Queens College notified department chairs and deans last Wednesday that over 20 professors will not be reappointed — a mere two weeks before the Spring 2024 semester is set to begin.
While that notification in the form of an email went out on the 10th, the professors that were let go of were not officially notified of their termination until the 16th, some of those professors told The Knight News.
The original number of professors that are not being reappointed was believed to be 26, though the college told The Knight News that the number is actually 24. We are awaiting comment from the college over the debated two professors, as it’s unclear which figure is correct.
“These layoffs are so unexpected and disruptive — for us, for our students, for our departments and our colleagues. It’s cruel to be let go like this after so many years at Queens College, as if all the work I’ve done there didn’t matter at all,” said Nora Carr, who is one of those 24 or 26 professors.
Carr worked at Queens College for over a decade and was the director of Writing at Queens, a program that oversees writing intensive and second semester composition courses. She also recently started a position in the Provost’s office working with professors to develop Pathways courses, she told The Knight News. She stated it’s unclear what will happen with both ventures now that she’s gone.
According to the Queens College chapter of the Professional Staff Congress (the trade union that represents faculty and professional staff across all CUNY campuses), the number of professors that will not be appointed are 26. Those 26 professors were set to teach 79 courses with a total of 1,623 students enrolled, they stated.
These layoffs will have massive implications for those students as departments are scrambling to try to find professors for those now 79 professor-less courses. This will likely come in the form of placing professors out of their expertise or cancelling classes altogether, some department chairs told The Knight News. For the professors that were let go of, they now have to scramble to find new employment in academia when most institutions already have their curriculum set — a difficult task in itself.
“It’s devastating because I had been doing really good work. I had a number of returning students in my classes. My classes were not only full, my classes were overtallied and I had long waitlists in each of my classes,” said Ash Marinaccio, who was one of the professors that were not reappointed. “And many of the students that I had are returning students so I really wanted to be able to finish our work together. I know a lot of the students need the classes to graduate.”
Jonathan Kelly, a Film Studies senior who was set to take one of Marinaccio’s classes, told The Knight News of his disappointment when he found out Marinaccio was on the list. “Everyone has one professor who seemingly changes their trajectory in life and that professor for me has been wrongfully terminated,” said Kelly. “Queens College has royally fucked up.”
“The administration indeed acknowledges the personal and professional hardship entailed by not appointing this group of substitute faculty for Spring 2024. We are deeply saddened that the college has been forced to cut personnel expenses,” Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Patricia Price told The Knight News.
“With respect to course sections left without instructors, the chairs and deans are working collaboratively and diligently to prioritize the instruction of our Queens College students. In most cases, we anticipate that these sections can be assigned to permanent, full-time faculty. Chairs and deans are working on a case-by-case basis to ensure that our students are prioritized,” Interim Provost Price added.
The college would not provide The Knight News with a list of the professors that were laid off, however the Queens College PSC chapter provided a list of the departments they were from:
- Departments with three layoffs: Educational & Community Programs and Linguistics & Communication Disorders
- Departments with two layoffs: Art, Drama, Theatre & Dance, and European Languages & Literatures,
- Departments with one layoff: English, Hispanic Languages & Literatures, Benjamin S. Rosenthal Library, Media Studies, Accounting & Information Systems, Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Elementary & Early Childhood Education, Secondary Education & Youth Services, and Psychology.
The original notification to department chairs and deans came from Interim Provost Price, who informed the department chairs to give the affected professors the bad news themselves, Media Studies Department Chair Amy Herzog told the Queens Ledger.
“In December the college was required to submit a revised savings plan to meet a higher savings target. As 96% of our operating budget is comprised of personnel expenses, the magnitude of the additional savings required — an additional $4.3 million dollars above and beyond the cuts already made in the Fall — left us no choice but to make difficult decisions about temporary positions,” Interim Provost Price told The Knight News.
However, 10 of these professors that were not reappointed will return this upcoming semester — but in an adjunct positioning — Interim Provost Price told The Knight News.
All of the professors that were let go of were positioned as “full-time substitute faculty” which enabled them to receive a salary and benefits, but are not protected by the PSC, Herzog explained. However, an adjunct positioning does not provide professors with a full-time salary and they only receive health insurance if they teach two or more classes in a semester. They are protected by the PSC, Herzog explained.
David Gerwin, the department chair of Secondary Education and Youth Services and former chair of Queens College’s PSC chapter, gave The Knight News a ballpark understanding of the monetary side of this.
Professor Gerwin explained those professors will be making around $5,500 – $7,000 for each of the classes that they were originally supposed to teach before being let go of. They would’ve made between $60,000 – $90,000 if they retained the “full-time substitute faculty” title for the same classes they will be teaching, Gerwin estimated.
Karen Weingarten, an English professor and current chair of the Queens College PSC chapter, noted that there were 39 full-time substitute faculty on campus before the mass non-reappointments. She also noted that a clause in all full-time substitute faculty contracts enables the college to not reappoint them depending on its “financial ability.”
“Our contract says that substitute appointments are semester by semester and all the substitutes I’ve talked to did get reappointment letters in December. They signed these reappointment letters, I’ve seen many of them with my own eyes, but they all have a clause saying that, yes, they’re being reappointed in the Spring, but its contingent on financial ability,” Weingarten said.
She continued to explain the inner workings of the contract these professors signed. She explained how the professors’ Electronic Personnel Action Forms (ePAFs) were put on freeze last semester. An ePAF is a web-based tool/process that allows users to submit requests for hirings and change notifications in a digital format. This process is one of the many avenues individuals go through to get officially hired by Queens College.
“So, a lot of the chairs had put in the ePAFs for the substitutes, but the budget office was told to put them on hold, not to approve them all the way, and until they’re approved all the way, it’s like you could still reject them, and you could reject their appointments,” Weingarten said. “Basically, the administration put the ePAFs on hold — the hiring papers, the payment paperwork on hold — in the Fall semester, so they could just pull everything if necessary. So it seems like they were already thinking about this in the Fall semester, but just not sharing it with the chairs, even though the chairs — with my own ears, I heard them asking our administration, ‘Please involve us in these decisions.'”
The consensus among the department chairs The Knight News spoke to was that they want more involvement in decisions like these, as well as increased transparency. They also want an increase in faculty shared governance and better communication from the administration, citing that this situation was dropped on them after continuously asking about the ePAFs for the full-time substitute faculty.
As for what was considered when browsing through the 39 names to pick out who would be appointed or not, Interim Provost Price told The Knight News the following:
“The administration realizes that every faculty member contributes an inestimable value to the institution — which had to be balanced with the severity of the cuts we are required to make midway through the fiscal year. In conjunction with academic deans, and consistent with recommendations made to the president, we focused on moving forward with those substitutes who the deans identified as absolutely critical to maintaining program functions,” she said.
“I guess I’ll have to apply for unemployment, even though it’s not nearly enough money to cover my current expenses. I’ll have to figure out how to get health insurance. I’ll need to get a new job. The academic job market is extremely difficult, especially in the humanities, so this is not an easy proposition. On top of all this, I’m going through a divorce right now, which makes my financial situation even more precarious,” Carr said.
The following open letter, provided by the Queens College PSC chapter, was sent to CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, Queens College President Frank Wu, and Chairman of the CUNY Board of Trustees William Thompson on Friday the 19th.
With over 530 signatures, the letter calls for the reinstatement of all the professors that were let go and challenges President Wu to publicly denounce the rising cuts to CUNY while becoming more transparent about the college’s finances. Click here to go to a webpage where you can view the letter.
“Their action to lay off 26 of us two weeks before the new semester shows a lack of common sense and real experience in higher education. They seem to ignore that Queens College, like any other educational institution, cannot survive without faculty and students,” said Elena Luongo, who was also one of the professors that were let go of.
Sammy Ali contributed reporting to this article.