September/October 2013 - Labor Issues
September 18, 2013

PSC, UUP, community colleges push back on plans that will dilute quality higher education

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
PSC members, from left, David H. Lieberman, Anthony Gronowicz and Joyce Moorman deliver to the CUNY Board of Trustees petitions with 5,676 signatures calling for the repeal of Pathways.
Caption: PSC members, from left, David H. Lieberman, Anthony Gronowicz and Joyce Moorman deliver to the CUNY Board of Trustees petitions with 5,676 signatures calling for the repeal of Pathways. Photo by Pat Arno.

NYSUT higher education members are taking strong stands against two plans that will harm their students' education and threaten faculty influence on critical academic issues.

The changes — the City University of New York's Pathways and the State University of New York's Seamless Transfer — raise disturbing questions about the academic integrity of college degree requirements.

"Our members have never hesitated to speak up for academic freedom and faculty governance," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira, who has a leading role in higher education issues for the union. "But the growing pressure by college and university administrations to wrest control of curriculum decisions away from faculty makes it more urgent than ever for our members to speak up for their students and for the quality of a college education."

The Professional Staff Congress, NYSUT's affiliate that represents more than 25,000 faculty and staff at CUNY, is in the throes of a multi-year, major campaign to stop Pathways.

Pathways is CUNY's major revision of the general education curriculum. The plan is essentially a ploy to boost graduation rates and reduce costs-per-student by making it easier for students to transfer between campuses, educators said.

However, the plan, which circumvented any faculty input, essentially dilutes the traditionally rigorous general education curriculum. For example, Pathways will introduce basic science courses without lab sessions and decrease requirements for foreign language study.

"The union is working with the faculty senate to advocate for a review process of Pathways that is unbiased and fair," said PSC President Barbara Bowen. "Our faculty has sustained that fight for two years."

PSC members last spring issued an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Pathways, which goes into effect this fall.

"No confidence votes are rare. This involved participation by hundreds of members talking to members," Bowen said.

The PSC is a plaintiff in two lawsuits challenging Pathways and launched national ad and petition campaigns that have gained the support of organizations such as the American Association of University Professionals and the Modern Language Association.

United University Professions, NYSUT's affiliate that represents 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York, is fighting a similar battle.

At issue is the so-called Seamless Transfer, which SUNY says will streamline student advancement from community colleges to SUNY four-year campuses. SUNY adopted the plan in 2012 and plans to implement it by 2015.

"UUP has substantial concerns about Seamless Transfer," said Jamie Dangler, UUP's vice president for academics. "SUNY has not adequately involved faculty in discussions about Seamless Transfer's implications for the quality of our educational programs. Nor has SUNY adequately addressed potential problems with the implementation of Seamless Transfer.

"This is being imposed from above, rather than vetted through the curriculum review process that should start at the academic department level," Dangler said.

One major concern: If a campus does not offer a particular course transfer students need, it must allow the students to take the course at another SUNY campus, either online or in person. UUP believes this could lay the groundwork for an influx of large online courses that would diminish classroom instruction.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher has said she intends to introduce what are known as Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, a controversial and unproven approach to distance learning in which free online courses sometimes have hundreds, even thousands, of students.

Under Seamless Transfer, SUNY's community colleges will have to fit many, and possibly all, programs into a 64-credit limit. This leaves community college leaders concerned that some departments would be "cannibalized," said Ellen Shuler Mauk, past president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College, a NYSUT Board member and chair of the NYSUT Higher Education Policy Council. "We might have people saying, 'Why do we have nine required English credits? We'll lop off three.' Or, cut out all physical education credits," she said.

The 64-credit limit allows most associate's degree students to meet their general education requirements and start on their intended majors, but leaves little room for a more well-rounded college experience that includes courses such as literature and writing, Schuler Mauk said.

Most of Suffolk CC associate's degree programs have more than 64 credits now, as do several of the career-track programs. It remains unclear whether the 64-credit limit applies to both types of programs, and Schuler Mauk said it would be very difficult to reduce the credits in a program such as nursing.

Schuler Mauk is working with Frank Frisenda, a former NYSUT Higher Education Member of the Year and vice president for classroom faculty at the Nassau Community College Federation of Teachers, to educate other community college local leaders about Seamless Transfer.

At Nassau CC, the pressure by the administration to meet the 64-credit requirement has been especially pronounced, in part, Frisenda said, because an acting president seems eager to comply with the chancellor's plan.

Nassau faculty are not going to allow such pressure to dictate their actions, Frisenda said, especially when members believe that the hidden agenda of the Seamless Transfer plan is the reduction of full-time faculty lines. "Our shared governance is embedded in our contract," he explained. "This plan is academically unsound."

UUP, PSC, and NYSUT's community college union leaders met during the summer to discuss ways to educate members and the public about the potential detrimental effects of Seamless Transfer and Pathways.

"UUP has embarked on a campaign to activate members at the chapter level. Plans are underway to meet with campus governance and curriculum committee leaders in order to spur campus-wide dialogue about the implications of Seamless Transfer," Dangler said. "We need to reclaim faculty direction of our curriculum and push back on top-down curriculum directives from SUNY."

WHAT'S AT STAKE

CUNY's Pathways:

  • Weakens general education curriculum;
  • Limits ability of CUNY students to transfer outside of CUNY;
  • Lacks faculty governance and independent review.

SUNY's Seamless Transfer:

  • Makes major changes to curriculum without faculty involvement;
  • May force students out of classrooms and into online courses;
  • May increase class size and faculty-to-student ratio;
  • Diminishes opportunities at community colleges.

TAKE ACTION

Add your voice to the protest against Pathways. Visit www.psc-cuny.org and click the "Get Involved" link on the home page. For background on PSC's opposition to Pathways, click "Repeal Pathways." To contact lawmakers, click "Web actions" for the PSC Act Now system and the NYSUT Member Action Center.

For updated information about Seamless Transfer, visit www.uupinfo.org.