New School cuts pay for part-time faculty on strike

As part-time faculty at The New School begin their fourth week on the picket line, the university announced that it will no longer pay striking staff.

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Manasa Gudavalli

Part-time faculty at The New School have been on strike since Nov. 16. (Manasa Gudavalli for WSN)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

The New School announced it will cut wages and health care contributions for part-time faculty, who have entered their fourth week of striking. Their union and the university have failed to reach an agreement on a new contract during negotiation sessions, which have continued for months. The strike is now one of the longest adjunct faculty strikes in U.S. history.

Part-time faculty turned out in large numbers to the picket line in front of The New School’s University Center on Fifth Avenue on Tuesday, Dec. 6 — the day after the university threatened the wage cut.

“There were half as many people here yesterday,” said Joel Schlemowitz, a film production professor at The New School and former president of ACT-UAW Local 7902 — the union representing striking part-time faculty. “The New School thought this action would demoralize people. It’s done just the opposite — it’s made people fight harder.”

The New School is comprised of five colleges, including the Parsons School of Design. Part-time faculty, totaling 87% of the university’s teaching staff, began striking on Nov. 16 after failing to reach an agreement with the university. The union continues to call for expanded health care coverage, payment for work done outside of the classroom and bonus pay for faculty who worked during the pandemic. Classes taught by part-time faculty have not met since the strike was called, and some full-time faculty have also canceled classes in solidarity with striking faculty. 

The university proposed a new contract, which it referred to as a “final offer,” to the union on Nov. 20. It included compromises such as a 7% increase in wages for the 2022-23 academic year, and a 2.5% increase during the following years. The New School gave the union until Nov. 29 to respond, and 95% voted against the offer on Thursday, Dec. 1. 

According to union representatives, New School part-time faculty have not received a raise since 2018. The university’s proposed contract would have increased compensation by an average of around 1.8% per year, which is less than what other on-campus staff have received during its contract negotiations.

The New School announced the pay and health insurance cuts to striking employees in an email on Dec. 5. Beginning Dec. 7, the university plans to take absences into account when distributing paychecks. The university has paid part-time faculty their previous contract’s rate during the strike so far.

“The threat to strip workers of wages and health insurance is an extraordinarily hostile move, throwing almost the entirety of the university’s faculty into significant financial insecurity,” a statement from union leadership on Dec. 6 reads. “The university is pitting its workers against each other, while stoking the fears of our students — these tactics are typical of corporate behemoths, not purportedly progressive institutions, as The New School claims to be.”

A person holding a sign reads “under paid part-time.” Under the text is the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants with bloodshot eyes while holding some paper in its right hand.
(Tori Morales for WSN)

The university claimed it cannot afford to pay wages to part-time faculty while they strike, and will instead use the funds normally allotted to wages to “implement measures that ensure our students’ academic needs are met.”

Parents of students who attend The New School have threatened to file a class action lawsuit against the university for failing to provide instruction, and some students are considering transferring to other universities due to the continued cancellation of classes. The university is currently using asynchronous online modules, known as the Canvas Common Experience, to replace in-person instruction. However, the program is standardized, and does not account for individual majors or distinguish between undergraduate and graduate students. 

Last week, a student group leaked an email announcing that The New School would hire “progress reviewers” who would grade student assignments instead of professors. Reviewers are required to have a master’s degree, technology skills, and teaching or curriculum design experience. The university said the email was sent out by mistake

In the leaked email, the university said that progress reviewers will meet with students for up to one hour next week and report their progress, using course syllabi as a reference. They will review work completed by students during this semester, which includes assignments submitted before the strike.

Many students and part-time faculty have raised concerns over the possibility of outside reviewers grading schoolwork. A petition demanding the university to not hire progress reviewers and allow all students to pass their courses for the semester was launched on Nov. 3. At the time of publication, the petition had amassed over 3,200 signatures.

“They’re stopping paying their teachers in favor of paying these other people who are completely unqualified to be grading our work and don’t know what we’ve been doing throughout this whole year,” said Anna Louise Marty, a first-year studying fashion at Parsons. “We’re seeing that our administration is not considering their students or their faculty in a way that’s equitable.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected]