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CUNY Pathways: The Danger of Ignoring Shared Governance

If you don’t start building a new organizational program from the ground up but impose it from the top down, you are going to lose control when the program has to be implemented by people with no real commitment to it, no feeling of ownership of it.

We’re seeing that right now with implementation of the Pathways to a Common Core program at the City University of New York. Whatever the central administration may claim to the contrary, Pathways is an imposition  on the faculty created without real faculty input. It is not surprising, then, that it is starting to fray.

On Wednesday, the English Department of Queensborough Community College voted to refuse to accept a change in its composition courses making them (according to a member of the department) three-credit for students and three-hour for faculty (in terms of work load) rather than three-credit/four-hour courses. At my own CUNY campus, we’ve long wanted to change our three-credit composition courses to count for four in work load, recognizing that an incredibly writing-intensive course like First Year Composition needs much more than can be adequately provided by the teacher in a standard three-hour format. We’ve envied campuses like QCC, which have been serving their students just that little bit better than we have been.

According to the Professional Staff Conference, the faculty union at CUNY, QCC Vice President Karen Steele sent an email to the department chair on Thursday that included this:

We will no longer be able to offer EN-101, 102, or 103 in their current configuration (i.e., four contact hours) as of Fall 2013. Since we don’t have in place courses that will meet the Pathways requirements for the Common Core, we can’t put forward a Fall 2013 schedule of classes that includes English Composition courses. Given that fact, and the resultant dramatic drop in enrollment, we will have to take the following actions:

  • All searches for full time faculty in the English Department will be cancelled immediately;
  • The existing EN 101, 102, and 103 will not be included in the common core, and therefore will not be offered in Fall 13;
  • Beginning March 2013 (our Fall 13 advisement cycle), continuing and new students will be advised to take the common core requirement for I A at another CUNY institution, since the courses will not be available at Queensborough;
  • Neither EN 101 or 103, nor EN 102 will be submitted to the University in the QCC list of ‘gateway’ courses for the English Major (we must submit the list of gateway major courses by October 1, 2012);
  • Of necessity, all adjunct faculty in the English department will be sent letters of non-reappointment for Fall 2013;
  • The reappointment of full time faculty in the English Department will be subject to ability to pay and Fall 13 enrollment in department courses.

This is ridiculous on a number of levels (there’s no reason that the courses as they stand can’t meet a three-credit requirement, for Pathways concerns student credits not faculty work-load; punishment of the sort enumerated never solves this sort of problem; etc.)–but that will be more and more obvious over the coming days, so I don’t need to deal with that here–other than providing this from Angus Johnston:

From what I can see, 175 of the English department’s 206 sections this semester are in composition, which means that the administration is planning to eliminate nearly 85% of the of the department’s current offerings. Given that English has a total of 26 full-time faculty listed on its departmental page, and given that the full-time CUNY community college courseload for three-credit courses is 4/5, the elimination of composition would mean the firing of nearly three-quarters of the department’s full-time faculty even after the termination of all part-timers.

And this, from the PSC response to Steele:

There is no reason for the administration to eliminate English composition courses, or any other courses, that do not comply with Pathways. They will still fulfill the college’s degree requirements. Such courses could still transfer to other colleges for credit outside the general education curriculum. The elimination of English composition courses also raises questions about compliance with NYS Education Department regulations, which mandate that colleges offer the courses required for their degree programs. In addition, it could put Queensborough’s accreditation in jeopardy. The vice president’s extraordinary retaliation threatens the most basic understandings of both academic freedom and faculty authority.

None of this would be happening had the CUNY administration shown respect for the faculty and had worked to build a Pathways program with the faculty, instead of in spite of the faculty. Many of us members of the CUNY faculty are working hard to make Pathways work (I know I am), but that does not mean we are happy with a program that takes neither faculty expertise (as contributors) nor students’ needs (as learners) fully into account. Nor does that mean that we have any sort of commitment to it or that we support it.

Some of us, like the QCC English Department, are taking stands against Pathways further down the path to resistance than I am willing to go–right now. Other departments in other of the CUNY campuses will soon be following the QCC example–maybe in different ways, but their resistance will be palpable. That this is happening is a sure sign of the failure of the Pathway process. Pathways was poorly conceived and is being ineptly implemented.

If the administration had included faculty in the process (as more than window dressing), not only would the program not be falling apart before it starts but it would really be a program that could be meeting the needs of CUNY students. Faculty members, after all, are the experts, the front line in dealing with students. We know what their needs are and have the experience enabling us to construct effective programs.

Though, like many others, I will work hard to implement Pathways (I care too much about my students to do otherwise), my expectations is that it will either be allowed to fade away into a situation as chaotic for transfers as the one it was meant to rectify–or it will go down in flames.

In a letter to the CUNY Board of Trustees in June, outgoing president of the university’s Faculty Senate Sandi Cooper wrote:

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.

I couldn’t agree more. Especially now, with retribution starting.

[For those interested, I have written on Pathways a number of times on my own blog: here, here, here, and here.]

This post has been corrected to reflect the true nature of the work-load disagreement.

About Aaron Barlow

English faculty, New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and Faculty Editor, "Academe."

7 comments on “CUNY Pathways: The Danger of Ignoring Shared Governance

  1. Pingback: More on Queensborough Community College | Academe Blog

  2. David smith
    September 17, 2012

    Interesting. I know that we have an articulation with QCC and that we are accepting 3 credits for their EN101 – 102 – 103. This implies the issue is workload not credits

  3. Pingback: Queensborough Community College: At an Impasse? | Academe Blog

  4. Pingback: Queensborough Community College: The Saga Continues | Academe Blog

  5. Pingback: CUNY Pathways: Waiting for Leadership | Academe Blog

  6. Pingback: The Faculty Voice Against Pathways: Heard | The Senate Digest

  7. Pingback: CUNY and salvaging the “doomed project” | Insignificant Wranglings

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This entry was posted on September 15, 2012 by in faculty and tagged , , .
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