Group of former professors call on LaGuardia Community College to reinstate them after losing jobs and hours due to pandemic

LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Jim Henderson)

A group of former adjunct professors of The English Language Center (TELC) at LaGuardia Community College are calling on leadership to commit to reinstating them, after 20 long-time faculty members were laid off or had their work hours significantly reduced since last summer. They’ve received the support from five Queens elected officials.

TELC, located at LaGuardia Community College’s Long Island City campus, has taught more than 275,000 students from over 80 countries since its inception in 1971. The lauded center provides tuition-based English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction — with courses ranging from basic English to college-level writing — to more than 2,000 students per year, most of whom are immigrants.

TELC is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with the rest of the City University of New York’s public university system, including retaining faculty while enrollment has significantly declined.

However, former adjuncts of TELC, many of whom helped make the center what it is today, want to ensure they can return to their posts once enrollment dictates it, instead of being replaced by lower-wage workers.

Sunnyside resident Linda Pelc has taught at TELC for nearly 35 years. She told QNS she hasn’t been assigned classes since last summer.

“As a senior teacher there, I was quite dismayed not to have been given classes,” Pelc said. “We do think that our hard work, experience and dedication are not being recognized.”

Monika Pacholczyk, an Astoria resident who’s taught at TELC for more than 20 years, also hasn’t been assigned classes since last summer. Because she hasn’t been given classes, Pacholczyk lost her health insurance — right before developing a serious health condition that sent her to the emergency room.

“Right now, nobody really expects to develop other health issues, everybody’s concerned about COVID and getting vaccinated. But I happened to develop another health issue back in September, which is exactly when I lost my health insurance,” Pacholczyk told QNS. “Out-of-pocket [pay] was not an option back then, until it got so bad that I ended up in the ER and I was ready to pay for expenses out of pocket.”

She said that while she qualifies for Medicaid this year, the loss of health insurance last fall prevented her from immediately getting the medical care she needed.

“Nobody should go through this during the pandemic,” Pacholczyk said.

There are currently 14 adjuncts teaching at TELC, but those adjuncts have also lost their health insurance after their hours got reduced, noted Pelc.

Pacholczyk, who’s in her early 50s, said another concern that comes with the job loss is that she won’t be able to build toward her retirement. “I am kind of hanging in limbo,” she said.

Last fall, Pelc, Pacholczyk and a group of fellow adjuncts, who are represented by the union Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY), began to ask LaGuardia leadership for a concrete promise that they’ll be reappointed once enrollment increases. They also collected 300 signatures in a petition, which they presented to LaGuardia’s administration.

Adjunct professors at TELC are usually reappointed to teach classes every quarter. While TELC administrators have honored seniority in years prior, it isn’t a stipulation in their contracts.

But Pelc and Pacholczyk claim TELC’s administrators and LaGuardia Community College’s President Kenneth Adams haven’t been transparent about how or why they decided to keep only some long-time faculty members while employing mostly continuing education teachers to instruct current courses. 

Continuing education teachers work part-time and are paid less than adjuncts.

LaGuardia Community College is one of 25 campuses in the CUNY system, which educates hundreds of thousands of students. CUNY has been grappling with cuts following last year’s state budget, which has resulted, in part, to 3,000 adjuncts being laid off and a deferment of salary increases for full-time staff, faculty and adjuncts.

A spokesperson for LaGuardia Community College said a drastic decline in enrollment has impacted the TELC program.

“In fall 2020, because of COVID and the inability of international students to travel to the United States to attend in-person classes, TELC enrollment decreased by 70 [percent],” the spokesperson stated. “As a result of this severe drop in enrollment, TELC leadership was forced to reduce the number of classes offered and the instructors appointed to teach them. Decisions were made with transparency and genuine concern for the well-being of students, faculty, and staff.”

But adjuncts are still puzzled about why newer teachers were kept on as opposed to those that have been there for decades.

“Enrollment’s down but … because the program still exists, they did choose who they wanted to continue teaching there,” Pelc said.

In a February letter, State Senators Michael Gianaris and Toby Ann Stavisky, Assembly members Catalina Cruz and David Weprin, and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer urged President Adams to commit to reinstating the former TELC adjuncts.

“As representatives of communities with immigrants from all over the world, we know first hand how important access to quality English language instruction is,” the letter read. “We are deeply troubled that LaGuardia, known for its dedication to a diverse student body, and which continues to boast of its English language programs in its fundraising materials, would use a time of crisis to discard the employees that make this work possible.”

TELC alumni have also joined the former adjunct professors’ calls, with one writing a letter to President Adams imploring the center keep the educators.

“The training I received was not just in ESL, it was in understanding a language and a diverse culture, while also providing me with a strong introduction to navigating the U.S. educational system,” wrote Angela Maria Perez-Mejia, chief cultural manager at Banco de la República Colombia. “This was possible because of the teachers’ high level of education and experience and the integrity of the program.”

The LaGuardia Community College spokesperson said that TELC remains a vital part of the community and that LaGuardia is committed to working with “public officials, community leaders, labor representatives, and college governance to ensure the continued viability of the Center.”

“TELC leadership intends to rehire instructors when enrollment recovers to a level that will support additional classes,” the spokesperson said.

For both Pelc and Pacholczyk, returning to TELC means more than just a job and love of teaching.

“I had a cadre of colleagues for 35 years,” Pelc said. “The level of collaboration and support that I felt working with those people was tremendous.”

Pacholczyk agreed, saying she hasn’t experienced the level of camaraderie among teachers at TELC anywhere else.

“Each student has four teachers and we talk to each other … we provide feedback to each other,” Pacholczyk said. “Even now, we’re not actively teaching, but we’re still participating in the support network.”

More from Around New York