The CUNY Board of Trustees unanimously approved sweeping policy changes on general education and transfer credits at its June 27 meeting, despite intense opposition from many faculty members.
The new plan imposes a University-wide structure on each college’s general education requirements, with all undergraduates required to complete a 30-credit “Common Core” before they are granted an associate’s or baccalaureate degree. Courses in a college’s Common Core will have to meet certain University-wide criteria, and CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs will have the power to reject courses if it concludes they do not comply. Recommendations for those criteria are to be made by a task force appointed by the chancellor, with a report due on December 1.
Under the new rules, which take effect in Fall 2013, colleges will not be allowed to require more than 12 additional general education credits beyond this Common Core.
Other changes will have a significant effect on college departments’ authority to define requirements for an academic major. New committees for each discipline, appointed by the chancellor, are to recommend no fewer than three and no more than six courses to be accepted as entry-level courses for beginning a major. “All campuses offering these majors will have to offer these courses and accept them for transfer credit starting in Fall 2013,” said a CUNY statement after the trustees’ vote.
The recommendations on major requirements are to be submitted for approval to the University Office of Academic Affairs by May 1, 2012. CUNY’s existing discipline councils – University-wide groups of elected department chairs in a given field – are given no role in this process, which is entrusted instead to new committees with membership decided by CUNY central administration.
Vice Chancellor Alexandra Logue assured the Board that the plan “preserves the special role of faculty.” However, UFS Chair Sandi Cooper, a non-voting member of the Board, disagreed.
“You are voting for a veritable coup in higher education,” Cooper told the other trustees. “You have moved to an administrative office in the chancellery, not staffed by teaching faculty, the thousand-year-old authority of university faculty to determine curricula in higher education. This is step one towards the creation of a high school system in all but name.”
Supporters of the administration’s plan emphasized the frustrations that many community college students experience when they seek to transfer their credits to a senior college. USS Chair Cory Provost, the student representative on the Board agreed, telling Clarion “[This] is something that students have been seeking for a long time.”
Faculty governance bodies at 10 of the 11 senior colleges passed resolutions opposing the administration’s plan. At the community college level, only QCC acted similarly – but no elected faculty body supported the measure. On June 16, the PSC Delegate Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in defense of shared governance that called on the Board of Trustees to reject the proposed changes and meet with the UFS to revise the plan, so that the UFS is “properly structured into the University’s general education and transfer policy and is in accordance with CUNY Board of Trustees’ Bylaw Article 8.13.”
Under Article 8.13, the UFS is charged with “the formulation of policy relating to the academic status, role, rights, and freedoms of the faculty, University-level educational and instructional matters, and research and scholarly activities of University-wide import.”
The plan to overhaul general education requirements was the subject of passionate testimony from faculty and students at a public hearing held a week earlier on June 20 at Hostos in which participants packed a third-floor cafeteria where the event was held.
The administration engineered the speakers’ list so that the first couple of dozen all testified in support of the plan. “It was unconscionable to make faculty wait outside in the beating sun while allowing others who supported management’s position to sign up early and go to the front of the queue,” said PSC Treasurer Mike Fabricant.
There was broad agreement among the dozens of people who testified that CUNY’s current system for transferring credits between community and senior colleges needs repair – but views were split on the merits of the chancellery’s initiative.
Supporters said the changes would simplify the transfer process, helping students avoid repeating courses already taken in community college.
“The current system is antiquated and in dire need of repair,” said Lawrence Stranges, a senior at Queens College who said his graduation had been pushed back due to credits he had lost in the transfer process.
“To some of our students, every credit hour represents a choice they would rather not have to make: a utility bill, clothing for a child, rent,” added Carl James Grindley, an associate professor of English at Hostos. “To ask anyone to choose between re-taking freshman literature and paying a doctor’s bill is unacceptable.”
But others said the plan was a misguided attempt at a quick fix. “This resolution undermines the historic role of faculty in determining curriculum,” said Bill Crain, Professor of Psychology at City College. “Trust your faculty. Address the transfer issue but address it separately.”
Opponents of the plan said that CUNY should instead devote the necessary resources to labor-intensive but more effective measures, such as hiring more academic counselors, supporting the existing discipline councils’ work on course articulation, and ensuring effective online access to the information needed to make the transfer process work.
John Brenkman, chair of Baruch’s English Department, said CUNY’s plan reflected a “mismatch of diagnosis and remedy,” arguing that most transfer problems are unrelated to general education. “There is a disjunction between the transfer problem and the general education requirements,” he testified.
‘ACT OF HUBRIS’
Elizabeth Harris McCormick, an assistant professor of writing and literature at LaGuardia, called the administration’s plan a “reckless act of hubris” and urged the Board to heed “the open opposition of a majority of the only group actually qualified to educate, the faculty.”
Though CUNY central administration pledged that “consultation” with the University Faculty Senate would influence the administration’s appointments to the new disciplinary committees and the committee on the Common Core, UFS President Sandi Cooper was both bitter and skeptical in the wake of the vote.
“I’m sure they [the administration] will find the people they want and then say they represent all of us,” Cooper told Clarion.