May 10, 2013

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Student activists, union organizers, confront SUNY chancellor in New Paltz

NEW PALTZ – SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was confronted with tough questions about faculty wages and racial relations, during a visit Thursday afternoon to the campus of New Paltz College.

Organizers from United University Professions – joined by student activists – politely crashed the faculty meeting where Zimpher was speaking, demanding justice with ongoing contract negotiations.

Dozens of protesters holding placards in back demanded a raise in adjunct salaries from an average $3,000 to $5,000 per class taught.  There is no minimum per class compensation for adjuncts in New York.

Activists insisted on making their points on salaries, diversity

Zimpher dodged repeated questions by claiming exclusion from the negotiation process. 

"The state of New York negotiates our personnel contracts, I do not negotiate them personally," she said. "SUNY is not at the table. I want to be clear about this; we are not a member of the negotiation table."

Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, disagrees. 

"Actually, at most of the formal table sessions, there were at least two representatives from SUNY present”, Smith said.  “I don't know why she would say they are not at the table, that simply is not correct."  

"They [SUNY] do not directly negotiate the contract with UUP, that's done through the Governor's Office of Employee Relations (GOER)," Smith explained. 

The proposed $5,000 per course minimum concept has growing popularity among nationwide adjuncts, as the model for what a true living wage would look like. Groups advocating such raises include New Faculty Majority, with labor leaders in New Paltz.

Recent UUP efforts to establish a more modest $3,000 per course minimum adjunct salary were rebuffed by SUNY, according to GOER officials, noted Smith. 

"They are underpaid, under-supported; a lot of them don't have office space," said New Paltz union organizer Peter Brown. "Even if you teach four or five courses per year, it's not a living wage," he said.

Undergraduate senior Barbara Cvenic is a member of the campus Student Labor Coalition.

"Adjunct professors don't have enough time to spend here on campus, and fully devote themselves to their students like full-time tenured faculty do, and it's not their fault at all”, Cvenic said.  “They simply have to get other jobs to live, so it does affect our education a lot."

Black studies major Jonathan Espinoza locked horns with Chancellor Zimpher about the racial makeup of SUNY's administration, faculty and student body, which has been dwindling in diversity over the past 13 years.  

"SUNY New Paltz likes to pride itself as a very diverse institution; it's a very exaggerated claim," Espinoza told MidHudsonNews. "It's an illusion of diversity actually," he said.

Zimpher also fielded about an hour of Q&A from educators, discussing various topics of an academic nature.


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