For the Professional Staff Congress, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were the union's greatest tragedy and its most poignant, courageous hour.
The PSC, which represents 20,000 faculty and staff at the City University of New York, lost eight members in the twin towers. The City University of New York lost dozens of students. "There wasn't anybody at CUNY who was not connected to it. Our loss was very deep, and people are still conscious of it," says PSC President Barbara Bowen.
PSC members could have fled in shock and fear that morning. Instead, Bowen remembers, they snapped into action, without regard for their own lives or safety. Members with medical skills sought out those who needed help at the scene.
Other members brought their expertise on health and safety issues and counseling services to the recovery and cleanup.
"It was a community trauma. You were walking in a war zone," recalls Marcia Newfield, the PSC vice president for part-timers, and an adjunct English Department faculty member at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She, too, remembers how "the BMCC staff was totally energized and responsive afterward." She also remembers how people's eyes teared for weeks after the attacks.
Shortly after the jets hit the towers, students and faculty were evacuated from Fiterman Hall, a 15-story classroom building on the BMCC campus, just 100 yards from the World Trade Center's Building 7.
When the towers fell, dust clouds swallowed the streets. Debris piles six stories high enveloped Fiterman Hall. The building, once host to 400 course sections day and night, never reopened.
The PSC relentlessly pressed the university, the city and the state about hazards at the site and overcrowded conditions at the college. Members rallied, testified and remained vigilant despite working in temporary classroom space. Still, PSC President Barbara Bowen says, progress toward a new building was largely cooperative.
For more than eight years, Fiterman Hall remained the campus' visible reminder of what happened on Sept. 11. Then, in 2009, it was demolished.
At last, Newfield says, "things are moving forward."
The demolition of Fiterman Hall in November 2009 was a turning point for Borough of Manhattan CC. The 15-story classroom building was heavily damaged when the twin towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. A $325 million rebuilding project is underway.