Brooklyn College faculty have been placed under a lot of pressure since COVID-19 hit, facing rumors of a mass wave of unemployment. It only added insult to injury when they received letters informing them they had been fired, when in reality they had not been.
“Have I just been fired from @BrooklynCollege411 where I’ve taught for the last 28 years and completed my 9th semester as Dept. chair? Not clear,” tweeted Brooklyn College professor Katherine Fry, the chair of the TV, Radio, and Emerging Media department, now known as TREM. She was on the receiving end of one such letter.
Although she has tenure, and knew that she could not be fired in that letter, she felt a responsibility to speak up. Posting a screenshot of her “non-reappointment letter” email on June 29th, Fry took to Twitter.
“I was concerned that the letter lacked clarity, and I knew that other adjuncts and staff would be receiving similar letters…So I tweeted my letter to make a point about not just a fumbled way of communicating, but also make a point about the devastating nature of the whole decision to further cut employment at BC and CUNY, which undermines all of us — especially student education,” she told the Vanguard.
Many faculty commented under her post, expressing that they too had received a letter. She recognizes the support she received and the strength of CUNY faculty, saying, “it’s been painful” having to relay the message to adjuncts that have taught for years that they’d fallen prey to the system.
Many replied with comments of confusion at having received letters. The PSC chapter for Brooklyn commented, “An error of colossal proportions. Easily corrected in this case, since tenured professors cannot be fired without cause, but imagine all the similar letters – accurate or inaccurate – that colleagues without job security have received!”
James Davis, the chair of PSC Brooklyn College, said, “We advocate for our members with the college administration, and we ensure that the labor contract between the university and the union is correctly enforced on campus.”
Professor Liv Mariah Yarrow, a professor at Brooklyn College commented under the post with a screenshot of a similar letter she received stating, “I got one too from the Library…It’s because at some point we worked as adjuncts either NTA or overage.”
Human Resources worked swiftly, according to Fry, to put employees’ concerns at ease. Later that evening, Fry posted an update that she was in the clear and her job was safe, ensuring she will be able to teach the graduate Media Literacy Education Seminar for the fall semester. She noted that she was one of the lucky ones, hashtagging CutCovidNotCUNY.
“My feeling is that CUNY administration needs to put WAY MORE pressure on Governor Cuomo and state legislators to fund CUNY,” Fry told the Vanguard.
Of letting go of employees, she says it’s, “horrible to tell people who’ve taught for several semesters that you don’t have a section for them to teach — especially when you know it means they will lose health insurance.”
But CutCovidNotCUNY is not the only hashtag they’ve been following. Davis said “an entire campaign has been run out of PSC central office around the theme #SummerOfStruggle, the goals of which to Save Lives, Save Jobs, and Save CUNY.” Davis said, “people working in higher education deserve better,” and that while they do not know exactly how many people received these “generic” letters, he appreciates how quickly HR worked to resolve the problem and “doesn’t fault anyone who works for Human Resources.”
“I’m hopeful that over the next few weeks the union’s advocacy and the pressure that elected officials have brought to bear on the Chancellor and the CUNY Board of Trustees will yield additional gains,” Davis said. As of now, reportedly 52 Brooklyn College adjunct professors have lost health insurance, according to their colleagues.