Paul Krugman and the Politics of Public Higher Ed


Amid the responses to yesterday’s news about the supremely cushy terms of Paul Krugman’s hiring at the CUNY Graduate Center, three have stood out:

1) that the average adjunct salary per course at CUNY is ~$3,000, and Krugman will earn 75 times that to teach one seminar per year (and no teaching labor at all in his first year);

2) that Krugman’s salary of $225,000 per academic year is either appropriate to his scholarly and public stature or that he’s being underpaid at that rate; and

3) that his salary is actually a bargain because it will be well returned by virtue of the Graduate Center’s enhanced profile and an attendant increase in private donations.

To these responses I’d like to add:

a) that there are 13 different funding levels for students at the Graduate Center (GC), ranging from zero dollars to $27,000 (as of last fall’s data). Krugman’s primary attachment will be to the GC’s Luxembourg Income Study Center, the mission of which is to support the study of, among other phenomena, poverty and income inequality.

The contradiction between these objects of study and the very subjects of poverty and income inequality at the GC is worth continually highlighting. Graduate students at the GC are at the mercy of funding—the funding inequities among us are the direct result of GC decision-making and priority-setting, working within the two-way interface with CUNY Central. Just last Friday we were at a meeting in which Interim President Robinson—the GC leader who fawned so over Krugman in the numerous emails that were released—told us, yet again, that there was no money available for increased funding—not even for those students who have no funding at all, either because they came in with no funding or because they are now outside the five years of guaranteed funding of the most lucrative packages.

There is, however, $225K a year to give Krugman for just, essentially, hanging around. What if, instead, that money went to the GC students who need it the most? Sure, at an annual rate, Krugman’s salary would only equal 12.5 $18K fellowship packages, the deal that many GC students have who entered before the current academic year (including me). But another way to think about it is as 75 $3,000 grants to students sans funding, so that they could teach one less class as an adjunct, thus allowing a much-needed diminishment in pressure and the possibility, maybe, to get through another dissertation chapter because of it.

The larger issue, of course, is that the terms of Krugman’s hire represent a fundamental contradiction in the hegemony of the “lack of money” that rules the practices and discussions of public higher ed. Indeed, there is always money to be had, at CUNY as elsewhere, whether it’s to hire a celebrity prof to add value by virtue of his name, or to build a $350-million “world-class” science center. (Note that Krugman is also “world class.” CUNY’s desperate for world-class status, even if it means running its students and faculty into the ground.)

And this is just to consider the situation of graduate student workers at the GC. The CUNY system at large is rife with inequality due to the state’s and university’s spending priorities, which reflect the overall neoliberal political economy that has decimated public higher ed over the last 40+ years. Indeed, at CUNY in particular, as much as the 1969 student, faculty, and community occupation of City College was a watershed victory against structural racism and/in higher education, it also galvanized the reactionary policies that have led to the increased exclusion of working class students of color in recent years.

b) As for Krugman’s salary, whether he’s being paid appropriately for his stature is beside the point. I mean, does anyone know how much money he makes from university employment versus his NYT gig versus his books versus his speaking gigs, etc.? In a bitter irony, it would seem that university employment is actually adjunct labor for him, in the way that it was for most adjuncts back in the day, who taught to supplement their income and not for their entire livelihood, as they must today under the penury of academic capitalism.

Furthermore, CUNY’s last celebrity hire, David Petraeus, cut his salary to $1 after a similar outcry last summer over his comparably less cushy terms (he had to teach—wait for it—two courses a year). As Petraeus’s representative put it at the time, “Once controversy arose about the amount he was being paid, he decided it was much more important to keep the focus on the students, on the school and on the teaching, and not have it be about the money.”

Considering the above, is Krugman more or less ethical than Petraeus?

c) Finally, if Krugman’s hire results in more private donations, fine. But to what would those donations go? There is currently no accountability mechanism at the GC (that I’m aware of at least) to measure, on the one hand, incoming donations and, on the other, what those funds are being used for. If Krugman’s position at the GC spurs donations that will then be put to student funding, that would be great—all for it. But something tells me that’s not what’s going to happen…

To be clear, I’m not against Krugman per se—I’m against the political economy that rewards elites while immiserating everyone else (given that the middle class is increasingly an illusion). For all Krugman’s own utility, such as it is, as a scourge against center-right economics, the terms of his hiring at the GC are an unfortunate symbol of all that’s wrong with public higher ed.

Late Pay: One CUNY Horror Story

Since last semester, the Adjunct Project has been collecting data on the late pay of CUNY adjuncts and graduate assistants. With this data, we’ve been trying to forge solutions to what by all accounts is CUNY’s endemic problem of paying adjuncts and graduate assistants late.

Given our base at the Graduate Center, we’ve been working—or, rather, trying to work—with administrators and staff here to put in place a) measures that would prevent late payment outright, and b) a fund that graduate students, working in either the job title “Adjunct” or “Graduate Assistant,” could tap if they are still paid late.

Because of CUNY’s size, we’ve prioritized this effort on behalf of Graduate Center student workers, though it’s certainly a model that could be deployed on individual campuses. Indeed, as the following anecdote shows, adjuncts who are paid late, whether graduate students or graduates, often have no recourse at all to recoup their late wages. In this particular case, which an adjunct provided to us in our ongoing data collection, the adjunct wasn’t even able to ask for an “advance,” an option granted by our union contract, because the adjunct wasn’t registered at the college.

We offer this as just one of the multitude of adjunct horror stories out there, in service to the overall campaign of showing how adjuncts and contingent faculty are so often left high and dry by the institutions for which they work. The adjunct relayed this info last week; we’ll keep you updated on what happens.

I was a late hire to teach a class that meets just one night a week. I was told I was getting the class the night that class began, then I was able to fill out my paperwork the following week. No appointment letter was available for me at that time. I emailed the department chair a reminder about the appointment letter but I received no response (it was his suggestion that I make this move and then they would scan and send me the letter to fill out).

When I followed up with the department administrative assistant on Wednesday (Feb. 19th, two weeks after I filled out paperwork), I was told there was no letter yet for me to sign because she had not processed any of my paperwork yet and I was not yet entered into the system as working at [the college]. She told me that I shouldn’t even be in the classroom because of this. When I expressed concern about getting paid on time to be able to have enough money to pay my rent for March, her response was a flat-out “You won’t be getting paid anytime soon” and then told me that she is still processing the paperwork from December for other instructors and that I will be at the end of that long line.

She said that she “should” have the appointment letter ready for me next Thursday, Feb. 27th but she would not scan and email it to me ahead of that time. I have no idea how long after the appointment letter is signed that all my information is processed and I will finally be in the system and able to be paid the money that I am owed for my work. The administrative assistant confirmed that I have filled out every other necessary form, so it’s just on her end that the process is being slowed down.

If you’re a CUNY adjunct or graduate assistant and would like to share your horror story, please let us know. Email us at theadjunctproject at gmail dot com.

Payday Is Almost Here...

Resisting Precarity: Remarks for the #MLAsubcon

Following are the remarks I prepared for the closing plenary of the MLA Subconference last Thursday, on which I appeared, on behalf of the CUNY Adjunct Project, with Chris Newfield of the University of California–Santa Barbara, Kyle Shafer of Unite Here!, and Jimmy Casas Klausen of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though I veered from these particular words—I’d quickly handwritten them, in my near illegible script—the views are the same as I expressed in person, as you’ll see on the archived livestream (which you should check for the other panelists’ remarks and subsequent discussion).

The photo above, by Lee Skallerup Bessette, shows an image, presented by Shafer, of hospitality workers in a vending machine—a specific depiction of how capitalism renders people in general: disposable. If we are to resist precarity, we must resist capitalism and its various deployments, as I try to show. —Sean M. Kennedy

First of . . . → Read More: Resisting Precarity: Remarks for the #MLAsubcon

Graduate Center Student Worker Contract Demands

Over the past several weeks, The Adjunct Project circulated a survey regarding three demands for contract negotiations slated to resume between the Professional Staff Congress and the City once Bill de Blasio takes office as Mayor in 2014. These demands were written in response to issues that have repeatedly been raised by Graduate Center students and include parental and medical leave, penalties for colleges who fail to pay their employees on time, and benefit transfers for those transitioning from Graduate Assistant to Adjunct titles. The three proposed demands were overwhelming approved by the hundreds of students who responded to the poll, and based on respondents’ comments, a fourth demand was added to remove restrictions on the number of credits an Adjunct may work in a semester.

The revised demands were submitted December 11 to PSC President Barbara Bowen, in hopes that they will be adopted by the union. We will . . . → Read More: Graduate Center Student Worker Contract Demands

Update on Late Pay

On December 10 at 4 pm, members of The Adjunct Project met with representatives from the Graduate Center’s Offices of the Provost, Human Resources, Payroll, and Student Affairs to brainstorm and discuss ways to implement measures that could ensure on-time payment of Graduate Assistants and Adjuncts throughout CUNY and mitigate the impact of late pay in situations where it is unavoidable, as in the case of a late hire. The meeting was chaired by Louise Lennihan and yielded a number of valuable insights and suggestions. What follows is a brief summary of the group’s findings and actions to be taken.

Within the GC:

Interim Provost Lennihan is going to request more money (amount to be determined) from the CUNY Foundation board to provide more full advances for those who are to be paid late via Financial Aid, and that the advances would be provided regardless of reason–i.e., even in cases . . . → Read More: Update on Late Pay

Take Back CUNY! Friday, November 15 at 4 pm


Take Back CUNY!


Join students, faculty, staff, and community in a strategic dialogue to resist:

- militarization of CUNY with Petraeus, ROTC, research, and recruitment

- theft of student & community spaces

- turning colleges into corporations

- repression of activism and dissent

- labor exploitation

Friday, November 15th, 4pm-7pm

CUNY Graduate Center

365 Fifth Avenue at 34th St. Room C201/C202 (basement level) light refreshments

co-sponsored by Free University – NYC, PSC-CUNY International Committee and union members, New

York Students Rising, Students for Educational Rights, the Adjunct Project, RSCC, Ya-Ya Network.

Contact for more info.

In Memory of Jean Anyon, 1941 – 2013, Scholar of Radical Possibilities

Meeting with the President on Late Pay

On Wednesday, October 30 at 4 pm, a delegation of Graduate Center students, including members of the The Adjunct Project and The Doctoral Students’ Council, met with Interim President Chase Robinson during his office hours to discuss the problems of late and missing pay that have plagued the CUNY system for years. The goals of the delegation were to bring the scope and severity of the problem to the President’s attention, request swift action on behalf of student workers who are missing pay for services rendered during the Fall 2013 semester, and devise a solution to ensure that student workers and all contingent academic laborers are paid on time every semester.

The delegation first presented President Robinson with three polls taken by The Adjunct Project regarding late pay: one for Graduate Assistants, one for students working in Adjunct titles who are paid directly by the CUNY colleges where they teach, . . . → Read More: Meeting with the President on Late Pay

Campus Equity Week, Oct. 28-Nov. 2

Campus Equity Week is a nationwide event to raise awareness of the inequitable state of academic labor, as well as related issues, such as the student debt crisis and the corporatization of the university.

This week, please consider teaching one of our lesson plans or assigning an article about adjuncting to your students. Also, pick up a button bearing one of the two logos shown here from your program lounge, the office of the Doctoral Students’ Council (room 5495), or our office door (room 5498) at the Graduate Center. When your students ask what the scarlet “A” stands for, tell them what it means to be an adjunct. The article about Margaret Mary Vojtko, “Death of an Adjunct,” can be found here.

As part of our efforts, we are also assembling a delegation to speak to Interim President Robinson about late pay during his office hours on Wed., Oct. 30, . . . → Read More: Campus Equity Week, Oct. 28-Nov. 2

Stephanie Luce on Living-Wage and Adjunct Organizing

Please join us for our first event of the semester when we welcome Stephanie Luce, associate professor of labor studies at CUNY’s Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, on Thursday, September 12th, 5 p.m., in 5409 of the CUNY Graduate Center. Luce (pictured), a sociologist by training, researches living-wage movements—she’ll be speaking on that topic as well as on her experiences in adjunct and higher-ed organizing. She’s the author of Fighting for a Living Wage (ILR Press, 2004), a critical history of various living-wage campaigns across the U.S., and the co-author of A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States (ILR Press, 2008) and The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy (The New Press, 1998). The talk will be followed by a Q&A/discussion and reception.

. . . → Read More: Stephanie Luce on Living-Wage and Adjunct Organizing

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