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

2000-2010 Centralization of CUNY

The appointment of Matthew Goldstein in Fall 1999 as CUNY’s chancellor inaugurated a decade of expansion of power and control exercised by the CUNY central administration and the Board of Trustees, as their “An Institution Adrift” report had called for. CUNY’s undergraduate student enrollments did grow dramatically in the first decade of the new century in response, in part, to the spiraling costs of higher education across the country, which made CUNY’s tuition charges a relative bargain for many. By the end of the decade CUNY’s undergraduate enrollment had even exceeded CUNY’s enrollment high point four decades earlier following the implementation of Open Admissions. But that increase in student enrollment also produced a system that increasingly became stratified by race and class, with the four-year colleges attracting an increasing number of white and Asian students, many of them middle class, while poor and working-class students of color crammed into CUNY’s community colleges.

At the start of this period of CUNY centralization and faculty and staff dissatisfaction, a more progressive Professional Staff Congress-CUNY (PSC-CUNY) union leadership took office. In 2000, a "New Caucus" slate of officers, led by Queens College English professor Barbara Bowen and Brooklyn College professor Steve London, was elected to replace union leaders who many felt had not organized members enough or fought hard enough against the austerity measures of the past. (Hear interview with John Hyland who was the incoming PSC-CUNY treasurer in 2000. )

During the 2000s, Chancellor Goldstein rapidly increased private fundraising efforts in support of CUNY’s overall operations as well as managing to generate substantial capital funds from the state and city to undertake a major building campaign. This fundraising allowed the CUNY central administration to take on the development of new academic programs, including graduate schools of journalism and public health and a school of professional studies. Increased funding from the state (although still below pre-fiscal crisis levels) also allowed CUNY to hire almost 2,000 new full-time faculty members, again, the first major faculty hiring at CUNY undertaken since Open Admissions. But this number of new full-time faculty proved grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the growing number of CUNY undergraduates flooding into the institution. As a result, the hiring of low-paid, part-time adjunct instructors across the CUNY system also grew dramatically, reaching more than half of the teaching work force in CUNY by decade’s end.

CUNY’s increasingly centralized authority also allowed the administration to push into areas where faculty traditionally exercised some control, via shared governance structures, namely the nature and extent of academic planning and the determination of academic requirements and pedagogy. Adjunct instructors, many of them CUNY graduate students, became increasingly vocal in their displeasure at their exploitation and, supported by PSC-CUNY, the faculty and staff union, undertook militant actions and organizing drives. Despite an expansion of CUNY facilities and programs in the first decade of the 21st century, the systematic evisceration of CUNY’s budget by state actors over the previous three decades and the accretion of centralized administrative control generated a growing opposition among faculty and students as CUNY proved vulnerable to the next wave of academic consolidation and budget cutting that would come in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008. 

[This essay is based on Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education, by Stephen Brier and Michael Fabricant,  October, 2016.]

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2000-2010 Centralization of CUNY