BCC Science Bldg. temperature reading shows the classrooms are cold Credit: Contributed photo

Union Week is scheduled to start Dec. 5 for the Professional Staff Congress (PSC/CUNY), the union representing more than 30,000 faculty and staff at CUNY (City University of New York). The week will kick off labor organizing actions on campuses across the city and see calls to push for higher staff wages and a stronger CUNY budget request.

PSC/CUNY’s current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire at the end of February 2023 and members are gearing up for new negotiations. On social media, the union is asking supporters to post messages with the hashtags #NewDeal4CUNY and #APeoplesCUNY.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state legislature passed a $220 billion state budget this year that included a $1.2 billion increase in funding for CUNY for fiscal year 2023. The state budget includes funds for a projected increase in the workforce, which is projected to jump from 13,476 in FY 2022 to 14,016 in FY 2023, and $326 million has been set aside for CUNY capital projects.

Work on capital projects could not come soon enough for faculty and students at Bronx Community College (BCC), where the campus was mostly shut down last week as the fall’s cold weather set in. BCC has old boilers and is not prepared for the fall or winter. Because the administration can’t keep campus buildings warm, “all classes (except for lab courses …) [were] moved to an online format effective Wednesday, November 16, 2022, through Wednesday, November 23, 2022,” the school announced on its website.

Yasmin Edwards, a BCC biology professor and PSC/CUNY member, told the AmNews the school is expected to supply heaters to the lab courses so that lab work—which is required to be in-person—can continue despite plummeting temperatures. “We actually began getting reports about the lack of heat as early as October 3rd,” Dr. Edwards explained: “The challenge is that…this is not new for BCC.

“We always have that lead, the switch from cooling in the summer to heating in the winter. It’s not new. The challenge that I’ve had, within my 10 years at BCC, is we’ve consistently seen that they wait until the 11th hour to begin the process of making the switch. The school—the campus is old and beautiful—but you know, all beautiful old buildings, they require more work. And for quite a long time, sadly, the City University has not invested in capital repairs. So, our heating system is about over 20 years past its life span. It’s held up well but it’s now, I think, officially moved into the realm of the ancient.”

BCC’s failing infrastructure investment is of course having an effect on its students, who are 61.9% Latino and 31.8% Black. One professor noted in an email to the administration that students have complained about having difficulties completing their work in cold classrooms: “On Monday, 10.17.2022, I held office hours in…classrooms/Lab. I accommodated students between the hours of 12:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. and the room was noticeably cold. At the end of the session, I could hardly feel my toes. The following day, Tuesday, 10.18.2022, approximately 75% of the students mentioned that the room was unbearably cold while they were being evaluated.”

At one point, in what seemed an absurd attempt to show there was some effort being made to deal with the cold classrooms, the administration advised faculty members to remember to close classroom windows at night to help mitigate the cold. This would, they said, “limit the impact of the colder overnight temperatures on the building by closing windows, doors and attending to drafts.” The school, they said, is continuing to work on getting the power plant’s three massive boilers to start up.

BCC is expecting to have the heat on by next week. The administration says it plans to change out its boiler equipment before the 2023 fall season.

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