UPPER EAST SIDE — CUNY professors took their labor demands to the streets Thursday, showing up at the chancellor's East 68th Street apartment building to demand raises.
Hundreds of professors donned their academic robes and sounded off alarm clocks outside the home of CUNY Chancellor James Milliken in hopes of bringing more attention to the fact that they haven't received a raise in six years.
"The chancellor doesn't feel the urgency of this," tenured Borough of Manhattan Community College political science professor Geoff Kurtz, 41, said. "A number of people in my department have left because of the salary and the badly structured workload."
The academics are fed up because they said Milliken has had plenty of time to negotiate a new contract for the faculty and staff, but he's moving slowly and hasn't come forward with any deadline, Kurtz said.
The demonstration was organized by the Professional Staff Congress teachers' union that represents 27,000 CUNY staff members.
The freeze has made it difficult for professors, both full-time and adjunct, to keep up with the cost of living and CUNY's less competitive salaries are beginning to take a toll on education, according to the union and professors.
The typical top-ranked professor at a four-year CUNY school made roughly $114,993 and $106,243 at CUNY's community colleges in the 2014-15 school year, according to CUNY records — the third lowest salary in both categories compared to other institutions in the tri-state area.
"The impact on students is devastating," said Manette Berlinger, a retired academic literacy teacher who worked at the Queensborough Community College for 44 years. "Adjunct professors get paid pennies and teach more than half the classes. Because of that, students don't have the support that they need.
"What kind of future will it be if our students are educated in a watered-down environment?" she said.
PSC proposed a salary package in March that would increase salaries 20 percent over the period from 2010 to 2016 — the period of time they've been without a contract. If agreed upon, CUNY would pay them retroactively, or give each teacher a lump sum for the raise they did not receive each year.
So far no movement has been made on that front, although Chancellor Milliken said it is his top priority this year to negotiate a contract.
"Settling this is the highest priority for the chancellor and he has been focusing on it this semester," said Michael Arena, a spokesman for the chancellor, during the protest. "But 70 percent of our students attend CUNY tuition free and 85 percent of them graduate debt free. CUNY is doing its job."
But it has been long enough, according to PSC President Barbara Bowen, and that's why she organized the protest on Thursday.
This month, teachers will bring their cause to the classroom, by talking to students about what's happening within the context of their classwork, Bowen said.
If no agreement is reached by the end of October, PSC will "do a disruptive action" on Nov. 4, but she said she could not say what that would entail.
"I don’t doubt this is his No. 1 priority, but he has not exhibited a strategy of getting past obstacles and has not been able to challenge an agenda to starve the public sector," Bowen said about Milliken. "He just has not delivered and has not been urgent enough. I told him in March that if it wasn’t done in enough time, we'd be in front of his apartment building."