The Professional Staff Congress is leading an opposition thousands strong against a new general education curriculum at the City University of New York that critics say will diminish the value of a CUNY education.
The CUNY administration claims that the new plan, known as "Pathways," will make it easier for students to transfer to a different college within the CUNY system. The PSC, backed by the University Faculty Senate and outraged students, says Pathways means a homongenized, one-size-fits-all approach to a college education, and the real intent is to speed up graduation rates.
With the implementation of Pathways set for fall 2013, the PSC is taking a proactive stance. PSC President Barbara Bowen is one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court that seeks to stop Pathways from taking effect. Bowen, whose union is one of NYSUT's higher education affiliates and represents more than 25,000 faculty and staff, is joined in the lawsuit by professors Sandi Cooper and Terrence Martell, the chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the University Faculty Senate.
"The Pathways approach is austerity education," Bowen said. "This is more about speeding up graduation rates than about retaining the recognized quality of a CUNY degree."
The proposal would mandate a single, university-wide general education curriculum, with the same 30-credit common core for all CUNY colleges.
Chief among the PSC's concerns: shortened laboratory time in science courses under Pathways, which will lessen the quality of science education at CUNY and may make it difficult, if not impossible, for students to transfer their science credits to other colleges and universities. Foreign language requirements have been lessened, and the overall sense, opponents say, is a general education plan that takes dangerous shortcuts.
PSC members also object to the fact that the CUNY Board of Trustees approved Pathways without any input from elected faculty bodies such as the University Faculty Senate, an action the union says violates the board's own bylaws.
At the heart of the objections is the concern that a CUNY degree, which represents the only opportunity for a college education for the majority of CUNY students, will be devalued in the larger community of higher education. An online petition by faculty and staff states in part that "far from assisting CUNY students, Pathways will disadvantage them. It underestimates CUNY students and shortchanges them both intellectually and professionally."
The administration so far has not indicated any intention of dropping Pathways, and the PSC intends to continue its campaign of public opposition.
"The faculty and staff feel so strongly about the damage Pathways will inflict on our students that we are willing to go to court," Bowen said. "Our lawsuit defends the bedrock principles of faculty governance and academic freedom — both essential to protecting intellectual rigor and quality education."