A participatory project to collect and preserve the histories of the City University of New York

CUNY Adjunct Labor

The CUNY Adjunct Labor collection documents three decades (1970-2001) of organizing efforts by part-time faculty and graduate students at CUNY to advance their interests as contingent workers. The collection emphasizes labor and organizing issues specific to adjuncts, within the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the CUNY faculty-staff-graduate student union, and across the City University of New York system at large. Through newsletters, correspondence, legal documents, memoranda, flyers, minutes, and newspaper clippings, among other items, the collection presents a view of CUNY history that incorporates the struggles of adjuncts to win better wages, benefits, and working conditions. The documents in the collection, for the most part, are drawn from the PSC archives at NYU’s Tamiment Institute Library and the Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives.

CUNY’s increased reliance on adjunct labor began with the implementation of Open Admissions at CUNY in 1970, which had significantly increased the system’s undergraduate enrollment to more than 250,000 by 1972. The use of part-time faculty at CUNY reflected national trends toward the de-professionalization of the academic labor force, as well as the broader movement in international labor markets toward a culture of labor fragmentation, dis-organization, and precarity. Because adjunct workers are undervalued and thus vulnerable in both the labor force and the larger labor movement, the CUNY adjuncts struggled for paid office hours, health and unemployment insurance, a formal grievance process, union representation, and reductions in pay disparities between full- and part-time workers, among other adjunct-specific concerns. These struggles had been waged largely on the initiative of adjuncts themselves, who organized across campuses and pressured both CUNY and the PSC to protect their interests. The persistence of CUNY adjunct teachers in their struggle for rights and representation arguably strengthened CUNY as well as the PSC itself.

Beginning in 1969 with the efforts of the United Federation of College Teachers (UFCT), a union of instructional staff and lecturers (a title later replaced by that of "adjunct"), and continuing with attempts to organize independent unions and non-union worker associations for part-time labor, CUNY adjunct labor had a formative influence on, and a sometimes contentious relationship with, the PSC leadership and membership. The PSC formed in 1972 through a merger of the UFCT with the Legislative Conference (LC), the full-time faculty union.

In 1974, the Adjunct Faculty Association (AFA) filed a New York Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) “Improper Practice Charge” against the PSC, charging that it had intentionally undermined the position of adjunct labor in its contract agreement with CUNY. Ultimately, this conflict did not result in the splintering of PSC, but shortly thereafter the Committee for Part-Time Personnel (CP-TP) was established to represent the interests of part-time CUNY faculty within the union. The CP-TP was able to win adjunct-specific provisions in CUNY's 1977 contract agreement with the PSC which offered incremental pay increases for adjuncts based on length of service, and also in the 1983 contract, which included the relaxation of workload limits on adjunct teachers and early notification of re-appointment and non-re-appointment.

In 1986, the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) at the CUNY Graduate Center, along with the Graduate Students’ Union, formed the self-identified Part-Time Instructional and Research Staff Union (PTU) and also submitted a petition to the PERB for separate certification, which was denied. However, in the same year, the 1986 contract agreement included employer-funded health insurance and tuition remission for adjunct faculty. The DSC continued to press adjunct issues, and in the 1990s formed the CUNY Adjunct Project, a research and organizing group of graduate student adjuncts that agitated for improved wages and working conditions for contingent faculty.

In the early 2000s, the New Caucus ran candidates for PSC leadership positions against the City University Unity Caucus (CUUC/Unity) that had controlled the union’s top officer positions for almost 25 years. The New Caucus ran on a platform that included a call for increased part-time representation in the PSC and – in part due to the large vote by adjuncts – won control of the PSC. Union struggles led on behalf of and by adjunct labor continue (for instance, in the "7K for Adjuncts" campaign of 2019) both within the PSC and through breakaway activist groups. These continuing struggles ultimately demonstrate that in addition to improving adjuncts’ working conditions and pay, the fight for adjunct equity within the union has the ability to fulfill the promise of the PSC and CUNY– an institution that was established to further the nation’s promise of access to higher education opportunities.

The collection was curated by Chloe Smolarski and Irwin Yellowitz from documents provided by the PSC and Marcia Newfield, to whom gratitude is due.
Draft of an Appeal to the City University Community

This draft of a 1970 appeal to the CUNY community was written by the United Federation of College Teachers (UFCT). It accused tCUNY of paying teachers "sweatshop wages" with the objective of obtaining cheap labor for the open enrollment program. The [...]

"Will You Listen to this Cry for Justice?"

This flyer, produced and circulated in 1970 by the United Federation of College Teachers (UFCT), called for students and teachers to stand together and demand that CUNY honor the contract. It stated that despite 6,000 lecturers and teaching [...]

Letter to Legislative Conference Members

This letter from 1971, signed by Belle Zeller, the chair of the Legislative Conference (LC), was addressed to LC members. It requested that members identify part-time faculty represented by the United Federation of College Teachers (UFCT) who would [...]

Vote for Unity: United Federation of College Teachers/Legislative Conference Merger Talks

This 1971 memo, written by the United Federation of College Teachers (UFCT), described the merger talks between the UFCT and the Legislative Conference (LC) and the obstacles to consolidation into what would become the Professional Staff Congress. [...]

Clarion: Professional Staff Congress (PSC) demands

This 1972 PSC/Clarion article included some of the Professional Staff Congress's (PSC) demands for adjuncts. It called for adjunct tenure to be obtained after the tenth semester, preferential hiring rights for full-time positions, salary [...]

Letter from the "Adjunct and Part-time Faculty Caucus"

Posted on the walls of John Jay College in 1973, this letter from the Executive Committee of the "Adjunct and Part-time Faculty Caucus" called for broader support from the CUNY community for the dignity and rights of adjunct faculty. In addition to [...]

Part-Time Instructional Staff: A Resolution for a Decent Contract

This  September 7th, 1973 resolution was written by William Leicht, the VP of the Committee for Part-Time Instructional Staff of the PSC. It stated that a contract that "fails to benefit the weak as well as the strong, violates the basic [...]

PSC Adjunct Report (V. 1, N. 2)

This 1974 Professional Staff Congress (PSC) Committee for Part-Time Personnel Newsletter included articles on adjunct faculty being threatened at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), maximum workload quotas, the election of convention [...]

To "The New York Teacher"

These 1974 letters concerned adjunct faculty job security and what constituted reasons for adjunct dismissasl. Included in this item was a request for PSC President Belle Zeller to respond to an editorial from PSC Deputy Vice President Israel [...]

NY PERB: Improper Practice Charge

This NY Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) “Improper Practice Charge,” filed in 1974 by David Allen of the Adjunct Faculty Association, alleged that the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) deliberately entered into an labor agreement that [...]

Adjunct Faculty Association Newsletter (v. 1. n. 1)

This February 1974 Adjunct Faculty Association newsletter included an announcement of the formation of the Adjunct Faculty Association (AFA), the new organization's formal complaint filed against the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), several [...]

The Parttimer: Committee for Part-Time Instructional Staff

This 1974 issue of The Parttimer, a Professional Staff Congress (PSC) newsletter, announced the Delegate Assembly's official approval of a newly formed Committee for Part-time Instructional Staff. The Committee for P/T personnel was an organization [...]

An Appeal to the Faculty to Vote for a Strike: Adjuncts will be the first to go but “you may be next."

Written by the Adjunct Faculty Association, this 1975 flier argued for a strike, claiming that the budget cuts would result in the mass firings of adjunct faculty and increased workloads for full-time faculty. It also claimed that, according to the [...]

Part-Time Faculty Members of the PSC

This September 29th, 1975 memo , written by David Allen of the Committee for Part-time Instructional Staff, announced a delay in the proposed strike and claimed that the decision to defer it made it unlikely that those who had been fired would be [...]

Arguments Relating to Adjuncts for Submission to Factfinders

This October 10, 1975 memo, written by the Committee for Part-time Personnel and circulated among members and potential members, included both an agenda for an upcoming meeting and a list of arguments relating to adjuncts for fact-finders to present [...]

Letter to Cantor, re: Retrenchment of Adjunct Faculty

This 1975 letter from Stephen C. Vladeck, a prominent labor lawyer a to Mr. Arnold Cantor, Executive Director of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) expressed doubt about the wrongful termination of an adjunct professor and recommended that the [...]

PSC Newsletter to Part-timers

This June 28, 1976 memo from Susan Prager, chairperson of the Committee for Part-Time Personnel, was addressed to part-time members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). It included the renewed retrenchment guidelines for adjuncts and stated [...]

PSC v. CUNY re: Dividing full-time positions into adjunct appointments

This grievance, filed on September 17th, 1976, by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), alleged that CUNY had replaced full-time faculty positions with adjunct appointments despite having sufficient course offerings to reinstate retrenched [...]

" But I'm only an Adjunct "

"Part-Time Teaching at CUNY" was written by members of the Committee of Untenured Faculty (CUF) in 1976. Part I of the article included a collection of anecdotes culled from adjuncts' experiences of precarity and isolation across [...]

Vote for the PSC-BHE Contract

This letter, written by Susan Prager in 1977, urged readers to vote in favor of the Professional Staff Congress - Board of Higher Education (PSC - BHE) contract. While the letter acknowledged that some members would be disappointed, it listed three [...]

NYS Dept. of Labor Unemployment Ruling: Ineligibility to Receive Unemployment Insurance

This decision, dated July 19, 1979, from the office of the New York State Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance upheld an initial determination of claimants John Abreu's and Dinah Levine’s ineligibility to receive unemployment insurance [...]

Letter from Polishook to Ledley

This July 25, 1978 lfrom Professional Staff Congress (PSC) President Irwin Polishook to Professor Ralph Ledley, chairman of the Faculty Welfare Trustees, requested that the Trustees estimate the costs of health coverage for "approximately 2000" [...]

Adjuncts as Seasonal Workers

This July 31, 1978 memo from Beryl Weinberg of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) to Tony Ficcio discussed adjunct unemployment insurance. It explained the difficulties adjuncts had receiving unemployment insurance, a significant issue [...]

Slave Labor in CUNY: The Plight of the Adjunct

"Slave Labor in CUNY: The Plight of the Adjunct," published in the City College of New York's (CCNY) Student Senate Publication in November 1979, attempted to dispel any misconceptions about adjunct faculty’s working conditions by highlighting the [...]

Letter from the Adjuncts Benevolent Association to Mr. Polishook

This November 19, 1980 letter , addressed to Irwin Polishook of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) and sent on behalf of the Adjunct Benevolent Association, enumerated why the 9-hour teaching limitation that CUNY had institutionalized was [...]

Higher Education Faculty Leaders Denounce Plan to Replace Career Professors with Part-timers.

This joint May 28, 1982 statement, signed by Nuala Drescher, Lou Stollap, and Irwin Polishook, three NYS faculty union presidents, expressed shock and denounced a proposal put forward by NYS Education Commissioner Gordon Amach, which would have [...]

NY Faculty Protest Move to Increase Use of Part-Timers

Published on June 4, 1982 in he Higher Education Daily, this article, entitled "NY Faculty Protest Move to Increase Use of Part-Timers," reported that NYS faculty unions attacked NYS Education Commissioner Gordon Ambach’s proposal to let [...]

Reject Unlimited License to Staff their Faculties with Part-time faculty

This confirmation copy of a June 24, 1982 Western Union Mailgram from Dr. Irwin Polishook to Chancellor Willard A. Genrich urged the NYS Board of Regents to reject an amendment that would allow NYS universities and colleges unlimited license to [...]

Proposal for Wrap-A-Round Adjunct Health Insurance

Written in 1982, this memo discussed the possibility of implementing a "wraparound" medical health insurance plan for adjunct faculty. It argued that this option would be superior because it offered free choice of physician and 365 days of hospital [...]

Letter: Economic Disparity

In this letter addressed to President Irwin Polishook of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), Jonathan Lang, Chair of the Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC), outlined the differences in salaries between adjunct and full-time faculty and expressed [...]

Doctoral Students Council News: Murphy's Optimism

This Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) newsletter, published in 1982, covered adjunct news that ranged from notes on a meeting the DSC steering committee had with Chancellor Murphy to a satirical piece entitled “How not to be an Adjunct”. The [...]

The Graduate Students' Union 1983-84:
A position paper

Written by the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) in 1983-84, this position paper stated the intentions of the recently formed organization. The aims enumerated were to advance the interests of CUNY graduate students as employees (or prospective [...]

Association of Part-time Faculty: A letter to the PSC

In addition to a reference to an earlier meeting, this March 15, 1983 letter from Nancy Erber of the Association of Part-Time Faculty and addressed to Mr. Arnold Cantor (PSC Executive Director) and Ms. Susan Prager (PSC Vice President), assured the [...]

Form Letter Reviewing Provisions of 1983 Contract Agreement

Written by Susan Prager, the PSC's Vice President for Part-Time Personnel, this April 1983 letter was distributed to adjunct professors. The letter, intended to inform adjuncts of the terms of the new CUNY agreement which extended retroactively [...]

Form Letter for those Expressing Interest in Medical Plan

Distributed in late May 1983, this letter was sent to those who had previously expressed an interest in the Professional Staff Congress's (PSC) "Wraparound Major Medical Plan." It included quarterly employee payment costs under the [...]

RE: Unemployment Compensation

This June 17, 1983, memo, sent to all adjunct members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), informed part-time faculty that they had a right to appeal all state unemployment compensation denials since 1978 based on a procedural violation. [...]

Part-time Personnel: A Newsletter (1)

This 1983 Professional Staff Congress (PSC) Part-time Personnel newsletter communicated the 1982-84 contractual agreement between the PSC and CUNY. It advised all adjuncts to understand the contractual language, as that knowledge would allow them to [...]

The Refuse: On Representation or Decertification

This issue of The Refuse (December 1983-January  1984), a Doctoral Students’ Council newletter, addressed the issue of retrenchment at CUNY, pointing to several articles that had mischaracterized CUNY’s relationship to labor precarity and [...]

Deconstructing Chancellor Murphy's Comments on Adjuncts

The Association of Part-Time faculty (APTF) sent out this correspondence to full -and part-time faculty asking them to send letters to CUNY Chancellor Joseph Murphy who had called the adjunct employment situation “catastrophic” but, according [...]

Go to all 82 Items in collection.

CUNY Adjunct Labor