CUNY profs call for halt to curriculum redo

The Faculty Senate of the City University of New York approved a resolution last week calling on Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to halt and review the implementation of Pathways, a new standardized curriculum designed to streamline transfers between CUNY’s junior and senior colleges.

The 63-to-3 vote, while not binding, is the strongest university-wide rebuke yet to the CUNY administration over Pathways, following similar calls from faculty governance bodies at Brooklyn College and the College Staten Island. Faculty at Baruch College and Bronx, La Guardia, Borough of Manhattan and Queensborough Community Colleges have also taken stands against Pathways, which would shorten course hours for general education classes.

Through Pathways, the CUNY administration aims to align courses between CUNY’s two-year community colleges and its four-year institutions, to make it easier for two-year students to transfer and complete their bachelor’s degrees. Beginning with the 2013 academic year, nearly all incoming students will be required to take 30 credits of a general education common core. Some courses are mandatory, like English composition and certain math classes, while the rest are flexible and arranged into categories like “World Cultures and Global Issues,” “U.S. Experience in Its Diversity” and “Scientific World.”

CUNY faculty protest curriculum changes earlier this year. Photo: Pat Arnow,

But it’s the change to many three-credit, three-hour general education courses that has particularly rankled English faculty across the city who have long taught four-hour courses. Pathway’s critics argue that reducing in-class time by 25 percent will lead to diminished results for students, particularly at junior colleges that teach needier students.

“This will have a negative impact on the competitive ability of our students…they will not have as strong a general education as they currently do,” said Terrence Martell, Chair of the University Faculty Senate and a professor of business at Baruch College.

“If all of our students came from Stuyvesant, the Pathways proposals would bother me much, much less. But all of our kids aren’t from Stuyvesant. We’re fed from some good schools and some bad schools.”

As it embarked on Pathways last year, the CUNY administration floated a September 2012 deadline for course submissions and suggested that review committees would release a list of approved courses by December. But departments on at least seven campuses have so far refused to submit courses, or have approved courses that defy the Pathways mandate for three-hour class sessions.

The Academic Senate at Queensborough Community College, which reviews all courses proposed by departments, recently approved non-compliant English courses in defiance of the central administration.

“Even if they punt it into January, I don’t see the faculty having the time or inclination to budge,” said Queensborough Community College English chairperson, David Humphries. In September, Queensborough Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Steele warned that if it failed to comply with Pathways his department would see layoffs; she has since apologized for the statement.

CUNY officials remain emphatic that Pathways will move forward as planned.

“Beginning in Fall 2013, CUNY graduates will be known for having had a rigorous, forward-thinking general education curriculum, one that will propel them forward to the highest levels of achievement in their chosen professions,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Alexandra W. Logue in an emailed statement.

But faculty and students at individual schools continue to resist the mandate from CUNY administration. Last week, the Academic Senate at Borough of Manhattan Community College directed faculty not to approve Pathways courses. Andrew Grant, president of the BMCC Student Government Association and member of the Senate, says that students are protesting the curriculum changes alongside instructors, out of shared concern for their impact.

“It will water down the value of the education we are getting,” said Grant, a second-year student studying science and hoping to pursue biology or pre-med at Brooklyn or Hunter College next fall. The student government, he said, plans to hold demonstrations and protests after the winter break if the reform isn’t stalled.

Faculty at some four-year colleges have sought to stall Pathways, too, largely out of concern that transfer students will arrive ill-prepared. Instructors involved in resisting the curriculum change say they have found themselves in an uncomfortable position.

“There is definitely increased pressure within the last month,” said Mary McGlynn, chair of the English department at Baruch College. “I’m an associate professor, not a full professor, and I worry that in continuing to say that I don’t like this program and saying that I don’t think it works well for our students could be inhibiting my career prospects.”

CUNY’s push for a streamlined curriculum is part of a national trend. Most states have adopted policies easing transfers between two and four-year universities, according to the Education Commission of the States. New York is one of the few states that has no policy, leaving the decision of how to manage the transfer process up to CUNY.

While CUNY educators agree that they would rather changes be made in-house as opposed to mandated by politicians, dissenters contend that Pathways is not the way to go about it. Some argue that the present system, a complicated arrangement of almost 200 so-called articulation agreements — pacts between colleges to award the same credits to different courses — can and should be upgraded to ease the passage from junior to senior colleges.

 “Articulation agreements are a good way to deal with the transfers,” said Bill Ferns, associate professor of computer information systems at Baruch. According to a report commissioned by CUNY in 2006, students have historically been satisfied with transfers. The survey — the most recent to track ease of transfer between two- and four-year colleges — showed that 80 percent of students said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the process. Community college students, in fact, said they were more satisfied than the rest of CUNY students.

Ferns acknowledged that transfers of credits between schools continue to pose challenges for students, especially in fields like his that are rapidly evolving. But he contended the problems can be fixed with more support from CUNY administrators.

“The problem is that CUNY has not at all been active in keeping the discussion about articulation agreements going,” said Ferns. “Instead of providing leadership in this area they’ve decided to pursue this boondoggle.”

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