CUNY Pathways: The Leaky Ship

Once I worked as a waiter in an elegant hotel. The headwaiter, just as I happened to be passing one day, dropped a tray. I scurried to help clean up; the manager ran over in response to the noise. The headwaiter intercepted him, telling him that I was the one who dropped the tray. You can imagine how I felt.

Just so, last night, when I read the June 21st response by outgoing Chancellor Matthew Goldstein of the City University of New York (where I teach) to an email by AAUP Senior Program Officer/Associate Secretary Robert Kreiser and to the “Resolution in Support of Faculty Control of Curriculum at the City University of New York” passed at the AAUP Annual Meeting on June 15th. I felt that I and the rest of the faculty were being linked to the creation of something we were only trying to clean up.

It’s worse: The faculty at CUNY are like sailors on a poorly designed ship working like crazy to stop the water that’s pouring in through the cracks, hoping to save themselves and the passengers while the ship’s owners, safe back on the dock, diddle and say to the crew, well, you must have been involved in the construction, too—after all, you are working on the boat now. It must be true: After all, you are the ones trying to stop the ship from sinking. And you got on the ship in the first place.

The crew built the ship? Goldstein writes: “the Board of Trustees established certain general parameters concerning only the number of credits; all aspects of the actual Pathways curriculum were formulated by faculty-dominated committees, whose recommendations were adopted without change by me.” Huh? We, the faculty, are doing as we were directed, so we have to take responsibility for faulty design? That direction, as anyone involved with Pathways knows, extended far beyond guidelines concerning credits. None of us on any of the Pathways committees felt that we were independent actors or that our opinions would be taken into account. Whenever there was a problem, it was referred back to CUNY Central for resolution.

If Pathways works, it will be because of heroic effort by hundreds of faculty members who have stopped the leaks on a ship that never should have been launched in the first place, a ship hurriedly constructed to respond to a threat suddenly dire, in the estimation of someone else.

In a muddled defense of Pathways and its origins, Goldstein cites “exceptional circumstances” as justification for precipitous change: “For more than four decades, our students have been confronted with significant obstacles in transferring.” OK, maybe change is needed, but there are no new and urgent reasons for making changes now and without careful consideration that includes real faculty input. After all, the situation has existed for decades without causing severe damage. And, after all, we faculty, who are involved in advisement of students on a personal level, are the ones who know best how those obstacles can be removed.

And we know, as the PSC-CUNY vote on Pathways shows, that Pathways is not the way. Goldstein tries to denigrate the result… but the fact remains: Over half of the full-time faculty at CUNY voted voluntarily to express opposition to Pathways. In fact, 92% of those who voted expressed a negative view of the program. There is no way to interpret this, as Goldstein does, as indication that “the faculty is divided on the issue.” If he and his staff would get out and among the faculty, they would know that there is no real division.

In his last paragraph, Goldstein says, “We owe it to our students to make sure that this [repeal of Pathways] does not happen.” This, to me, is the most galling of his statements. He’s the shipowner, radioing from the safety of the shore, instructing that we on board not turn the leaky boat around but continue on to the destination—for the sake of the passengers.

Why am I suddenly reminded of that old saw, “The operation was a success, but the patient died”?

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.