My letter in The Wall Street Journal on May 16 regarding the Pathways general education initiative at CUNY drew a quick response from Benno Schmidt, the chairman of the CUNY Board of Trustees, which was published on May 24:
Mark D. White's criticisms of CUNY's general education initiative "Pathways" (Letters, May 16) are not only incorrect but preposterous in many ways. The Pathways structure was developed by dozens of tenured faculty members, and many hundreds more tenured faculty from across CUNY's 19 undergraduate colleges are deciding which courses should be offered and the learning outcomes to be achieved by each.
The general education framework was unanimously approved by the university's board of trustees, which has the responsibility under New York state education law to ensure that CUNY, as one university, has clear transfer paths and curricular alignment across its colleges. The resolution calls for a "commitment to the highest academic standards and to the faculty's special responsibility for courses and curriculum."
The goals of ensuring quality coursework, clearly defined learning outcomes and the reduction of artificial barriers to student progress have driven the initiative since its inception. The general education framework is now consistent with national norms and flexible enough to enable faculty at individual colleges to emphasize lab science and instruction in languages other than English if they choose. The initiative allows students who take any portion of their general education requirements at any CUNY college to transfer all those credits to any other CUNY college, graduating without excess credits and expenditure.
Far from being an imposition, the work of articulating high learning standards and facilitating student progress must be our highest priority.
Benno Schmidt, Chairperson, CUNY Board of Trustees, New York
Rather than respond personally (and probably preposterously!), I will pass the baton to my colleague at the College of Staten Island, and chair of the University Faculty Senate, Professor Sandi Cooper, who asked that I publish her response here:
Benno Schmidt’s letter (May 24 2012) applauding CUNY’s new Pathways for student transfer sadly reflects a profound communication gap between CUNY’s faculty and its managers. And an outrageous insult to Mark White, a serious faculty member.
Unlike corporations, Universities run on cooperative arrangements between the professionals (faculty) who design the education and administrators and trustees who are responsible for broad policy, far removed from classrooms and modern scholarship.
The Pathways project, as our colleague Mark White correctly stated, is an example of the worst kind of managerial micromanagement. When Schmidt states that it was designed by faculty, he is disingenuous. It was designed principally by an administrator who then appointed largely agreeable faculty to fill in the blanks. What respectable faculty senate would approve a core curriculum that requires only 3 credits in World Cultures to be fulfilled by ONE course from language, literature, history, sociology, anthropology, political science, philosophy, etc etc? What faculty senate would agree to only 3 credits of composition for students who preparation is widely understood to be deficient? Or, for that matter, a 3 cr science course with no time for labs?
Of the original 50 or so faculty who put this project together, more than half have disavowed it. Over half the full time faculty, over half our distinguished professors and over half of our department chairs have signed a petition asking for repeal and for a new start. Nearly every college senate, most discipline councils, many departments (see website of the UFS)agree. Pathways is a pathway to dumbing down general education to a junior high school level. It will harm those students who enter with the greatest deficits – while they may progress faster, they wont have the foundation to compete in the upper levels.
As chair of the University Faculty Senate, I have ample evidence that faculty view this imposed core curricula as a trivialization of education. Do trustees and university management think that a university with a majority of minority enrollment should cater to the lowest common denominator? Broad educational policy is the purview of trustees but up to now this always included respect for faculty professionalism in curricula, graduation and admission standards. The trustees may get their way – stuffing a simplistic curriculum down our throats – but we have to take responsibility for the quality of the degree that they will have shaped.
Sandi Cooper, Chair
University Faculty Senate, CUNY