As Spring semester came to a close, Brooklyn College’s Faculty Council condemned the college administration’s decision to eliminate the school’s foreign language requirement. The unilateral decision by the school’s provost, in the face of sharp faculty opposition, was part of the administration’s efforts to implement Pathways, CUNY’s new curriculum for general education that is scheduled to be in place this Fall.
“As implementation of Pathways moves forward, it is becoming increasingly clear how it is degrading educational standards,” said a statement from Brooklyn College’s PSC chapter. “By strictly limiting the number of hours per course and the total number of courses required for General Education, colleges are being forced to make untenable choices about what to keep and what to sacrifice.”
When Pathways critics warned that the plan would force many colleges to drop their foreign language requirements, CUNY central administration insisted this was not true. Pathways, the administration argued, gave colleges the flexibility to make their own choices within the Pathways structure: “A college could, for example, require that [students] take two semesters of foreign language,” a Pathways policy document said last year.
But since Pathways sharply cuts the total number of credits in general education, any flexibility is severely limited in practice. “The Pathways framework…require[s] that the college eliminate some of its existing requirements in order to comply with the Chancellor and Board’s grand plan,” the BC PSC statement notes.
Pathways restricts general education classes to three credits and three hours, with very few exceptions, and BC’s provost explained that was a problem in relation to language instruction: “Some introductory language courses do not comport with the 3-credit/3-hour policy,” wrote Provost William Tramontano, and thus any attempt to retain the college’s language requirement within Pathways would be “complex.”
BC faculty also objected to the provost’s unilateral elimination of requirements related to speech and ESL. “These are just more examples of how local administrations are overriding faculty governance in their rush to implement Pathways,” the union statement said.
At LaGuardia Community College, the school’s AA program in psychology was rejected by CUNY central administration for running afoul of Pathways rules. According to George Sussman, a professor in LaGuardia’s social science department, the problem was that an anatomy course and a statistics course required for psychology majors were included in LaGuardia’s Pathways courses in the Required Core sections on science and math. “The University objected that these were STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) courses and, therefore, could not be included in an AA curriculum,” Sussman wrote in an open letter.
This left LaGuardia’s psychology faculty with two choices: either reshape their program as an AS degree – a complicated process that would have required halting new admissions for a year or more – or replace the existing anatomy class with a non-laboratory science course, and replace the statistics course with a less rigorous course in math.
The episode was most troubling, Sussman wrote, as an example of the way Pathways is taking curriculum design out of the hands of academic departments: “Curriculum design, once an integral part of our responsibilities, is now in the hands of administrators, who may or may not be trained in an academic discipline but answer to a politically appointed board, and the individual professors whom they pay by the task to implement their ideas of curriculum and give those ideas professional credence,” he wrote. It was, he concluded, another reason to vote no confidence in the referendum on Pathways.
As the semester ended, more than two dozen Pathways courses failed to win the support of the College Council at Medgar Evers College (MEC). “No Pathways courses were approved by the College Council – none of them,” said Clinton Crawford, a professor of art at MEC and chair of its PSC chapter. “We had two meetings in the same month, and they were not approved either time.”
MEC’s administration may choose to submit Pathways courses to CUNY central administration, even without faculty approval, said Crawford, as has happened at many other CUNY colleges. “But the College Council has sent a definitive message: we have no confidence in Pathways.