
  5. Health and safety issues
  6. SPS Data
  7. PSC “office hours”
  • Preparation for Teaching Online course

Pete Zweibach, PSC Legal Director, attended this meeting because of the PSC’s interest in any potential contractual issues pertaining to the “Preparation for Teaching Online” (PTO) course offered at SPS. He thanked management for their prompt response to the PSC’s request for the PTO syllabus and related materials.

Pete’s questions focused on whether the course was required, the amount of time and compensation involved, whether a faculty member must pass to be hired, and how the length of the course was determined.

Management responded that the course is required for all who teach online at SPS, and was started in 2010. It is offered nine times during the year. It involves 10 hours of fully online work, which are completed over a two-week period. Faculty taking the course are paid for the 10 hours at the Non-Teaching Adjunct (NTA) rate. The number of hours spent on the course is determined by the amount of time spent logged in, and faculty submit timesheets to get paid. Faculty members must pass the course in order to teach at SPS. The course has interactive elements – faculty share their syllabi and get peer feedback, and ask questions of each other. The course provides guidance on how to set up the course site on Blackboard. It has become a model for other CUNY schools.

PSC asked whether all the reading and online work can be completed in 10 hours. Management responded that there had been no complaints about this.

  • Update on Governance Plan

PSC requested an update on the revisions to the Governance Plan. Management noted that it had been a lengthy process, but that it was nearing the end. Input from faculty, staff and the University Faculty Senate has been incorporated. The draft will be discussed at the meeting of Deans and Academic Directors next week. It is expected to be shared with the SPS community in November.

Management stressed that the work on the draft has been done by a committee of faculty and staff, consisting of four administrators, two academic program directors, and two consortial faculty. The committee will reflect on feedback from the SPS community, and seek additional feedback if major revisions are required. Legal review will also be carried out.

PSC asked how input will be given by the SPS community. Management responded that this is under discussion and could take place in writing, or in an online or public meeting. PSC also raised concern that there has been no adjunct voice in this process (pointing out that consortial faculty on the committee have full-time appointments elsewhere in CUNY). Management defended the role of consortial faculty as representing the views of adjuncts.

Management committed to sending the revised Governance Plan to the PSC for comment before presenting it for approval from the SPS Governing Council and the CUNY Board of Trustees.

  • Course caps

PSC requested clarification on course caps. Management responded that courses close at 25, and will not run with less than five students; enrollment can exceed 25 only by permission of the instructor.

PSC pointed out that there seemed to have been a recent change in the cap on capstone courses, from 5 to 10. Management stated that programs are allowed to decide what the appropriate size is, but programs need to provide management with a rationale if enrollment is to be capped at 5; management prefers that the cap should be 10. However, there is some flexibility if a capstone has under 5 students, and students need it to graduate. In this case, a capstone can run with fewer than 5 students, but the instructor will be paid at 20% of their regular pay per student, as for an independent study. However, PSC pointed out that capstone courses are not independent studies, they are structured like a regular class; therefore, PSC challenged the 20% payment rate. This issue was not resolved at this meeting.

  • Communication issues

This led to a discussion of a case reported to the PSC in which a program with a capstone cap of 5 went to 25 on CUNYFirst over the summer. This was a mistake that was corrected, but there were ultimately 6 students registered. The instructor was not informed about the change in the cap from 5 to 10, nor were the rest of the faculty in the program.

Management responded that Academic Directors should be communicating these changes to faculty. PSC countered that this did not happen, and that it was reported that this program does not have regular faculty meetings.  PSC further pointed out that the SPS Governance Plan states that programs should have their own Curriculum Committees, where decisions like this could be made. But there are no actual program-level Curriculum or Personnel Committees at SPS, because the current governance plan says that only full-time and consortial faculty may be members of those committees. Most academic programs at SPS have neither full-time nor consortial faculty. These communication failures occur at SPS in part because of the structure of the school.

Management agreed to reach out to academic directors and inform them that they must make curricular decisions known to their faculty.

  • Health and safety issues

PSC pointed out that there are reports of wildly divergent temperatures throughout the building. The practice of leaving office doors open so that the cubicles at 101 West 31st St. can stay warm was cited as an inadequate solution. The ticket system for reporting problems to facilities does not seem to result in a prompt response.

Management responded that the buildings are surveyed with infrared thermometers for temperature issues; they were unable to say how often this happens, but said they would look into this and report back to PSC. (NOTE: This report back did not happen.) Management was also unsure about whether there is a systemic remediation option.

PSC stated that faculty don’t know how to put in a ticket when there is a problem with room temperature, and that Guttman faculty who use the building also need to be informed about what to do. Management said they should call the Facilities Help Desk, and that this information would be provided to faculty. (NOTE: It is unclear as to whether this happened.)

  • SPS Data

PSC requested a list of all full-time, consortial and part-time faculty, by program. Management agreed to provide this, and requested that PSC provide a spreadsheet with the types of data needed.

This led to a discussion of the distinction between “consortial faculty” and “academic community leaders”. Management said that “consortial faculty” are given two course releases a year to participate in curricular oversight and mentoring. “Academic community leaders” receive one course release to focus on a particular area in curricular oversight and observation. Management promised to send the official language on these two roles. (NOTE: This information was received on 10/25/17. The data requested was received in December 2017.)

  • PSC “office hours”

PSC informed management that at the Graduate Center, regular PSC office hours are held in a designated room. PSC would also like to do this at SPS, but need a room that would provide privacy.

Management agreed to make a room available for this, and said that PSC should use the room reservations system. PSC asked to advertise office hours using the digital signboards, and management agreed.

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