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City University of New York’s 30,000-member faculty union fought for six years for a contract that ensured a handful of must-haves. Among them was more job security for adjuncts, who previously taught on semester-to-semester appointments.

Now that provision -- secured in a contract inked last summer -- is starting to materialize: some 1,500 long-serving adjuncts have been awarded three-year appointments, to begin this fall.

“The issue of adjunct job security was the very last thing we settled at two or three in the morning on the last day,” said Barbara Bowen, a professor of English at Queens College and CUNY’s Graduate Center and president of the Professional Staff Congress union.

“It’s been a really monumental struggle, because it breaks through the cherished management notion that adjuncts are disposable employees,” she said. “Through repeated rounds of bargaining, I learned how important it was to the university to have what they would call flexibility and what I would call a total lack of job security.”

Under the agreement, professors on these multiyear appointments may only be terminated for just cause. They’re also eligible for the same health-care benefits -- including vision and dental -- available to full-time faculty members and other New York City employees.

Professors who get on the three-year track may have “every expectation” to be reappointed at the end of their term, Bowen said. “This is a breakthrough. It’s not everything we hoped for, but it’s huge.”

To be eligible for a three-year appointment, adjuncts must have taught for at least six contact hours (typically two courses) per semester within the same department for the 10 previous semesters, consecutively. 

The appointment provides the assurance of at least six contact hours of work per semester, or its equivalent. So if for some reason the department can’t meet that commitment in terms of courses, the adjunct will perform other duties for which they are qualified.

Bowen said the six-credit-hour threshold was crucial in negotiations, since that’s where eligibility for full-time faculty health-care benefits kicks in. Prior to this contract, adjuncts were eligible for benefits under a different system, but the future of funding for that pool was uncertain.

CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress represents about 7,800 full-time professors and more than 5,000 professional staff members, among others, across its campuses but adjuncts make up the biggest share of workers -- some 12,000. The majority rely on teaching as their primary source of income.

Bowen said full-timers rallied for the job-security provision both because they respect their part-time colleagues as professionals and because they understand consistent staffing makes for smoother-running departments and better learning conditions for students.

The union pushed for eligibility guidelines that would have allowed even more professors to qualify for three-year contracts, such as requiring that adjuncts have taught a certain number of credit hours over a given number of semesters, but not necessarily consecutively. So while it pains her that not everyone who may deserve a three-year appointment will get one this year, the first of a five-year pilot program, she said early word on how many professors did qualify is heartening.

A university spokesperson said via email that CUNY is “very grateful to have reached an agreement with our faculty union that, for the first time, will allow three-year appointments of selected adjunct staff. … These multiyear appointments, which are now being implemented on a pilot basis throughout CUNY, are intended to provide increased job security for our longest-serving adjuncts who teach at least six credit hours per semester.”

CUNY’s colleges notified adjuncts about their eligibility for three-year contracts by mid-May and the vast majority of those eligible have received such appointments, according to the union. Approval was subject to a comprehensive departmental review under the contract, but those adjuncts in good standing could generally expect to earn a long-term appointment. There have been some hiccups, such as what to do when an adjunct has been teaching the same discipline but was once assigned to teach it in a different department. But the Professional Staff Congress is checking in on each eligible adjunct and formally grieving problems, Bowen said.

Cory Evans, an adjunct instructor of philosophy and communication studies at Baruch College for the last seven years, secured a three-year appointment this year.

“It’s a great thing,” he told Clarion, the union newspaper. “Teaching is wonderful, but one of the things that can weigh on folks is [job] uncertainty, so knowing that you’re going to be teaching for three years is a big deal. It makes you more involved with your department and with your students, and I think it helps adjuncts feel like they’re part of the academic life of that department.”

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