The first thing on the agenda for the NYSUT Higher Education Policy Council this week had to be put off for half an hour.
There was no getting around it; the main topic of discussion was down in Greenwich Village building solidarity on the picket line with striking New York University graduate students.
When outgoing Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen finally popped in to the online meeting, no one was surprised.
“Of course you were on the picket line where you prefer to be,” said Roberta Elins, the president of United College Employees at FIT and chair of the policy council.
“Since 2000, Barbara has been an incredible advocate for not just her union but all union members,” Elins said. “You have always been happiest with a megaphone in your hand.”
Bowen, a recipient of NYSUT’s higher education member of the year award earlier this month, did not run for re-election this spring after 20 years.
“Barbara, you’re a fighter,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “You always have those dukes up, and it’s been an honor to work alongside you…
“We haven’t always agreed, but we always come back to the same place, fighting for our members and those they represent.”
“You never back down, and you’re a role model for all the labor movement and especially for female leaders,” said Jolene DiBrango, NYSUT executive vice president.
Many council members shared memories of times they were inspired by Bowen’s leadership.
She thanked all for their testimonials. “This only has meaning if we do it together, that’s the only way we can do anything is to do it together,” she said.
The Policy Council met about an hour after Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a surprise announcement that he would order all public higher education students in the state to be vaccinated before they return to campus next fall. Crucial details were pending.
In other discussions on the topic of reopening, members shared their experiences with hyflex learning models — sometimes called concurrent, or synchronous instruction in preK–12 — which involves teaching live in a classroom and online at the same time.
Everyone with experience in hyflex agreed it was an “epic failure.”
“It’s a disaster,” said DiBrango. “We are taking a strong position on this,” she said, and asked for any current research to help prove the case that it does not work.
Stephen Rechner, president of the United Clerical and Technical Staff at NYU — who also was picketing with grad students at his campus earlier — unveiled a new page dedicated to private sector local unions on the NYSUT website.
In an update on state legislative action, NYSUT Legislative Director Alithia Rodriguez-Rolon reported that activists will be pushing a bill on teacher education program requirements in next week’s in-district Committee of 100 advocacy meetings.
The union is urging passage of a bill that would provide higher education institutions with increased flexibility when determining admission standards — including graduate record exams (GRE) and grade-point average — for graduate-level teacher and educational leaders programs.