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Perspectives on Pathways

At the June 18 public hearing of the Board of Trustees, 30 faculty members spoke about problems with Pathways, CUNY’s overhaul of rules on general education and transfer. The comments below are excerpted from their testimony.

11-clarion-college-factory-revise.jpgGlenn Petersen
Professor and Chair of Anthropology
Baruch College

The chancellery has insisted from the outset that the Pathways process is “faculty-
driven.” This suggests that it does not consider simply involving the faculty to be sufficient; rather, the chancellery appears to maintain that if this process is to succeed it is imperative that the faculty believes in and supports it.

Why is it, then, that with an overwhelming voice the CUNY faculty as a whole has expressed its opposition to nearly every facet of the process?

Joachim Oppenheim
Kingsborough Community College

My colleagues and I need every minute of the four hours of instruction time we currently have in order to teach elementary and intermediate level foreign languages. Four hours a week is the amount of time that students around the country typically receive for equivalent courses. Languages with different alphabets, such as Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese, are taught around the country in five or six hours a week.

The Pathways Initiative, as it has evolved into the CUNY Common Course Mission Form, stipulates that all courses must be taught at three credits, three hours a week, with no exceptions except for a very limited amount of math and science courses. For the many classes at CUNY that are taught right now at four hours a week, how is it possible to offer these same courses in 25% less time? This is a quarter of a reduction in the time that we have with our students. There is no answer to this question except to dilute the content of the course. But if we do this, we cannot say that the quality of our courses has not been seriously down-graded. Indeed, if we were to tell students that they were going to now receive the same quality of education, the same chance to achieve academic success, we would be making a false promise to these students.

Francisco Fernandez
Chair of Natural Sciences Department
Hostos Community College

Pathways decreases the amount of contact hours required for Liberal Arts students in our college, from 8 credits/11 contact hours to 6 credits/6 contact hours. This is a decrease of 45% in the amount of contact hours dedicated to sciences. Development of laboratory skills will be affected in particular.

Julie Trachman
Professor of Natural Sciences
Hostos Community College

[There is a] reason why the national standard for science courses includes a laboratory component that typically runs in parallel with the lecture. Without such a concurrent laboratory component, many more of our students will fail and will have to repeat the science courses. A three-credit lecture course followed in a later semester by a required three-credit laboratory course will not be an adequate solution for many of our students, because the theoretical learning in the lecture will be uncoupled from the visual and kinesthetic learning that occurs in the laboratory.

Alan Feigenberg
Professor of Architecture
City College

On every level of education in the United States, administrators, politicians, CEOs and bureaucrats are pushing for a unified, standardized, oversimplified approach to education, an agenda that is in direct opposition to the process of real, authentic learning.

[Pathways] is an affront to all of us as critical educators and to our students, who are treated as faceless statistics, reinforcing the image of education as an assembly line process to produce predetermined results with predetermined efficiency. This is not the way to facilitate the development of critical, creative problem-solving for future needs and challenges.

Margaret Tabb
Professor of English
John Jay College

Our students come to CUNY lacking adequate academic preparation in or knowledge of the disciplines. This is a serious problem which the learning outcomes pedagogy of Pathways, with its paucity of disciplinary requirements, will not address. The humanities – history, philosophy and literature – may have similar learning outcomes, but their superficial resemblance in this regard conceals, of course, marked differences in their texts, in their intellectual history and in our methods of analysis. A curriculum based on learning outcomes will not allow students to parse these differences. They will graduate from college without understanding how variously the world is configured when examined through different disciplinary perspectives and methodologies.

George Sussman
Professor of History
LaGuardia Community College

At LaGuardia Community College, four different departments propose to offer 116 courses in [the “World Cultures and Global Issues” area of Pathways’ Flexible Core]. The courses include foreign languages and literatures, the novel, the art of Renaissance Italy, photojournalism, eastern philosophical traditions, an introduction to macroeconomics, Western civilization and the politics of Latin America and the Caribbean – a mind-spinning range of courses. What Pathways tells the student is that academic disciplines, subject matter or knowledge do not matter. What matters is something that the initiative calls learning outcomes, which appear to be unverifiable skills.

Charles Coleman
Associate Professor
English York College

Pathways will not only end cultural diversity as a required study at York, it will also lessen the value of the Understanding Cultural Diversity course itself. For those who elect to take it, Pathways requires that the course be reduced from a three-credit, four-hour interactive course to a three-hour course without a lab. This loss of 15 hours every semester for the face-to-face application of the principles studied in the Understanding Cultural Diversity course will seriously limit its ability to open minds and change attitudes. We need that class time for students to interact, to confront their own ethnocentrism and to learn firsthand about understanding and working with people of different cultures.

Carl Schlachte
Adjunct Lecturer
English Brooklyn College

If the Pathways changes are at all concerned with student graduation rates, core composition classes must be allowed to maintain the fourth contact hour for the sake of the students’ performance.

There is a reason composition classes are required for all students. The material covered is crucial to any college or working career. These classes teach students how to read, analyze and discuss any text that is presented to them. It is a very demanding course, and the fourth contact hour allows me to give personal attention to students who need help to pass the class beyond what I can offer in an actual class period. For example, I frequently have ESL students in my classes. Regardless of their writing abilities, by virtue of the fact that these students are still learning English, these students tend to face persistent but unique grammar issues. One of my students, whose native language was Russian, was having difficulty with article usage. This makes sense because Russian doesn’t have articles. But it wouldn’t make sense to do an entire lesson on the usage of articles for the whole class. Having the fourth contact hour allowed me to do a specific lesson for this specific student on the usage of articles in English.

Arthurine DeSola
Professional Staff Congress
A new general education framework is not the most important thing we need to facilitate the students’ transfer throughout CUNY. What we need are resources. Money to hire more academic advisement advisors and more counselors, more money to improve our technology and information- sharing systems and money to keep our class sizes and advisement case loads down to a level that allows for real mentoring and guidance for our students. Pathways has been called austerity education because it accommodates to public disinvestment in CUNY, rather than seeking to overcome it.

Hollis Glaser
Academic Senate Chair
Borough of Manhattan Community College
Of course you have a flurry of resolutions, a petition of over 5,000 signatures and a lawsuit on your hands. It really couldn’t have gone any other way. There was no possibility that the faculty would simply accept Pathways as it has come down to us.

Now I’ll tell you how to get out of this mess – and fix the transfer issues. Simply give this problem back to the faculty, to our elected bodies and departments, where it belongs. Give us time to come up with many solutions. You have our attention. We’re good at this work. You’ll have faculty buy-in and most importantly our students will be able to transfer easily among the CUNY colleges.