Pathways: What More Can One Say?

Statement to the CUNY Board of Trustees June 18/25 2012 
A Path Forward 
Sandi Cooper, chair University Faculty Senate 

One year ago in June 2011 you chose to ignore a range of protests from CUNY faculty regarding the proposed Pathways resolution, dismissing the faculty comments either as foot dragging, self serving, time wasting or trivial. One example was ridiculing a request from senior colleges for at least a four credit increment in the senior college option on the grounds that four credits were inconsequential.

Today you are faced with a crescendo of protests – NONE claims to dismiss the transfer issues but all assert that the proposed common core substitution for our existing well crafted general education is an embarrassing dumbing down of education to a sub par high school level. Indeed there are many high schools in this country which would not have tolerated this curriculum for an instant. It would not get their students into a first rate state university, never mind a private liberal arts college. Your determination to move forward – to support your central administration which forced this proposition on over 7000 full time faculty by selecting a few hundred from our midst – has produced the worst demoralization in CUNY since the 1976 retrenchment. You have pitted campus administration against elected faculty governance – with provosts sending in college proposals that never passed faculty curricula or senate votes; you have pitted departments and disciplines against each other; you have endorsed a resolution which now permits a student to take one semester of a foreign language but impossibly claims that the course will teach students to “Speak, read, and write a language other than English, and use that language to respond to cultures other than one’s own.”

The rigid insistence on 3 credit courses assaults the carefully designed programs at the College of Staten Island, which were authorized by the Board of Higher Education in 1967 – but you care little for history or precedent. Worse, this insistence mocks national standards of science and English teaching – largely eliminating laboratory work in the former and focused writing instruction in the latter. For a student body with highly mixed skills and next to no knowledge of history – US or other – you propose a 3 credit course in “world cultures” which can come from any one of the following disciplines: anthropology. communications, cultural studies, economics, ethnic studies, foreign languages (building upon previous language acquisition), geography, history, political science, sociology, and world literature. This course, in addition to the ludicrous objective of language fluency in one semester (which can be based on some distant high school experience) promises to “analyze the historical development of one or more non-U.S. societies.” Such an objective could only be included by someone who knows nothing about historical methodology, nor about the woeful national ignorance of American students regarding US or global history, or by someone who hated history in school. This muddled list – ONE course from any of those areas – insults by ignoring the variegated methodological underpinnings of each. Worse, it blocks students from experiencing an area which they may never had touched before and which might have become their major.

The common core math requirement which equates quantitative reasoning with college level math is obviously designed to push through that large group of students who struggle with mathematical concepts. Clearly this is an effort to expand graduation rates but at what cost to the student? Several years ago a previous vice chancellor identified math as one of the “killer courses” in CUNY; the common core expands that concept to include most of our disciplines.

One of the most respected members of the UFS Executive Committee gave voice to a whispered murmur– calling this curriculum is an example of “soft racism” – lowering expectations for students to provide them with a paper credential instead of an education equal to accepted standards.

I find it interesting that the central administration has ordered all IT systems to move forward to create the platforms for pathways. Last year when we proposed adapting our IT to support a rational transfer system devised by the faculty, we were told that it would cost far too much to do so .. to reconfigure CUNYfirst so that a student could easily see what catalog requirements at a different college were. Now evidently the IT can be adapted. For me this is further evidence that faculty engagement was not wanted IF it was not controlled from the top. Any of us with independent ideas or data were to be marginalized … thanked for our interest and dismissed.

In defending pathways I have heard some of you refer to your own negative college memories or to how you smoothly moved from two to four year schools. Anecdotes are amusing – and I can insert my own which recall 64 credits of general education at CCNY with tremendous fondness – but they should not be the basis of policy. Because a vice chancellor did not have general education requirements at an Ivy League and a chancellor regrets not having had more liberal arts at CCNY, because a previous trustee flunked a course 3 decades ago at Brooklyn College, producing our CUNY policy that allows a student to balance at F grade with another stab at the course to negate that F; because a few dozen students wave handmade placards at trustee meetings – none of this is evidence sufficient to undermine and insult the combined experience and training of over 7000 faculty who – I assert – know more collectively about higher education than an entire battalion of administrators and trustees. Moreover the gratuitous destruction of unique historical qualities of each campus is too high a price to pay for a problem which could have been solved more rationally, with more buy in and support, less top down micro management and propaganda and produce a result that did not embarrass us all. It is no benefit to students to send them forth into a very competitive world where they face college graduates from elite schools whose training and skills; who facility with the English language and familiarity with global realities; clearly beats and defeats most of our students.

You have a simple solution to this needless and heedless policy. Let us salvage what is good about it, return it to the college faculties, to the elected senates, to work on as the faculty at SUNY and Cal State have and are doing. It needs at least two years; it cannot be implemented by fiat from the top if the bottom does not believe in it. We have senates, curriculum committees — all authorized in the charters which you have voted on — we have discipline councils; we have young, enthusiastic faculty who are afraid to speak out now just as some provosts are — because of fear of retribution. The negativity prevailing now can be undone. The faculty are ready to move on.