SPS LM 11.06.23

Representatives of PSC members working at SPS met with SPS management on November 6, 2023 for the first of two labor management meetings stipulated by our contract. Two faculty members, a HEO, and four PSC representatives from our union chapter were in attendance. On the other side of the table were the dean of the school, three assistant/associate deans, and the management’s attorney.

Before we got to the substance of the meeting, we had to remind management that it is the union that decides who to bring as representatives of the workers. Management had attempted to limit the meeting to PSC delegates and elected chapter leaders only, which would shut out other PSC members of the labor management committee.

The first item on the agenda addressed peer observations of teaching. Workers were planning to raise concerns about observations being properly conducted: done by appropriate personnel in the right window of time and assessing the appropriate course features. However, since this item was then put on the agenda for the academic leadership meeting in December, it was agreed that the discussion would be deferred until after that meeting.

An item that has been brought up in previous LM meetings and was brought up again was the faculty handbook. Faculty are concerned that changes to the handbook are made without input from the faculty. Management said they welcome feedback if any items in the handbook are not consistent with the contract or CUNY policy. Faculty pointed out that they were not told that the handbook was being changed. Management agreed that clear communication is important, and faculty should be made aware of major updates to the handbook. It was noted that there was not a full-time faculty handbook until the summer of 2023, and that guidelines from the adjunct handbook that did exist had sometimes been inappropriately applied to full-time faculty. The PSC representatives agreed to review the handbook, highlight concerns, and to discuss a process of collaboration.

All workers at SPS are affected by budgetary decisions. SPS workers brought up their distress at the budgetary situation of SPS and the disappearance of the surplus, asking for an explanation and an itemized list. The dean claimed that lots of people already have that information, and it is easy to access. When pressed for details, management said that most of the money was spent on personnel: “robust hiring that benefitted many units”. Most hiring happened among faculty, with operations being the second largest area. Management suggests that workers ask the budget committee for the budget report. (Alas, the punting from labor management to personnel & budget committees on questions of the budget is standard playbook at CUNY.) Workers pointed out that at the spring 2023 academic governing council meeting, budget was reported as healthy. By fall 2023, budget was reported not healthy, without any information as to why. The dean discussed possibilities for information sharing, including the townhall, delegating to department heads, and emails.

Next, we discussed issues of autonomy among adjunct faculty, and instances of threat to non-reappoint adjuncts who do not comply with AD demands on how to run their classrooms. While management wanted to discuss the specific incident separately, SPS workers insisted that this was a symptom of the culture of bullying and pervasive fear of retribution. PSC representatives invited the new dean to hear the workers’ accounts of SPS working culture, and to take it as an opportunity to enact change. The dean said that first, it would have to be established that there is indeed a problematic culture at SPS. Management attempted to define culture of intimidation as number of grievances, but as the union, we pushed back to point out that many cases do not rise to the level of a grievance – and that workers withdraw grievances because they feel bullied. As part of this conversation, we also discussed tenure and promotion documents, which the school is developing using examples from other schools.

Faculty are concerned about a proposed increase in course caps for undergraduate capstone courses. Management said that nothing has bee decided, and that this issue stems from attempts to remedy the budget situation. It would be effective in the fall of 2024. We agreed to discuss at the next LM meeting.

The final issue was commencement: workers would like to have one commencement ceremony and for it to take place before the start of annual leave on June 1. Management said that they have not finalized the date, and that they are looking at one ceremony but are trying to “honor online students”.