Fifty people, including professors from different CUNY colleges, came together March 20 to read poetry and fiction at CUNY Writers Against Austerity at Cooper Union.
The event, organized by Kimiko Hahn and Barbara Bowen, two Queens College professors, was made in response to proposed budget cuts by the state over the past few decades.
Moreover, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting state’s contributions to CUNY by $485 million. This led many in CUNY to pressure the state government to reverse its decision, which it did in late March.
“One important aspect of this event is that it includes art and politics, which I think are inseparable in my mind.” Hahn said. “It’s great to see all the professors, who are writers, bend together to lend their voices to this incredibly important cause.”
Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents over 25,000 professors and staff, explained how the event showed the value of professors at CUNY.
“This event showed me the richness of writing talent we have at CUNY and how incredible of an institution it is,” Bowen said. “It made me even more determined to fight, and it won’t be deflected by politicians that don’t want us to strive.”
Some of the topics covered by professors included language, literacy, politics and adjuncts.
Adjuncts make up 59 percent of the faculty at CUNY, according to the CUNY Adjunct Project. But their salaries are less than the salaries of full-time professors. Adjuncts earn nearly $3,000 per course, but are limited to teach a few courses.
Elena Chavez is an adjunct professor who teaches Spanish and English at City College. She explained the difficulties of being an adjunct, especially with falling financial support from the state.
“It is difficult for adjuncts to teach. The budget cuts are not only affecting teaching but the students as well,” Chavez said.
David Unger, a professor at Queens College, wrote a poem titled “Labor Is On.” In it, he talks about the labor at CUNY and the problems they face like a lack of a contract.
“Dear authors of the world: unite for labor” Unger said. “Your work is important when you write for labor. Lack of a contract and no living wage are two of the wrongs they need to right for labor. The perks of power seized by management have been denied for labor.”
Since 2010, professors and staff at CUNY are working without a contract. The PSC negotiated with CUNY at more than 20 meetings. CUNY provided one offer on Nov. 4, which the union rejected as not enough. Now, the Public Employment Relations Board, a state agency, is reviewing the talks after they reached an impasse or stalemate.
Behind the readers were pictures shown on a screen of people holding signs like “Invest in CUNY and “CUNY Needs a Raise.” There were even signs on chairs at the hall like “Invest in CUNY, Invest in New York.”
Allison Amend, an English professor at Lehman College, read from “Enchanted Island,” her novel, at the event. She said the readings were not just about professors, but also students.
“We want equal opportunity for CUNY students,” Amend said.