Educating Prisoners Saves Money and Lives: 'Give a Brother a Chance'
The letters began arriving in Baz Dreisinger’s mailbox in 2005. Dreisinger, an English professor at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, had written a Los Angeles Timesarticle on so-called “jailhouse rap,” which was having a moment: Beanie Sigel and Pimp C had just released albums after being sentenced to jail time, and C-Murder recorded his album The Truest Shit I Ever Said in prison visitation rooms in Louisiana while serving time for a murder charge. As Dreisinger continued to write about hip-hop and reggae, letters came from inmates all over New York, some expressing their opinions on music, others offering their personal stories in the hopes that she might write about them.
One letter in particular invited Dreisinger to speak at an event organized by Latinos en Progreso, a group founded by inmates at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in Wallkill, New York. The resulting conversation among nearly 100 men, most of them people of color, Dreisinger recalls, centered on race, drifting from James Baldwin to Ralph Ellison to the phenomenon of passing.
“I could not wrap my head around how we could be warehousing away some of our best and brightest citizens,” says Dreisinger. Regardless of the reason for their incarceration, she says, “it struck me as deeply cruel and irrational” to deny the men access to education.
After Dreisinger’s visit to Shawangunk, she registered as an educational volunteer there and kept going back. When a prison superintendent questioned why John Jay, a university dedicated specifically to criminal justice, had no correctional education program, Dreisinger started one. The Prison to College Pipeline program, launched in 2011 with the help of John Jay’s Prisoner Reentry Institute, provides incarcerated students at Otisville Correctional Facility in upstate New York the opportunity to earn grant-funded associate’s degrees. Professors from both John Jay and Hostos Community College travel to the prison to conduct classes, and students earn college credits from Hostos.
The program is one of several created in the 22 years since Congress banned inmates from receiving federal Pell Grants, causing a precipitous drop in the number of prison college programs, from about 350 before the 1994 ban to just 12 by 2005. (The controversy was nodded at on the most recent season of Orange Is the New Black, where the warden’s idea to rehabilitate the women under his watch by establishing an education program at his privately run prison is shot down by his corporate bosses.) But while prison education advocates have long mourned the loss of college programs behind bars, legislators have been slower to come around. Last year, the federal Department of Education stepped in to begin expanding prison college programs, after federal policy had for two decades dismissed college courses for inmates as a waste of public funds.
In fact, there is increasing evidence that allowing inmates access to education can save taxpayer dollars. An oft-cited 2013 study by the Rand Corporation, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that every dollar invested in prison education programs yielded savings of between four and five dollars during the first three years post-release. Inmates who participated in education programs had a 43 percent lower chance of returning to prison than those who did not, and were 13 percent more likely to be employed following their release.
More than that, though, a college education has an inestimable value to those behind bars themselves. “Public safety is not just about keeping people locked up,” says 43-year-old Lumumba Woods, a formerly incarcerated student now studying at Hostos Community College. “It’s about educating people so they come out knowing things they may not have known before.”
For Dreisinger, the lack of computers, Internet, and unfettered access to books inside prisons created obvious challenges — before a freshman writing class, she had to remove metal from three-ring binders before she could distribute them to students. Still, she says, the overall rigor of classes she taught at Otisville outpaced the ones she taught on campus. She was also struck by how her students, whose lives were governed by an institution designed to strip them of autonomy, took pride in the one thing they could control: their grades.
“I’ve never had students cry over a B plus before, and that semester I did,” she recalls.
Education programs were once common in prisons: Some universities sent professors into facilities, while other prisons offered their own vocational education programs. In the early 1990s, however, following the lead of notorious conservative senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina (who in 1991 sponsored legislation introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee to bar inmates on death row or serving life without parole from Pell Grants), legislators from both parties began seeking to bar inmates from receiving federal Pell Grants. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas fumed that prisoners had “received as much as $200 million in Pell funds” (the actual number: $35 million of the program’s $6 billion budget, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office); on another occasion, Representative Timothy Holden of Pennsylvania waved a copy of the Pottstown Mercury over his head while fuming, “There is an obligation to do the best you can to give incarcerated people a chance, but certainly not from a program that has been earmarked for low-income people to educate their children.” NBC Dateline reported on students who were ineligible for Pell grants struggling to pay for college, contrasting them with crime victims unhappy that the people who had wronged them had college access.
Prison education advocates noted that inmate Pell Grants didn’t cost other students their tuition checks: The program is need-based, so anyone eligible can receive a grant. Still, amid this rhetoric, in 1994 Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which incentivized harsh penalties for low-level drug crimes that predominantly affected black and Latino men, as well as providing funding for more cops and more prisons. Less noted was the provision that barred incarcerated men and women from eligibility for Pell Grants. States followed the federal government’s lead: Incarcerated New Yorkers lost their right to the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, a grant that had been provided to about 3,500 imprisoned New York students in 1995. Private programs such as the Bard Prison Initiative cropped up to fill some of the gap, but budget constraints severely limited their scope.
The targeting of prison college programs by lawmakers had been a long time coming, according to John Dowdell, director of the Gill Center for Business and Economic Education at Ashland University and editor of the Journal of Correctional Education. “I can remember so many times where they said, ‘We understand the return on investment makes sense but we can’t go to our constituency with this,’ “ he says. “ ‘It doesn’t sell. It may be beneficial; it just is not palatable.’ “
In 1999, five years after the crime bill, Devon Simmons was an 18-year-old senior at Norman Thomas High School in Murray Hill. A Harlem native, he’d attended schools on the Upper East Side; his mother registered him using her work address to provide him with a better education. Still, Simmons says, he was “not prepared for college in any shape, form, or fashion,” thanks to an indifferent school culture and an enrollment size that made it easy to get lost in the system. “When I went to high school it was like if you come to class, you come to class. They didn’t really emphasize the importance of college; I never took the SAT.” His high school average was about 65 percent — just high enough to graduate.
But before that could happen, Simmons was involved in an altercation in his neighborhood that led to his arrest. On December 31, 1999, he entered Coxsackie Correctional Facility on an eighteen-year sentence. Like about 41 percent of the federal and state correctional population, Simmons had no high school diploma. He remedied that by earning a GED through a prison program in 2000, but that exhausted the educational opportunities available to him.
Instead, Simmons turned to the prison library, as well as a local county library he occasionally ordered books from, though these had limited resources. He pored over nonfiction books, mostly autobiographies, before moving on to books about the law. But any books brought into the prison had to be screened on a case-by-case basis: Books about people that inmates knew personally or those with lots of maps, for example, could be suppressed for fear they might cause conflict or encourage escape plotting, according to Dreisinger.
When the Prison to College Pipeline program relocated in 2012 from Staten Island’s Arthur Kill Correctional Facility to Otisville, where Simmons had been transferred, he was immediately interested, but not particularly hopeful.
“For so many years I’ve been told ‘no,’ “ he recalls of his experience being incarcerated. “For me to believe I was going to get into this program was kind of like a wish in the sky. I couldn’t let myself be built up in order to be let down again.”
Simmons passed the CUNY admissions exam and had a successful interview with Dreisinger. Weeks later he was notified that he was one of eight inmates to be accepted to enter the associate’s degree program that year. “I got the mail, it said, ‘You’ve been accepted,’ and it was just a sigh of relief,” he says. The program offered two classes per semester, and Simmons earned credits for five before he was released on parole in 2014.
Simmons has since completed his associate’s degree at Hostos — with honors — making him the first Prison to College Pipeline student to earn a degree. He recently began classes at John Jay as a full-time student, in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He says the program also helped him repair his relationship with his family. “I wasn’t in contact with many of them, but them seeing that I was doing something while I was incarcerated had them see me in a different light, and demonstrated that I had changed,” he says.
Simmons spent long, humid days this summer traveling from his home in the Bronx to Columbia University for a screenwriting course he was taking to learn how he might one day tell his own story. In his first classes on the outside, he struggled to learn how to use now-ubiquitous technology that had remained out of reach inside prisons — email, Google Chrome, and Blackboard. (He now has a job mentoring other students who have been involved in the criminal justice system in the use of those technologies, and helping them ease into campus life.) And he has been a vocal advocate for prison education reform, even traveling to Washington, D.C., after his graduation to speak with Secretary of Education John King Jr. In their meeting, Simmons says, he put it bluntly: “You just have to give a brother a chance.”
Last year, following President Obama’s announcement of sentencing reforms and of his intention to grant early release to 6,000 nonviolent drug offenders (as of June, he has released 348), the federal Department of Education announced the launch of a pilot program that will once again allow some inmates to receive Pell Grants, despite the 1994 law. In June, the DOE announced that 67 partnering universities would enroll about 12,000 incarcerated students in over 100 correctional facilities across the country beginning this fall. Seven of the schools, including John Jay, Hostos, and LaGuardia Community College, are in New York.
The additional funding will help the Prison to College Pipeline program expand significantly. This year, the program is operating on a $415,000 budget supplied by private foundations and grants, with help from the state division of criminal justice services. This has allowed for 29 students this year, up from 17 last year. (The program received 132 applications for the 2015–2016 school year, according to program officials.) The financial aid available to inmates through the DOE pilot program will enable the Otisville operation to convert to a full degree-granting program in fall 2017, with room for at least 50 students.
At the same time, Queensboro, a minimum-security facility in Long Island City, will educate 100 students, beginning next fall, in a series of four certificate programs run by Hostos and LaGuardia in green building maintenance, computer technology, healthcare navigation, and OSHA workplace safety. In preparation, John Jay and Hostos faculty members spent all summer traveling back and forth to Otisville with paper versions of the Free Application for Federal Student Financial Aid in tow, an accommodation necessary for a community of students with no internet access.
The momentum hasn’t stopped there. Two years ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed using state money to fund education programs at ten state prisons, and was met with bipartisan outrage; Republican state senator Greg Ball was vehemently opposed, calling the initiative “Attica University.” This January, Cuomo tried again, this time volunteering $7.5 million from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office’s bank settlements that, along with private donations, would provide one thousand inmates with the chance to take college classes over the next five years.
On the federal level, the proposed Restoring Education And Learning Act would, if passed, allow Pell Grant applications from anyone who is incarcerated (excluding those serving life sentences without parole and those on death row). Congress, though, has been resistant: The REAL Act has gained little traction since it was introduced in May 2015, and days after Obama’s pilot program was announced, Chris Collins, a Republican representative from New York, introduced a “Kids Before Cons” act that would block the program.
For students like Woods, who served 23 years of a 15-year-to-life sentence before earning his release in April 2014, the expansion of prison education programs has restored more than just his right to learn — it gave him his freedom. After participating in every education, health, and work program offered at Otisville and earning his GED, he says, “I plateaued academically because there was nothing else.” He was denied parole four times before he enrolled in the Prison to College Pipeline program, where he took English, leadership, history, Africana studies, and public speaking courses.On his fifth attempt at parole, the board said yes. Today he’s a full-time student on track to earn an associate’s degree from Hostos next spring.
Dreisinger says these classes offer more than just college credits. Being allowed to freely question, even challenge, ideas in the classroom, she says, allows inmates a reprieve from an environment where safety often demands you question no one. The DOE pilot program’s name — Second Chance — is inherently a misnomer, says Dreisinger, for the mostly poor, mostly black and Latino men who arrive in prison from neighborhoods historically blighted by structural racism and educational neglect: “Most of the students in our program are filled with people who never had first chances.”
The most common, and perhaps most convincing, arguments set forth by lawmakers in favor of the pilot program are economic. New York State spent over $60,000 per inmate in 2010, the most in the country, according to a Vera Institute study; a 2013 New York City Independent Budget Office report put that cost at an even higher rate, an unprecedented nearly $168,000 per inmate. Given the Rand study’s findings that educated former inmates are less likely to return to prison, Fred Patrick, director of the Vera Institute’s Center for Sentencing and Corrections, says expanded college programs would result in savings that could be better spent on cash-strapped public services like schools, roads, or hospitals.
Dreisinger says college in prison is about more than saving money. “Clearly there’s a recidivism argument to be made, but even more deeply, access to higher education is our right,” she says. “Whether you’re in prison or not, it’s a civil rights issue.”
For Simmons, it’s also a chance to right the wrongs of the past, not just for those inside the prison system, but for those who built it. “Access to higher education is one of the remedies to reconcile the injustices that have been brought upon [communities most affected] by the criminal justice system,” he says. “An opportunity to rehabilitate while incarcerated is a start in the right direction.”
Desegregating NYC's 'Apartheid Schools'
When the incoming kindergarten class arrived on September 8 at Brooklyn New School, long one of the most sought-after public elementary schools in rapidly gentrifying brownstone Brooklyn, it marked a significant change from recent years. About half of incoming students were eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch, reversing a trend that had seen low-income families fall to 20 percent of kindergarten admissions by last year.
The shift is the result of a new admissions policy at several city schools to try to come to grips with the city’s disturbingly segregated school system, a decades-old problem exacerbated by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that deemed racial quotas in school enrollments to be unconstitutional nationwide. The goal of the policy — concocted by BNS and six other schools, and approved last fall by the city department of education — is to do an end run around the ruling, using lunch status as a proxy for both income and race.
The initial response from both school administrators and parents has been cautious excitement. “I feel really lucky to have my kids in a school where the administration has been trying to keep diversity,” says BNS parent association president AnnMarie Matava. “For the most part, everyone I’ve spoken to is really positive about it.”
But she and other education activists warn that attempts to desegregate the city’s public schools are likely to face a long battle against everything from city housing patterns to school funding formulas — circumstances that have left New York City schools among the least-integrated in the U.S. The New York Times estimated in 2012 that New York’s public schools were the third most segregated in the nation, after Chicago and Dallas. According to a 2014 UCLA study, about three-quarters of black students in New York City attend schools that are less than 10 percent white, while the typical white student attends a school that is 43.5 percent white, triple the percentage of white enrollment at schools citywide.
The city’s pervasive racial and socioeconomic segregation of students isn’t new, nor are attempts to address it. In the 1960s, black parents pushed hard for increased integration — in 1964, half a million students boycotted classes for a day to call for a citywide busing plan — but got nowhere. Instead, community leaders in black and Latino neighborhoods turned their efforts to “community control,” seeking to redraw school zones in a way that would at least allow them to govern their own kids’ fates — a strategy that ended up reinforcing the existing divisions, especially as neighborhoods became more segregated during the white flight of the 1970s.
That’s one reason why, when Brooklyn parents and educators — inspired by Deborah Meier’s experimental Central Park East public schools in East Harlem — founded BNS in 1987, they sought out ways to create an integrated student body from the beginning. “When we started, the way children were admitted to the school was based on ethnicity: one-third black, one-third Hispanic, and one-third other,” explains principal Anna Allanbrook, who says it was a conscious decision to try to reflect all of Brooklyn’s families, not just those who happened to live down the block or to be best at navigating the school admissions process.
BNS’s racial mix gradually whitened over time, though — as a result of both changes in admissions policies forced upon the school by the Bloomberg administration, and the changing demographics of Brooklyn. Then came the 2007 Supreme Court ruling, which invalidated all race-based quota systems. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined the court’s four conservatives in the ruling, left the door open a crack for workarounds: Diversity was still a worthwhile goal, he argued — so long as desegregation plans were “narrowly tailored” without direct reference to individual students’ races.
Any such experimentation remained unlikely in New York City, though, where ever since Michael Bloomberg seized mayoral control of the public schools in 2002, the city Department of Education had downplayed school integration as an issue. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, city schools chancellor Joel Klein remarked that “a focus on racial balance seems to me to be not the way to solve the problem,” but insisted that the city should instead “focus on high-quality education for every kid in every school.”
Studies by both academic researchers and think tanks like the Century Foundation, however, have found that integration and quality are hard to disentangle. This is glaringly apparent for low-income students, for whom integrated schools provide access to resources, both academic and financial, that affluent families otherwise share only among themselves. But for more-affluent students, diversity researchers argue, there are benefits as well, even if they’re more intangible, like being able to hold classroom discussions with students from diverse backgrounds, or learning how to talk to people from other cultures without embarrassing themselves.
The first crack in the DOE’s resistance to desegregation came in 2012, after Klein’s departure, when PS 133, on the northern margin of Park Slope, was preparing to move into a newly expanded building with an increased enrollment. The DOE suggested allowing all families in the two local districts — District 13, which covers Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, and western Bedford-Stuyvesant; and District 15, which runs from Red Hook, through Cobble Hill and Park Slope, and down to Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace — to apply on equal footing, instead of limiting enrollment to the more affluent sections of Park Slope and Boerum Hill right around the school.
But as David Tipson, director of the nonprofit advocacy group NY Appleseed, remarks, “the research shows that equality is not equity.” More affluent parents (who are disproportionately white) are not only more likely to have the time and social contacts to navigate the school application process; historically, they tend to cluster where their playground peers send their kids. As a result, everyone involved knew what an equal-footing free-for-all in Park Slope would mean: a school dominated by well-off white families. “There are populations that are systematically disadvantaged by school choice systems,” says Tipson, “and if we want the school to really be accessible to all students, we are going to have to put our thumbs on the scales a little bit.”
To this end, PS 133 parents and administrators suggested adopting a gambit from privately run charter schools. Under a 2010 state law, each charter had to reflect the demographics of its district in low-income students, English-language learners, and students with disabilities, a provision designed to keep them from cherry-picking high-performing students to boost their scores. To meet the income guidelines, charters began giving admissions priority to children eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch. PS 133 parents and administrators demanded the same option, and after some haggling with DOE lawyers, the school received a waiver starting in the 2013–14 school year.
Other schools quickly seized on the PS 133 ruling to ramp up their own diversity plans. Last fall, the DOE announced that it would okay seven schools — three in Manhattan (one in Washington Heights and two in the East Village) and four in brownstone Brooklyn — to implement similar admissions formulas, ranging from 20 percent of seats being set aside for English-language learners at Brooklyn’s Arts and Letters, to BNS giving first dibs to students eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch. (Because siblings of current students, and students already enrolled in the school’s pre-K still get to be first in line, about half of kindergarten students will still be high- and moderate-income.) And the DOE upped the ante this May by throwing open the pilot program to any principals and superintendents who wanted to request their own diversity plans, though none have yet officially announced they’re doing so.
So far, response from parents at the pilot schools has been mostly positive. “The concept of ‘things should be fair,’ everybody agrees [on],” says Marco Battistella, who last year served as parent association president at the Earth School, one of the East Village schools inaugurating diversity plans this fall. “Some people are afraid of ‘Will I be losing something?’ “ But most parents, he says, see the benefits of a diverse student body, both for equality of opportunity and for broadening the educational experience of all students by exposing them to classmates from all walks of life.
Still, Battistella and other supporters of the new program are quick to point out that giving precedence to low-income families in admissions can’t reverse decades of segregation on its own — especially since most schools draw students solely from their own neighborhood school zones, which tend to be fairly homogeneous. That’s less of an issue for schools like BNS, which has a longstanding agreement with the DOE to allow admissions from not just all of District 15, but Districts 13 and 14 (which extends from Greenpoint to Bed-Stuy) as well. But, says Allanbrook, for “schools limited by zones, it makes it really, really difficult. How do you have this diversity when you are limited by neighborhood?”
This is why some advocates are pushing for a system that breaks down zone lines to take a districtwide approach to admissions. That’s already the case in Manhattan’s District 1, which includes diversity-waiver recipients the Earth School and the Neighborhood School, and where all families can apply anywhere in the district for elementary school. Parents and educators on the District 1 Community Education Council, however, have been pushing to replace that with a setup known as “controlled choice,” where the district would put its thumb on the scale, changing the algorithm that places kids at schools to weight placements by income in addition to parent preference.
Tipson is a strong proponent of controlled choice, believing that it could cut through the knotty problem of geographic segregation. “It’s counterintuitive, because we think, ‘Oh, zones create segregation, so the opposite of zones is choice, so that should lead to integration,’ “ he says. “But it’s not that simple, because higher-income families have tremendous advantages in the choice process.”
That disparate access to resources leads to another complication of desegregating schools by income. As school funding from the state has leveled off in recent years — despite a 2007 court settlement requiring the release of additional funds, most of that cash flow has not actually appeared in the governor’s annual education budgets — individual schools have become increasingly dependent on parent fundraising to pay for everything from arts programs to school supplies. Integration, then, is a double-edged sword: Bringing in more low-income families allows them to share in the benefits of good schools, but also risks cutting off the fundraising pipeline that helps make the schools good in the first place.
Parents and administrators at schools in the pilot program say they’re already planning ahead for such a contingency. At BNS, where the annual parent association budget is about $250,000 — well behind some Manhattan schools where budgets can near $1 million, but also far greater than the $5,000 or so that is the city median — there has been talk of supplementing parent funding by exploring grants or corporate donations, according to PTA president AnnMarie Matava. Still, she says, “having a more diverse culture is more important than just being able to ask parents to write checks. It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that is worth figuring out.”
Ultimately, says Battistella, “it’s kind of absurd that schools need to rely on parents’ fundraising. Because it’s not for things that are extra — typically it’s for things that really should have been covered to begin with.”
Inevitably, any integration plans will run up against the problem that affluent families have a power that their low-income neighbors do not: If they don’t like the local school options, they can far more easily up and move to another zone, or even another district. (“Ask any parent and they’ll be able to tell you exactly where the line is in Park Slope that separates District 15 from District 13,” notes Tipson.)
For the integration reformers, the new admissions benchmarks are at least a first step toward a broader city policy, if only as proof of concept. “I think it was important for the DOE to see that white parents didn’t go through the roof when PS 133 and the seven schools adopted this,” says Tipson. But he cautions that if desegregation efforts stop here, they’ll be limited in their iwmpact: “The reality is we’re never going to be busing kids from the southern end of Staten Island up to the Bronx to achieve racial integration in our schools. I do think eventually once we can get some models in place, the different districts will need to interlock.”
Battistella, a District 1 CEC member and a controlled-choice supporter, agrees that the true test will be whether the steps the DOE has taken so far are only the beginning. “I don’t think the current plan is a great plan — it’s a baby step,” he says. “But it at least breaks the ice.”
[Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article erroneously reported that a UCLA study found that the typical white New York City public student attends a school that is “68 percent white, nearly double the percentage of white enrollment at schools citywide.” Those are figures for the New York metro area; in fact, a typical white student in New York City during the 2010-11 school year attended a school that is 43.5 percent white, exactly triple the citywide average of 14.5 percent.]
Locked Out Teachers Say LIU Is Just 'Selling Seats,' Not Educating Students
A member of the athletics staff taught developmental psychology. A dean, a professor of biology, was scheduled to give instruction in ballet. Organic chemistry, according to one student, was taught by a janitor. Many classes were in disarray, with students sitting around in half-empty classrooms or instructors handing out inaccurate syllabi; in another, students remained seated for an hour, waiting on a professor who never arrived because she wasn’t allowed on campus.
These were scenes reported by students during the first week of classes at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus, after president Kimberly Cline took the unprecedented step of locking out its faculty just hours before the private university was to open for its fall semester. Students arrived last Wednesday to a campus where professors had been replaced with members of the school’s administration, as well as last-minute replacements the university had found on Monster.com and other online employment sites.
The lockout occurred only five years after a strike by professors in 2011 over a proposed salary freeze. (According to the administration — union leaders dispute this — five of the university’s last six contracts were agreed upon during faculty strikes.) During that dispute, professors negotiated well into the first week of the semester to get their deal done. This time, faculty members — who were objecting to lower wages at the university’s Brooklyn campus than at its Long Island campus, and a proposed reduction of starting pay for adjunct professors — found themselves locked out even before they were able to vote on a new contract. While the administration had been advertising positions for replacement instructors in the weeks leading up to the lockout, no one expected the university to actually follow through with using them.
“The administration has sent a message to the world that’s very troubling. It shows that it’s in the business of selling seats, and not educating students,” psychology professor Philip Wong told the Voice on Friday. Wong, along with 236 fellow professors, had just had his health benefits shut off by the university. On Thursday, the faculty had gone to a nearby café en masse to sign up for unemployment benefits.
(LIU administrators did not respond to Voice requests for comment.)
Meanwhile, inside the university, the administration was insisting that students were still receiving a quality education, even as administrators were shuffled around to teach classes. One administrator in the speech-language pathology program had been assigned to teach 55 credits, or the rough equivalent of 18 classes.
“Dr. Cline must resign!” dozens of students shouted in unison on Friday as they marched through the gates of the campus, something their professors were no longer allowed to do. Inside the halls of the university, students reported that some parts of the school were still functional, however – a separate union represents the pharmacy program’s professors. A large contingent of athletes continues to attend all their classes, cautious of running afoul of LIU coaches.
The object of professors’ scorn is Cline, who took office in 2013, as LIU was dealing with serious financial insecurity and facing $122 million in long-term debt. Some of that debt was created by an increase of financial aid of $34 million between 2009 and 2013, as the university tried to offer better deals in an academic environment where students and parents have grown increasingly wary of going into deep into debt to attend a private college.
Cline, the former CFO of the state’s university system, immediately cut more than thirty non-unionized university staff when she took office; the admissions and marketing offices were almost completely wiped out. At the same time, Cline committed to capping tuition increases to 2 percent per year through 2020, putting the pressure on the administration to look for ways to cut the budget elsewhere. Cline’s decision to lock out faculty was accompanied by a letter to the student body from Senior VP of Academic Affairs Jeffrey Kane stressing that “every additional dollar spent on faculty salaries and benefits is a dollar not spent on student scholarships, new labs and facilities or campus safety.”
All this is playing out against the backdrop of a nationwide push by university administrations to cut down on costs in a time of declining enrollments and rising tuitions. “If the number of administrators, and their salaries and costs, had not increased so dramatically over the past 25 years, tuition could be about a third less than it is,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, of university costs nationwide. “This is a self-inflicted wound. The increase in administrative costs have all been internally generated. Administrators have paid themselves handsomely, and have hired even more of themselves.”
Indeed, while many lower-end administrative positions at LIU have been cut, Cline’s salary, and those of other high-end administrators, sticks out as especially generous. In 2014, Cline made almost half a million dollars. According to the university’s 990 filings, the salaries of high-end administrators at LIU doubled between 2008 and 2014, from a total of $2.5 million in 2008 to almost $5 million in 2014.
One of the main sticking points for LIU’s contract negotiations hinges on adjunct salary. Since 2010, the share of courses taught by adjuncts at LIU-Brooklyn has increased from 56 percent to 63 percent, according to the website College Factual. Adjuncts at LIU-Brooklyn make only $1,800 per course — a figure, the administration boasts, that is more than they would make at nearby universities. A quick glance at glassdoor.com would find that this is untrue – other private area universities like NYU ($144/hour) and Parsons ($96/hour) pay far better. The administration wants adjunct compensation to be even less under the new contract, cutting payment for office hours and limiting the number of courses individual instructors can teach.
Negotiating tactic or not, the university appears committed to actually running the university in this fashion as long as negotiations play out. With the add/drop deadline looming next Tuesday, students are starting to worry that they’ll be stuck with thousands of dollars in bills for meaningless classes taught by unqualified instructors.
Carlos Calzadilla, nineteen, arrived from Florida early last Wednesday to start his first day of college. By that afternoon, he was leading student protests against the administration.
“I didn’t imagine starting college this way,” Calzadilla told the Voice. “Understandably, a lot of freshman have no idea what’s going on — but more are becoming aware as it continues. They’re afraid of the consequences, but as students, we really have the power.”
Calzadilla said that if students organize against the administration and refuse to be taught by replacement instructors, the president would have very few options left. “The college is placing profit over people,” he said. “This is supposed to be a nonprofit institution, but they don’t care about their students.”
The lockout now pits two desperate groups against each other: Students, who want to see their tuition money going toward a quality education, and the replacement instructors who desperately need employment (many of whom are in the process of paying off their own student debt as well).
One such instructor, an adjunct at a different institution who wished to remain anonymous, told the Voice that LIU’s advertisement never mentioned the labor dispute, and the money being advertised on Indeed.com looked hard to resist. Usually, this adjunct said, applying for these types of jobs never yielded a response – the competition was too heavy. But the night the instructor replied to the ad, they got a call from LIU.
“Without ever saying ‘strike,’ their HR department made me aware that this was a temporary situation and I wasn’t being considered to teach for the whole semester,” the adjunct said to the Voice. LIU was offering $500 to prep for the class, an additional $500 for the second day of teaching, plus $1000 per credit. The money was tough to turn down, although by this time the adjunct knew it would mean crossing a picket line to get it.
“I was really desperate for work,” the adjunct said. “I really wanted to be able to eventually be hired by Long Island University, and I had heard so many people crossing picket lines and feeling bad about it, but ultimately getting jobs as a result of it. I don’t want to cross a picket line, but these are desperate times.”
In the days leading up to the beginning of the semester, the adjunct was given a series of conflicting instructions from the university about how to prepare for the semester. The day before class was supposed to start, the adjunct had yet to be given a syllabus for the assigned course. Thinking that the labor dispute had been resolved, the adjunct searched online to see what had happened — and, learning about the lockout, backed out of teaching the course.
“I really feel bad for the students, because I want them to get a good education,” the adjunct said. “And believe me, my orientation group was filled with really, really good teachers, all of whom were out of work. But I didn’t want to do it this way, and not for an administration that was so unprepared to do this.”
In an email to replacement instructors leaked to Twitter, LIU reminded instructors to let students know that they were indeed qualified to teach, and that they should engage the class in a “brief review of credentials and experience,” as well explain the “relevance of credentials to course matter.” The email ended by telling instructors to remind students that this was only a “temporary measure” and that the university expected for the full-time faculty to ultimately return to teaching.
In the interim, LIU’s administration has so far refused to agree to a temporary contract that would allow professors to return to classrooms while a longer deal is hammered out, citing the “disruption” that replacing the replacement teachers would cause. But as empty classrooms, overburdened faculty, and lack of prep time for qualified teachers would attest, there’s not much left to disrupt.
Ginsberg believes this is likely to be just the beginning of a wave of strikes and lockouts that will seize higher education over the coming years, as administrations look to cut costs, and job-hungry adjuncts provide an almost inexhaustible cheap labor supply that, by sheer need, will inevitably cross a picket line.
“Without a doubt, they’re trying to break the union,” said Rebecca States, a professor of Physical Therapy at LIU-Brooklyn and the head of the faculty senate. “This is unprecedented. Over the last ten years, there has been a pressure on higher education to become more like a corporation. If you can’t measure how much someone is learning, then the higher-ups say it’s not worth it. They’re looking at it simply from a financial perspective. It’s all just a numbers game to them.”
In Session Guide [Sponsored]
Back to School Basics for the Discerning Metro Student
The air is turning crisp once again, and that means one thing; it’s time to dive headfirst into the vast pool of educational opportunities proffered up by this great city. New York is truly one of the scholastic meccas of the world, nourishing minds of all ages (the largest public school district in the country, plus innovative and historic universities - including an Ivy – with a grand total of over 600,000 students). But the chance to become thoroughly edified is not strictly relegated to the traditional, institutionalized classroom. Here we take a look at some exhilarating options available to aspiring students, across a broad landscape of fields and practices. From a light-hearted lot of activities, designed to provide an outlet for unbridled creativity, to courses devoted to reshaping your career to the next level, we’ve got a full, diverse curriculum for you to explore. So strap in and open your mind to some seriously fun, alternative instruction.
Distill the Best
Everybody and their uncle is brewing beer these days, but the classic art of whiskey distilling is not something one just does on a lark. For a neat nip of authentic instruction in the time honored tradition of hearty spirit crafting, check out: The Distiller’s Union. They offer three class types (The Shooters, The 750’s, and the advanced Full Liter), for the hobbyist all the way up to those looking to make a full fledged career out of whiskey production. All forms of instruction center around making whiskey in a micro-batch still, so you don’t need to worry about housing massive wooden barrels from the start (yet the fundamentals you learn there will carry over to the commercial sized mash cookers and fermentation tanks of the pro’s). So strap in; soon they’ll have you snifting in style.
While cooking classes of all natures abound, a focus on organic, nutritious (yet still delicious) cuisine is a much desired skill in today’s health-conscious culinary climate. Since 1977, the Natural Gourmet Institute has focused on instilling aspiring chefs with not just the necessary training to cook nourishing meals, but with an intrinsic ideology on making the world a healthier place. It all starts with the raw materials; they only source sustainably and ethically derived and grown food. Next, the means in which these scrumptious delights are prepared and served are weightily considered, as this integral part of the process ensures freshness and the epitome of tastiness. You’ll also learn all about the vitamins, minerals and other yummy nutrients inherent in each organic bite. And, of course, you’ll know how to make it all look pretty.
There’s no better a place to confront your fear of public speaking/social anxiety than in front of a crowd. Taking a class, taught by an authentic industry professional, is the perfect method to eventually step right into that unforgiving spotlight, and dispel your demons once and for all. Put yourself in the trusted hands of the good people of The PIT. Here you can receive top-notch training in a variety of comedy genres, as you overcome your phobias – all while you get funny. Obviously those looking to launch an actual career in this field will benefit greatly from the experience too. Pro sketch and improv troupes regularly perform in the theater space, as this all-inclusive comedy hut houses talent of all calibers. Now grab the mic and bomb away!
World Wide Fab
You have an intense proclivity for fashion-forward production, but you can’t sew to save your life. It’s time to turn your stylish (and business savvy) impulses into a tangible career. Working in global fashion management is a profitable confluence of your talents, which can be honed and authenticated at FIT , one of the most elite fashion schools in the nation – right here in the neatly tucked away Clinton area of Manhattan. The program, it should be noted, is a Masters of Professional Studies (MPS), so an undergrad degree is a requisite. FIT is partnered with fashion schools in both Hong Kong and Paris, which you are required to travel to in order to attend seminars (Paris? …How dreadful.) Once you finish the program, you’ll be in contention for management jobs high up on the totem pole of the international fashion world.
If you not only love to strengthen your oblique muscles, tone your torso and increase overall flexibility, but enjoy imparting your glorious physique-centered wisdom onto others, then this could just be the ideal field for you. Quest Magazine’s vote for “Best in NYC,” the Focus Personal Trainer Institute is a great place to get trained to train. All facets of gym-ratting are covered; if you are looking to train people one-on-one, work in a commercial gymnasium or eventually own your own studio, the Focus crew will show you how – and spot you all along your journey. Focus provides a concentration on not only the best training practices, but on the entire vocabulary of the human body’s musculature and physiology. Once you are an actual certificate holder, nothing will stand in your way (except maybe lactic acid).
As Wood As it Gets
Some craft classes culminate in a collection of cutesy (useless) trinkets – here you can use your hands to make things that are actually vital to everyday life, like functional furniture! The ancient art of woodworking has been around since humans first realized they could live somewhat comfortably inside trees and use their branches as weapons. Now available in what some consider the coolest borough, Makeville Studio of Brooklyn provides arbor based training that goes against the grain. Their no-nonsense, fully “hands-on” courses teach you how to get that finely sanded, beautiful mahogany desk properly polished and assembled, all without losing a finger. Yes, safety instruction plays an important role in the serious woodworker’s life. Now grab a two by four and some goggles, it’s time to turn you into a true woodworkin’ wonder.
Words Across the World
Granted, most people took Spanish or French in high school (and retain only a random “Hola, donde esta la biblioteca?” or “Ooh-la-la”), but now you can learn a more esoteric language, like German or Portuguese, and finally put that wagging tongue to use. At schools like City Speakeasy you can acquire the linguistic skills necessary to absorb those aforementioned patois. How about the vernacular of Mother Russia? Da, just try Fluent City. Or…what about Japanese? Say konnichi wa to the New York Japanese Language School. The point is, loquacious friends, that there is a zesty bevy of places to fluently learn just about any words that have ever better uttered (yes, even dead languages like Latin). With a mastery of the idioms of various people around the globe, you can travel without fear of being ripped off, engage your Uber driver in a spirited debate, and eventually get a job as a translator at the U.N.
Blowing Your Mind
Glass is one of the coolest art mediums ever conceived. The fact that you can actually shape it is a little trippy. If this translucent sculpture molding technique speaks to you, then get out of that glass house and dive in. Create your own eye-catching works, as well as practical items too, like signs, lamps…and smoking apparatuses. At Brooklyn based (of course) Urban Glass you’ll receive extensive edification on all of the varied uses for glass and how you can maximize the fascinating substance to its full opaque glory. Learn the correct methods on torching glass, using a kiln and even staining glass. Glassblowing is a timeless art and the end product, when executed properly, is a nothing short of dazzling – just don’t drop it, for Pete’s sake.
Find Your Repurpose
Jewelry design is an illustrious art form, that fuses creativity and functionality. What’s better than perfecting this skill in an all-Green, environmentally friendly and responsible way? The ever-progressive Pratt Institute offers crash courses on this very topic at their Center for Sustainable Design Strategies. Here you’ll explore where source materials originate (and which locales, that decimate their surroundings, should be patently avoided). You’ll investigate the practices of companies that purport to be above board and gain real insight into how the whole process goes down. In the actual hand-manufacturing of jewelry, the passionate staff will elucidate how you can make highly fashionable and wearable pieces that adhere to all the ethical and environmentally safe guidelines set forth. Ultimately, you’ll learn about the commercial aspects of jewelry, and how, once you make it big, you can rigidly keep these practices going strong.
Makeup as You Go
The perfect canvas for your personal art form is the human face; you’ll happily apply makeup to your own lovely mug all night. You shun painting the town red in favor of the painting your friend’s visage a staggering variety of hues. All right, sugar, it’s high time you take your ardor for Mac and Nars to the next level and learn how to get paid (handsomely). At Chic Studio New York , you evidently get the works. From the base coat to the application of the final lash extension, you will walk out of there with expertise in both subtle tones and dramatic streaks alike. Included in their extensive training course are a professional grade Makeup Kit and Brush Set, a photo shoot to showcase your best work, and letter of recommendation to help you land that primo gig.