Poor communication between the CUNY administration led to last-minute modalities changes at the start of the fall 2021 semester, according to the president of the Baruch College section of the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty and the staff union of the CUNY.
Earlier in the semester, students at Baruch struggled with the sudden changes in how their classes were taught.
To learn more about the details of the management process behind these decisions, The Ticker contacted, via email, Baruch PSC chapter president Vincent DiGirolamo, who is also an associate professor of history.
He commented on the difficulties leading up to the semester, in particular regarding changes in modalities and immunization mandates.
Regarding the initial planning process, he said that in the spring of 2021, individual faculty members were asked their preferred mode of teaching for the fall semester.
Over the summer, the PSC began conducting step-by-step reviews to investigate COVID-19 measures on campus, drawing attention to the need for more preparedness regarding ventilation systems and control measures. social distancing.
As the Delta variant spread in New York City, some faculty members began to question their modality choices.
“The professors would ask their presidents, the department presidents, and they would ask the provost, the president, ‘Can we change, as was indicated when we made these decisions? Can we go from person-to-person to hybrid or fully remote? ‘ “, did he declare.
On August 19, the Baruch PSC Chapter Executive Committee wrote to President S. David Wu, Senior Vice President and Senior Vice President Academic Affairs Linda Essig and other Trustees regarding these concerns.
“While we are not making any wholesale modalities changes, remember that individual faculty have the discretion to manage their courses and obtain student learning outcomes,” Wu wrote in his letter. Answer.
The PSC had also received information from faculty members claiming that the Zicklin School of Business had informed faculty members scheduled for in-person or hybrid courses that they had the discretion to teach fully online up to new order.
Taking note of these communications, DiGirolamo consulted the executive committee and central officials of the PSC.
The SPC sent a letter to its faculty members on August 23.
“Based on these messages, we wanted to reiterate to our members who are teaching classes this fall that you have the flexibility and discretion to schedule your in-person meetings,” the letter said.
The letter also said unvaccinated students could enroll in in-person and hybrid classes, despite assurances from CUNY that this would not be allowed.
However, DiGirolamo said PSC has warned faculty members against unilateral actions.
“Don’t do anything unilaterally, don’t announce it to the students, but inform and tell your president that this is what you think you are doing,” he told union members.
PSC was quickly informed that they were wrong.
“Then the word got out, first from the provost, then from the deans of the three schools, saying, ‘No, the union is misinformed. You don’t have the discretion to change the modality, ”said DiGirolamo.
Baruch Labor Designee Olga Dais contacted PSC, saying Zicklin had not published such a policy on the terms.
Zicklin Dean H. Fenwick Huss clarified the policy on August 24, according to DiGirolamo.
“Colleagues, although we have discussed that faculty have discretion to manage their courses and achieve student learning outcomes, faculty cannot change the modality of their previously scheduled classes,” did he declare. “It’s CUNY’s policy.”
DiGirolamo then sent a notice to PSC faculty members noting his mistake.
“I was not wrong to say that these department heads told them they could,” he told The Ticker. “I was wrong to say this is Zicklin’s policy.”
Still, students saw classroom modalities change in the fall semester of 2021.
Asked about these changes, DiGirolamo said he had not verified the reason for the change with the provost.
However, he noted that faculty members have reported to him that they have been ordered to meet only virtually for a period of time due to COVID-19 outbreaks and unverified vaccine statuses.
“It is the administration that is acting, I think, in a proactive and prudent manner in advising instructors to teach online,” he said. “They get reports of outbreaks or infections in a certain class, so they tell their instructors, ‘Okay, no more in person, yet. “”
He also said that during the spring and summer, CUNY asked professors to consider giving classes in person in order to meet their goals for fall 2021.
DiGirolamo expressed the union’s dissatisfaction with having a target number of in-person classes.
“It’s like, well, who made that 50% goal?” ” he said. “I did not succeed, the union did not have a say. So why didn’t you put in 40% or 60%? Where did you find this number? “
“I haven’t heard of any sort of tough techniques or tactics. As far as I know, it was a request, ”he added.
He said professors always have the right to choose the modalities of their own lessons.
“In terms of collective agreement, in terms of contract, it’s not something that we have recognized that management has the right to tell us what mode they want us to teach,” he said. “They can’t demand that I teach online next fall or in person. They can have target dates, they can have target numbers and encourage it. But we didn’t sit around the table and solve this problem. “
CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez then announced that all students wishing to visit CUNY campuses for any reason must be fully immunized by the end of September.
However, DiGirolamo confirmed that there was no vaccine mandate for faculty and staff.
“It seems like a kind of double standard, but it was not enforced,” he said.
The PSC has not taken an official position on the vaccination requirement for faculty and staff, as union members appear to be divided on the issue.
Many have already been vaccinated, and some have even requested a vaccination warrant for faculty and staff. However, other members believe that a mandate is a violation of individual and workers’ rights.
“There are anti-vaccines among the professors and staff, who I believe have not yet received their vaccines,” said DiGirolamo. “And even though they got it, they don’t want it to be mandated.”
Unvaccinated faculty members are required to test negative for COVID-19 once a week.
DiGirolamo said he was sympathetic to the administration’s struggles.
“I understand that conditions on the ground are changing and that policies need to change in terms of converting to person online,” he said. “So part of that uncertainty, some of these last minute deviations are in the nature of the pandemic and trying to respond to changing conditions.”
However, he argued that the administration could have done a better job communicating and articulating its policies.
“Better communication, and maybe a cohesive message, rather than a message from this department director, this department director, the provost, then the deans,” he said. “They weren’t all on the same page. I guess at the end of the day there was confusion, policy changes and poor communication on the part of the administration. I am accused of spreading disinformation, but I will say that there was a lot of ambiguous and changing information coming from the Baruch administration on this matter.