Testimony regarding the establishment of the Murphy Institute as a new CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies

Testimony submitted to the New York City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor and the Committee on Higher Education

The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) wishes to thank the committees on Civil Service and Labor and Higher Education for the opportunity to share our views on formally establishing the Joseph S. Murphy Institute as a new City University of New York School of Labor and Urban Studies. We commend your committees for taking the time to evaluate and recognize the impact that the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies has had on laying the foundation for an educated and empowered workforce.

On behalf of the 200,000 members of the UFT, we strongly support elevating the Murphy Institute among the ranks of CUNY’s highly regarded graduate schools.  

Our union is deeply committed to worker education and professional learning, as was the Institute’s namesake, the late Joseph S. Murphy. A former CUNY chancellor, Murphy was a champion of workers whose legacy of achievements includes childcare for working students, expanded worker education and adult literacy programs.

Organized labor fights not only for workers’ rights but also to help workers in their quest for educational and professional advancement. For more than three decades, the Murphy Institute has supported that work through its programs in higher education and its academic resources, opening its doors to workers and their aspirations for social justice and economic equality.

Each year, the Murphy Institute enrolls over 1,500 workers in its undergraduate and graduate degree programs, as well as its certificate programs. That number includes over 400 members of the New York State United Teachers members, many whom are also UFT members. The rest of the student body includes many community advocates who seek to advance their academic certification and to strengthen their vocational skills.

The Murphy Institute is unique within the City University system. While in many ways a traditional institute of higher learning, it operates via strong collaboration with New York City’s labor unions. Union members derive the dual benefit of earning advanced credentials while becoming well educated in the policy issues and practices that have a social and economic impact on them and their coworkers.

The Murphy Institute offers a full master’s program in both Labor and Urban Studies, as well as certificate programs and intensive semester-long union internships for undergraduate and graduate students. At the core of what sets the Murphy Institute experience apart from other schools is that these union internships immerse the students in all aspects of union life, including political and policy work. Interns spend the day in a real life application of their craft, and then spend the evening working on their academics. The Murphy Institute of Labor and Urban Studies trains the next generation of union activists, adding value whether in the rank and file jobs, mid-level staff or leadership positions.

Our union has in fact hired some of the interns who have joined our ranks via the Murphy Institute’s internship, and they bring with them a keen grasp of the issues, a solid foundation in labor history and an ability to organize at the grassroots level. UFT interns have secured jobs in our communications and political departments. One former Murphy Institute intern transitioned from his UFT staff job to managing a political campaign and now serves as the chief of staff for one of our New York State Senators.

Equally compelling, continuing education and master’s degree students who are in the workforce gain access to the Institute’s world-class faculty — Josh Freeman, Ruth Milkman, Frances Fox Piven, Ed Ott, Penny Lewis, Stanley Aronowitz and others — on par with candidates in doctoral programs at CUNY’s Graduate Center. It’s a testament to its genesis as an educational institution promoting economic and social justice that all students have the opportunity to interact with such high-caliber talent. Its partnership with the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) provides support from a nationally recognized and highly selective graduate labor relations program. The Murphy Institute’s noteworthy symposiums and its publication, the New Labor Forum, produce scholarly work and showcase relevant and timely research and analysis.

For over 30 years, the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies has offered higher education programs for union members and working adults and  has served as a resource center to labor, academic, and community leaders seeking a deeper understanding of labor and urban issues. We believe the time is right to formally establish it as a fully recognized graduate school and to give it the complete rights and accreditations befitting this distinction.

The erosion of private- and public-sector unions in the past few decades has weakened the middle class and had a negative impact on the national economy. New York City’s middle class has suffered too, but the strength of our trade union movement has helped mitigate the damage.  For many of our newer rank and file members, who are from a generation without a strong union connection or even the knowledge of what a union is, the Murphy Institute provides a wealth of information, a community of thinkers and leaders and in-depth internship experiences to bridge that gap.

We thank both committees for their oversight of the issues and institutions that shape our city and affect the lives of students and working men and women who seek to develop their skills and advance in their knowledge and careers.

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