A national petition calling for a moratorium on CUNY’s Pathways initiative has gained about 5,000 signatures, and the number continues to climb. The appeal is jointly sponsored by the PSC and by the University Faculty Senate.
One-third of those signing the petition to date have left comments elaborating why they signed, an unusually high rate for an online petition. So far about 70% of those signing teach at other universities, with many noting that they have confronted similar initiatives at their own institutions.
Pathways and Austerity
In a November 26, 2012 e-mail announcing the petition, UFS Chair Terrence Martell and PSC President Barbara Bowen described Pathways as an attempt “to impose a diluted system of general education” that will damage students’ education.
“Under the pretext of easing student transfer and increasing graduation rates, Pathways will deliver a minimal curriculum for CUNYs working-class students,” they wrote. “It removes science lab requirements, limits foreign language requirements, and cuts back on faculty time with students in English classes.”
What is driving the CUNY’s intense push for these changes? Martell and Bowen point to shifting national discussions of higher education policy: “Forty years of public policy focused on access to college is being replaced by a single-minded demand for increased graduation rates – whatever the cost in academic quality,” they say. “Pathways is an attempt to move students through the system more quickly even as budgets are cut, by reducing academic requirements.” Pathways, they conclude, “is austerity education for an austerity economy.”
Educational policy foundations, legislators and others involved in national discussions of US higher education have emphasized boosting college graduation rates and shortening time-to-degree, but have not had as much to say about how these are affected by three decades of budget cuts in public higher education (see articles in the October 2012 Clarion, “Austerity Education” and “The Great Cost Shift”).
The new policy emphasis has made itself felt across the US. “Higher education ‘reforms’ similar to Pathways, some even with the same name, are moving forward throughout the nation,” Bowen and Martell wrote. The response to the UFS/PSC petition suggests that their criticisms of Pathways sound familiar to faculty at many other institutions.
Addressed to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and to Benno Schmidt, Jr., chair of the Board of Trustees, the petition supports CUNY faculty and staff in their opposition to Pathways, which it dubs “an austerity curriculum,” and calls for “an immediate retraction of the threats and intimidation the CUNY administration has used to gain compliance” with the plan. (See Clarion, October and December 2012, for coverage of these threats and CUNY faculty’s response).
The petition concludes by urging “an immediate moratorium on further implementation of Pathways until an atmosphere free of coercion is established and academically sound alternatives can be considered.”
The petition has been brought to academics’ attention by the Campaign for Higher Education; the American Association of University Professors; the California Faculty Association; United University Professions; locals of the American Federation of Teachers; and faculty organizations from Texas, Washington, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Those signing the petition include a number of faculty responsible for the teaching of writing to students at their own universities, such as Dawn Skorczewski, director of University Writing at Brandeis, and Darlene Evans of Cornell University’s John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines.
Others include Elaine Mayes, photographer and professor emerita at NYU, whose past students include documentarian Ric Burns; noted Africanist Christopher Miller of Yale; Eric Lott, professor of cultural studies at the University of Virginia; and Mark Edmundson, professor of English at UVA and an analyst of US higher education.
In a letter to science faculty, inviting support for the petition, Hunter professor and PSC Treasurer Michael Fabricant took note of the particular obstacles that Pathways creates for general education science classes. “By requiring that all courses in the Common Core be three hours, Pathways leaves insufficient time for adequate science instruction,” Fabricant wrote. “Without a fourth instructional hour, students in general education science courses will not be exposed to science courses with a concurrent laboratory component.”
PSC First Vice President Steve London, a political scientist at Brooklyn College, made a similar point in a letter to social scientists. Pathways “makes it possible to satisfy the Flexible Core without taking a social science course,” London said.
“This is a watershed moment for public higher education,” both PSC leaders said. “We know that many other institutions are also experiencing the same pressures.” Now is the time, they said, “to take a next step in the resistance to Pathways, by taking our struggle beyond CUNY.