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Paul Krugman and the Politics of Public Higher Ed

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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.

Resisting Precarity: Remarks for the #MLAsubcon

Vending machine #mlasubconFollowing 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 Bessetteshows 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 all, and again, I want to thank the organizers of this very generative convening. Thank you all for inviting the CUNY Adjunct Project to appear, and thank you for your generously donated labor. And, frankly, it shouldn’t be our job, as graduate students, to change the university. We have enough other things to do—research, write, teach, attend conferences on money we don’t have—the list goes on—that we don’t have time, let alone resources, to solve all the problems facing higher education too. But since the people with available time and resources—tenured faculty and faculty unions, administrators, disciplinary organizations and other academic bodies—apparently have no interest, nor ability, to fix these issues, doing so must be our work as well. And so I thank everyone here in this newly formed collective, and I look forward to continuing this mobilization, in particular in coordinating actions across our various campuses between now and next year’s gathering in Vancouver.

I also want to note my regret that Marc Bousquet can’t be with us tonight as expected. Not only is he an alumnus of my very program at the CUNY Graduate Center, but his longstanding analyses of academic capitalism, particularly in How the University Works, have provided an important foundation for my own views on the political economy of U.S. higher education. Indeed, I love to quote his remark that the PhD holder is now the “waste product of graduate education,” especially at department-wide meetings in which most attendees, professors and students alike, look at me like I’m crazy. But Marc is dead on about the expendability of laborers, who are eliminated, both symbolically and materially, under global capitalism. What is a prison, after all, except the housing of waste—of incapacitated workers deliberately left behind by the structural adjustment that has battered specific U.S. communities since Reagan? What is imperial war, of which the U.S. is the reigning arbiter, except the incapacitating of communities around the world?

Prison and war frame my remarks tonight not just because of their central relationships to U.S. governmentality and capital accumulation but also due to my institutional and geographic locations at the City University of New York, whose students are subjected to the whims of campus security when they’re not being terrorized by the NYPD through its racist, violent stop-and-frisk program. Although the police target black and brown men, the costs of stop-and-frisk—and prisons at large—to individuals and neighborhoods are countless. And when youth of color make it to CUNY—that is, if they’re not pushed out earlier by the school-to-prison pipeline or the brutal testing regime (both of which line the pockets of corporate executives and investors)—they are now offered a dubious stability in the form of military service, as CUNY has welcomed back ROTC after a 41-year absence—a military that has historically preyed upon the multiracial working class. Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism, safeguarded by the military, and the sturdy hegemony of the American dream continue to make New York City a hub for numerous diasporic communities. Indeed, the diversity of oppressed nationalities in the city led the American Enterprise Institute to recommend CUNY as a recruiting ground.

I was asked to speak tonight on one aspect of precarity, and how to resist it, and as this sketch of issues at CUNY indicates, I want to highlight the critical necessity of intersectional analysis and organizing. In other words, there can be no single-issue activism or research. At CUNY, the myriad intersecting issues—and I only briefly outlined a few—make it impossible to address change without also addressing the full complex of problems that jointly maintain the status quo. And this is the case across higher education, given the university’s deep entanglement with processes and histories of colonialism, racialized social control, and oppression.

In practice, what this means for me, as an organizer for the CUNY Adjunct Project, is that I must also organize with and alongside organizers for racial and economic justice broadly, since academic labor, like labor at large, is shaped by structural forces that delimit not just equal opportunity but equal resources as well. It means I must collaborate with and stand beside organizers working to end stop-and-frisk, since that affects the students I teach as contingent faculty and the colleagues I work with inside and outside of class. It means I must work in concert with organizers demanding an end to the militarization of CUNY and its appointment of war-criminal David Petraeus, overseer of death squads and torture in Iraq and drones at the CIA. It means showing up at hearings and rallies for comrades disciplined by City College and turned over to the law on allegations of “almost” inciting a riot for protesting the seizure of the Morales/Shakur Community and Student Center, an autonomous space won by black and Puerto Rican people—students and residents of Harlem working together—in their—our—still-ongoing struggle to decolonize CUNY. It means demanding a parental-leave policy for Graduate Center student workers—currently none exists—so that they don’t have to forfeit their teaching fellowships if they want to care for their newborn children. Again, the list goes on.

I am one of four phenotypically white, cisgender men on this panel tonight, an observation I make not to criticize but to think through critically. Indeed, this room is primarily white, and as such reproduces the prevailing whiteness of the academy, and marks how much work needs to be done to rectify the racial injustices of higher education. But we—and I mean those of us who are white, with all our racial privilege—need to be part of that work. Similar to how we want tenured faculty to use their privilege, and resources, to help us contingent faculty end the two-tier system of academic labor and concomitant exploitation—one of the many themes of this conference—those of us with the capital granted to us by white privilege must spend it—all of it—for the sake of racial justice. That is to say, we must work against our privilege, to undo it, akin to how my mentors at the Revolutionary Students Coordinating Committee, or RSCC—the rhyme with SNCC is deliberate—urge “class suicide” of the bourgeoisie, petit and grande. Only when whiteness is eliminated, and the capital it has accumulated by dispossession is returned, will there be an end to precarity.

In other words, we must fully reckon with the settler colonialism and chattel slavery on which the U.S. was founded and which destroyed communities—of people, of thought, of practice—all over the world. These paired legacies are alive at CUNY, as they are everywhere. As such, I believe we must reclaim the notion of contingency so that it names radical possibility as much as it does material vulnerability. The contingency I imagine would allow us to choose the labor we want to do, be with the people with whom we want to be, govern ourselves in the ways we want to be governed, travel to where we want to travel, and take care of one another in the manner in which we want to be taken care of. Legacies of such collective determination are also alive, even if they’re often demoted to “cultural differences” by the dominant communities of the global metropole.

At the same time, we must also remember that the institutions that discipline us are precarious, as yesterday’s presentation on private-bond-funded, tuition-backed campus construction showed. But when a protest can increase interest rates—and attendant debt-service payments that can run into the millions—it gives universities even more reason to crack down on dissent, as we have seen happen this last semester at CUNY, which is now codifying such repression.

Again, we must contend with militarization, and the capitalism it protects—and the communities harmed by both. To counter this violence, in the present and historically, we need to organize across divides and resist the colonial logic of separation. Only then will we be resisting precarity too.

(Cross-posted to Sean’s website.)

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 provide an update once we receive a response.

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 where students failed to accept their awards in a timely fashion, etc.
  • The payroll office is willing to issue larger advances (70% instead of 60%) for those who are to be paid late via payroll; they stated that though 100% net pay advances are not possible because payroll cannot accurately calculate taxes, health insurance premiums, and union dues prior to the actual check being issued (meaning that if they got it wrong, students could wind up having to repay more than one check), 70% of gross would roughly approximate 100% of net.
  • It recently came to our attention that community college adjuncts who are paid late through the GC are not receiving late pay in a lump sum as they have in the past, but rather, the money owed is being divided into equal parts and distributed in each subsequent check, meaning that the person is not “made whole” until the end of the semester. The representative from payroll was unsure whether this was an internal decision or an external directive but is going to find out and attempt to rectify the situation.

CUNY-wide:

  • The Provost’s Office is going to request that several of the meeting’s attendees, including representatives of The Adjunct Project, get “invited” to meetings of HR staff from other CUNY colleges at the Central Office in early 2014. The goal would be to impress upon them the urgency of submitting Adjunct paperwork on time and work with them to identify and prevent potential hindrances to doing so. We will also discuss with them the importance of GC students using the title Doctoral Student Adjunct, particularly in the case of community college adjuncts, who need to be identified so that they can be transferred to the GC payroll.

We will continue to provide updates on these measures as they develop. Thanks again to all of those who have participated in the effort to end late pay!

Take Back CUNY! Friday, Nov. 15 at 4 pm

 

Take  Back  CUNY!

Take back CUNY pic

 

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 FreeUniversityNYC@gmail.com 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, and one for students working in Adjunct titles at CUNY community colleges who are paid through the Graduate Center. In response to the question, “When did you receive your first paycheck of the Fall 2013 semester?,” 88 of 199 students polled reported being paid later than the first pay period for their title, while 19 more reported not having been paid at all as of October 17.

Next, various students shared stories with the President regarding the impact late pay has had on them personally. Representatives also read stories submitted via email by others who could not attend the meeting. Students reported being forced to borrow money from family and friends, having to take cash advances on credit cards in order to pay rent, racking up large credit card bills for other essential expenses, and working extra hours at off-campus jobs in order to stay financially afloat while waiting to be paid by the University. Students also recounted that as a result of the financial strain, they experienced severe stress and their studies and general quality of life suffered, which one student said caused her to seek extended counseling.

After listening to the delegation’s report, President Robinson promised to seek immediate remuneration of students who are still owed money by the University. The Adjunct Project collected information to send to the President, which was submitted on Monday, November 4.

As for a long-term solution, the President suggested a meeting comprised of students; members of the payroll, human resources, and financial aid departments at the Graduate Center; and himself. The meeting would seek to improve and clarify current processes, which would then be communicated to equivalent offices on other CUNY campuses.

In a separate item, the delegation also presented the President with a 600-signature petition against the CUNY Board of Trustee’s draft policy on expressive activity that was recently leaked to the public. President Robinson said he was unaware whether or not the document represented current thinking among the Board, but he assured the delegation he would communicate the sentiments of Graduate Center students to the Board of Trustees at his next meeting with them.

Members of The Adjunct Project and The Doctoral Students’ Council are working diligently to ensure that these measures are carried out. If you are a Graduate Center student and need assistance getting paid, or if you would like to get involved in this or related projects, please email theadjunctproject@gmail.com, or subscribe to the listserv by sending a message to listserv@gc.listserv.cuny.edu with SUBSCRIBE ADJUNCT-L in the body of the email.

UPDATE: On November 22nd, a group of students met with PSC officials to discuss possible next steps toward solving the problem of late pay. On December 4th, the Office of the Provost provided a status report to The Adjunct Project regarding individual student issues, all of which, to our knowledge, have either been resolved or are on a course to be resolved. On December 10th, the follow-up meeting with Interim President Robinson and GC Payroll, Financial Aid, and Human Resources staff will be held to discuss procedural means of ensuring that Graduate Assistants and Adjuncts are paid on time. In addition to these internal efforts, The Adjunct Project is currently organizing with representatives from other CUNY colleges to address this issue systemwide.

Campus Equity Week, Oct. 28-Nov. 2

CEW13Campus 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 IAmMargaretM-copydelegation to speak to Interim President Robinson about late pay during his office hours on Wed., Oct. 30, at 4 pm in room 8201.06.

Finally, in order to increase the collective power of GC adjuncts in our union, the Professional Staff Congress, we are striving to fill the seats of the GC chapter, which are currently vacant. Please consider filling out a union card, which can be found on our office door, with The Graduate Center as your affiliation, or email us if you are interested in serving on the GC union slate.

Thank you for helping us work toward a more equitable future!

In solidarity,

The AP Team

 

Stephanie Luce on Living-Wage and Adjunct Organizing

Stephanie Luce imagePlease 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.

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