Tuesday, October 29, 2013

PSC Address at the Stated Meeting

Stated Meeting Address

October 24, 2013

Alex S. Vitale

Brooklyn College Chapter

As most of you know we have gone 3 years without a contract. This is a condition we share with every unionized employee in the city. Because of Mayor Bloomberg’s insistence on withholding raises and increasing health care contributions, there are no unions currently bargaining with the City. None. Gov. Cuomo has made and in some cases won similar demands from the state unions. As a result, we have very little reason to engage in economic bargaining until the election of a new mayor. We have, however, approached CUNY management about opening up non-economic bargaining and there are many things to discuss. We will prepare to bargain in earnest over economic matters when a new mayoral administration shows an interest in non-concessionary bargaining. But given that the old contract remains in force, we have very little incentive to bargain.

On a brighter note, the PSC was the only public sector union to back Bill DeBlasio, who is likely to be elected the mayor, in the primary and we are hopeful that he will follow through on his pledge to expand spending for CUNY as well as implement a broader agenda of tax fairness and increased spending for Pre-K and after school programs to prepare students before they are admitted to BC.

On campus, the union is increasingly concerned about faculty morale. There is a growing sense that there is a broad hostility towards faculty and professional staff by CUNY management. This crisis has been felt most acutely in relation to the adoption of Pathways in the face of overwhelming faculty opposition (and requiring HEO timesheets) expressed clearly in local governing bodies and through the union referendum, in which 92% of faculty voted no confidence and a majority participated. The response from CUNY management has further undermined faculty confidence in the Chancellery and Board of Trustees. Board Chairman Beno Schmidt characterized the referendum as nothing more than an opinion poll, showing either his ignorance of survey methodology or willful disregard about the significance of such a vote. The union continues to pursue litigation and collective bargaining remedies to the abuse of faculty governance by CUNY.

The process of developing and implementing Pathways was indicative of a management approach that views faculty as an impediment, rather than an ally, in generating and enacting educational excellence. Another example is the new proposed policy on expressive activity being considered by the Board of Trustees. This policy was developed by CUNY central administration with no meaningful input from students and faculty, who will be most affected by this new more restrictive and more punitive policy. If there is a problem with expressive activity then the CUNY administration should work with faculty and staff to co-produce a policy to address the problem, rather than imposing one by fiat.  

We are concerned that this attitude may be infecting our local administration as well. We appreciate the important role that the College President plays in strategic planning and in developing new initiatives consistent with the college’s mission. We are troubled, however, by indications that the president has not been able to work more closely with faculty in developing and implementing such strategic initiatives. The desire to “fast track” accreditation in Business is one area where large numbers of faculty feel that they have been denied meaningful participation in the process, including the management of their own departments. The Provost’s decision to unilaterally eliminate the foreign language requirement is another example.

We call on the administration to recommit itself to following the college’s governance plan, which insures a central role for faculty in directing and enacting the intellectual mission of the college in terms of curriculum, program development, and departmental governance. 

Thank you.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Special Resolution on Faculty Governance

The following resolution will be brought to the November Faculty Council meeting by the FC Steering Committee. The local PSC chapter supports this resolution.


November 12, 2013

Special Resolution on Faculty Governance
Steering Committee

Whereas, according to the Governance Plan of Brooklyn College (Article II), the faculty “shall be responsible for the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students, including health and scholarship standards; student attendance, including leaves of absence; curriculum; awarding of college credit; granting of degrees”; and

Whereas, Faculty Council is “the legislative body of the Faculty and shall have all the responsibilities of a faculty”;  and

Whereas, Faculty Council, at its meeting of April 3, 2012, voted not to “implement a [CUNY] Pathways curriculum under the current guidelines,” and again, at its meeting of May 8, 2012, reaffirmed that stand, and since that time has not approved any Pathways-related curricular changes; and 

Whereas, the College administration, without approval by Faculty Council, and in violation of the College governance plan, changed the general education requirements in the 2013-2014 Undergraduate Bulletin,

Be it therefore resolved that the Faculty Council of Brooklyn College directs the College administration to restore the general education requirements approved by Faculty Council, as stated in the 2012-2013 Undergraduate Bulletin.

Guest Post: CUNY Should Withdraw draft Protest Policy

BY Alex S. Vitale

CUNY’s new draft policy on Expressive Activity in paying rhetorical allegiance to the “important of a free exchange of ideas and expression of all points of view,” makes the fundamental mistake of equating protest with speech. Throughout the document, the right to protest is restricted by concerns about “order,” “disruption,” and the “rights of others.” These restrictions indicate a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the right to assembly as distinct from the right to freedom of speech.

There are many possible outlets for ideas including interpersonal speech, published writing, and social media. The right to assemble, however, involves the physical manifestation of people in space as both an exercise in communication and an expression of power. As such it is inherently disruptive, disorderly, and interferes with the rights of others. Any policy that attempts to eliminate these qualities reduces protest to speech.

The constitution specifically protects the right to such manifestations by listing assembly as a right distinct from that of speech. The framers understood the importance of public gatherings in rallying opposition to the Crown and in holding colonial officials accountable. It was not enough to circulate pamphlets and make arguments, since the British government was only interested in exploiting the wealth of the colonies and had no interest in a considered debate.

Both the constitution and case law do require that demonstrations be “peaceable.” This limit should not, however, be equated with orderly. The framers were concerned about limiting the insurrectionist impulses of crowds not in micromanaging their assemblies. It is understood that public assemblies involve an inconvenience to others. It is precisely the physicality of assembly that embodies its forcefulness in distinction to mere speech. Occupying streets, sidewalks, and public plazas and loudly and dramatically communicating to those nearby is precisely the point of political assembly.

While we primarily associate universities with speech, protest has also been at the center of university life and the protest activities of students and faculty around the world has played a pivotal role in shaping the modern political landscape. Pro-democracy demonstrations in China and South Korea, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the US and Europe, and Anti-Apartheid protest on colleges around the world have shaped social movements, changed governments, and inspired millions to take political action.  

CUNY management has a legitimate interest in ensuring the physical safety of the CUNY community and in protecting the physical infrastructure of the university. But the proposed policy goes too far by trying to take the disorder out of assembly. Notification requirements, the establishment of restrictive protest zones, and the intent to forcibly terminate protests that threaten to disrupt any aspect of life at the university are an unreasonable abridgement of the right to assemble.

Furthermore, the process of drafting this policy is another example of the CUNY administration’s disregard for the members of the university community. No effort was made to seriously engage students, faculty, or staff in the production of this policy. While CUNY claims its purpose is to protect the safety of students and employees, CUNY continues to tolerate more pressing threats to safety by allowing bullying of staff by administrators,  inadequately funding mental health and crisis intervention services, and failing to properly maintain buildings and campus infrastructures.

The CUNY administration should immediately withdraw this policy from consideration and initiate a much broader policy conversation that involves students, faculty and staff. In addition, any new policy resulting from this process should first be approved by appropriate governing bodies before being considered by the Board of Trustees for adoption.

Alex S. Vitale is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and writes about the policing of protests.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Faculty Coalition: It's Time to Examine MOOC and Online Ed Profit Motives

From Campus Learning


Distance Learning | News

Faculty Coalition: It's Time to Examine MOOC and Online Ed Profit Motives

A coalition of faculty groups has declared war against online learning, particularly massive open online courses (MOOCs), because it said it believes that the fast expansion of this form of education is being promulgated by corporations — specifically for-profit colleges and universities and education technology companies — at the expense of student education and public interest.

The question at the heart of the battle is whether higher education is worthy of public investment or better suited to be an offering of big business. A report issued today by advocacy group Campaign for the Future of Higher Education examines the motives behind much of the current push for online education.

The report, "The 'Promises' of Online Higher Education: Profits," examines how the rhetoric used to describe new online offerings — "innovation," "expanded access," and "reduced costs" — should be interpreted "through the lens of corporate interest and influence." Specifically, corporations and investors have a major interest in the adoption of education technology to deliver online classes.

The challenge is communicating the role of online formats and other technological innovations in higher ed in a more nuanced way in order to make more fully informed decisions.

The campaign coalition includes 65 faculty, student, teacher and union associations from across the United States. The stated mission of the campaign is "to guarantee that affordable quality higher education is accessible to all sectors of our society in the coming decades; and to include the voices of the faculty, staff, students, and our communities — not just administrators, politicians, foundations, and think tanks — in the process of making change."

According to the campaign, the report is a "first step in looking at who is making money, how much, in what ways, and with whose assistance in online higher education." Only by understanding those aspects of the evolving formats of education, the report explained, will the public be able to "assess the full 'value' of the seemingly endless stream of technologically related innovations in higher education and make the best policy decisions for the future of higher education in our country."

"The report...shines a light on how leaders in government and in our colleges and universities are being enticed by snappy slogans and slick sales pitches into making decisions that benefit investors and corporations instead of the students we're supposed to serve," said Lillian Taiz, a professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles and a participant in a teleconference about the report. "We're talking here about a critical public need, higher education — one that affects individuals and societies in far reaching ways. The long-term costs and damage can be huge. And that's what we set out to do in this work — look behind this rhetoric."

The report draws a link between the drop in business and value for for-profit schools following a damning 2012 government investigation of the sector and the current surge in partnerships between public institutions and private operators. For example, earlier this year the University of Phoenix said it would enter partnerships with 100 community colleges as well as the Harvard Business School, following on an announcement that the owner of the institution — Apollo Group — would be closing 115 of its own brick-and-mortar locations.

Likewise, multiple public institutions have announced deals recently with private companies, such as 2U, Pearson, Bisk, and others, for "bundled services," to convert traditional degree programs into online versions. In these deals, revenue generation for the for-profit partner is "robust," the report said. Academic Partnerships, which works with schools to develop and market online degree programs, for example, made $4 million from its share of tuition from Arizona State, $10 million from Florida International University (FIU), and $18 million from Ohio U's nursing program. All are public universities.

In early 2013 a faculty senate online review committee at FIU alluded to the contract with Academic Partnerships, suggesting that "political pressure was obviously a factor." Minutes from the meeting noted, "Jeb Bush has great influence with Republicans in the Florida Legislature. If he let it be known that FIU was not cooperative with public-private partnerships, this could hurt FIU's funding." Former governor Jeb Bush is currently a senior advisor to Academic Partnerships.

In all, the report stated, 200 non-profit schools in 2013 partnered with for-profit service providers, and 500 more will consider similar arrangements over the next two years. Those estimates come from Eduventures data.

MOOCs are the latest territory in which for-profit entities are laying the groundwork for injecting their products and services into publicly-funded education. Citing reporting from Inside Higher Education, the report stated that the major MOOC companies — Coursera, Udacity, and EdX — "have 'cash to burn'": $21.5 million of investor money at Udacity, $43 million at Coursera, and $60 million at EdX, "generously bankrolled" by MIT and Harvard.

The public-facing basis for MOOCs "is high-minded," the report explained. "MOOC promoters...promise unimagined-before access to higher education and the dawning of a new age." The reality is turning out to be quite different, stated the report's authors: "Udacity and Coursera are judged not by the quality of the actual educational experiences they provide students, the degree to which they tear down barriers for students and instructors around the globe, or any of the goals so passionately discussed in public. The bottom line here is the business bottom line — which company looks positioned to make the most money."

How will they make money when they're free? Bob Meister, a faculty member at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said the real plan is "to turn my lecture into a technique for collecting a large and permanent database on student performance, a database that can be used to produce many products, only one of which is the certificate of completion that a student would get." What's not brought up much in coverage of MOOCs, he noted, is that "CEOs and investors [are] waking up to the profit-making possibilities of big data in the online education business. The real model is simply to attract the largest numbers of users while it is free so it can create a global database that can be cross-licensed to all of the other big global databases out there. This is all in return for possibly providing the student with a completion certificate for the course. It seems too good to be true because it is."

The report also referenced Moody's take on the MOOC phenomenon: The adoption of MOOCs, according to Moody's, can improve a school's credit rating. Elite public institutions that don't ride the MOOC bandwagon risk "[destabilizing] their residential business models over the long run." In fact, those that do participate in MOOCs gain a "short-term benefit": the "blunting" of criticism that universities don't provide sufficient services to "fulfill their public mission and, therefore, maintain their tax-exempt status."

In 2012 Moody's rated 283 not-for-profit private universities and 228 four-year public universities in the United States. When the company downgrades the debt ratings of schools, such as it recently did with seven Illinois public universities, the impact is reflected in dealings with creditors and the companies those institutions do business with.

The conundrum for public institutions is that the cost for participating in MOOCs is "relatively high," according to Trinity College President Patricia McGuire, "and the net returns unclear at best." Yet, to avoid the wrath of a Moody downgrade, she suggested, universities "will repress more thoughtful consideration of the value of adopting MOOCs for any given institution — and will encourage further avoidance of faculty participation in the decision — in favor of rushing to embrace this unproven method ―because Moody's said so." Her conclusion: "Moody's should stay out of academic decisions."

Gary Rhoades, a faculty member at the University of Arizona, recommended two "pragmatic policy proposals" that stem from the campaign's paper. One, institutions need to put in place "clear business plans for the growing number of online partnership deals between private companies and non-profit colleges." Two, they need to stop "fast-tracking, bypassing, or eliminating quality control decision-making processes in colleges and universities in accreditation or government oversight. These processes are focused on finance, governance, and educational quality and consumer rights. And they are in place to protect students and taxpayers and ensure appropriate use of college and university money."

Over the next two weeks, the Campaign will publish two additional reports, one that examines the accuracy of promises that online courses can reduce costs for students and educational institutions and a second one that looks at the facts behind the assurances that online education will dramatically expand access to higher education.

About the Author
Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.


Friday, October 4, 2013

What is Pattern Bargaining?

The PSC bargains its contracts in a very complicated environment. CUNY is a public institution that is financed by both New York City and the State of New York. Following the NYC fiscal crisis of the 1970’s, the State took over much of the financial obligation for CUNY. Almost all public funding for senior colleges and two-thirds of public funding of community colleges comes from the state. The remaining one-third of public funding for community college, along with some cross CUNY special programs, like the Black Male Initiative come from the City.

This means that when the PSC sits down with CUNY management, the labor negotiators from the City and the State, appointed by the Mayor and the Governor are looming in the background. While CUNY and the PSC have flexibility in negotiating a variety of “non-economic” aspects of the contract, such as disciplinary procedures or the process for reappointment, the basic “economic” package is set by the city and state. Salary increases or new benefits that cost money, such as junior faculty release time or 80% sabbaticals, all have to come out of a pot of money set by the City and State. We can argue with CUNY management about how to spend the money, but the amount of money is largely fixed.

But how is the size of that pot of money determined? The short answer is that it’s determined by the financial packages agreed to by certain unions, which is then applied to all other unions.  In practice, what this generally means is that the City will work out a contract with one of the major municipal unions—often AFSCME DC 37, and then apply the same percentage increase in the financial package to each subsequent negotiation. At the State level, the process is essentially the same, with the state often beginning the pattern with either the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) or the Public Employees Federation (PEF).

Usually the unions accept this arrangement, which they initiated in the 1980’s, in an effort to provide a united front in bargaining. Unfortunately, they have not always been able to prevent a union from breaking off and agreeing to a concessionary package to avert member displeasure with an extended impasse. DC 37 took this approach in recent years, and in 1998 its leadership was thrown out of office after it was revealed that they had doctored a contract ratification vote that had large givebacks, and set an austerity pattern for the rest of the municipal work force.

Some unions, however, have been able to set their own patterns. Uniformed unions, such as police and fire, have been able to exert enough political muscle at times that they have gotten a better overall financial package than other unions. In some cases, mayors have tried to break the pattern to their own advantage. Currently, Bloomberg has demanded wage freezes in negotiations with unions who are still owed raises from the last pattern. The most notable example of this is the UFT, which is currently in “Fact Finding” over this exact point, hoping to get two 4% increases in the first 2 years of their new contract in keeping with the previous pattern. The PSC has similarly argued that we are also owed one 4% increase in the first year of our next contract.

Sometimes individual unions attempt to fight the pattern. Two years ago the rank and file membership of PEF rejected the contract negotiated by its leadership. In the end, however, the basic pattern held. Unfortunately, this means that the pattern is often set by the “weakest link” in the labor movement. More powerful and well organized unions are often passed over in negotiations until the pattern is well established, leaving them little room to maneuver.

Since CUNY is financed by the state and the city, we have two patterns to contend with. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. In some cases we have been saddled with the worst of both patterns, as in the 1990’s when we were forced to accept wage freezes and benefit cuts. However, this situation also creates the possibility of getting the best of both patterns and even possibly squeaking out a few things that don’t conform to the pattern, because of our unusual hybrid status. Sometimes we are also able to win things that come out of the CUNY operating budget rather than the pot of new money.

In the past, the PSC leadership has struggled to eke out any gains it can from this complex arrangement, but always within the context of the larger patterns set by other unions. We've pointed out that many of our members are recruited out of national and international labor markets, that CUNY is a revenue generating institution because it is now primarily supported by tuition, and that the basic mission of educating students is compromised when the institution and its employees are inadequately compensated. 

These are important arguments, but to win a good contract we need more than compelling arguments and skilled negotiators, of which we have many. We need power. That power can take two central forms. The first is political power. Over the last 10 years, the PSC has taken dramatic steps to raise its profile in the electoral arena in Albany and the City. In order to expand the pot of money for the PSC and other unions, it is imperative that we have a major political movement away from austerity. This year we were the only municipal union that endorsed DeBlasio in the primary, because of his strong anti-austerity stance, significantly raising our political status. We've also become major players in the Working Families Party and the State and Municipal labor federations. Dozens of our members are involved in the hard work of vetting candidates in these forums and working to get the ones we endorse into office. We need more people to join in this effort.

Second, we need to show CUNY management as well as the mayor and the governor, that the union has the strong backing of the membership. This means that when the union calls on people to take action to support contract negotiations, that people respond. This builds the strength and legitimacy of our demands for better pay and working conditions. We need members to come out to events like the Sept 30th rally at the Board of Trustees at Baruch.

While, “the pattern” sets the context for bargaining, there are ways to maximize that process, but we need your help to do it. Please follow this blog and take action when possible to support the power of the union, because ultimately, the union is YOU!