The faculty of the City University of New York (CUNY) is suing the university over the central administration’s attempt to change the curriculum requirements for students system-wide. In addition, more than 3,300 faculty and staff members have signed a petition looking to stop the initiative called Pathways, which is designed to streamline the education system.
A page on CUNY’s website devoted to Pathways states that it’s designed to “create a curricular structure that will streamline transfers and enhance the quality of general education across the university.” This includes a “Common Core” collection of courses that all CUNY students, no matter the school, would be required to take and pass in order to graduate. It also includes full course transferability, so any course could be transferred from one CUNY institution to another, though not necessarily as a major or general education credit.
“Some courses are not necessarily accepted by all of our colleges,” said CUNY spokesperson Michael Arena.
According to a statement by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which represents the faculty and staff of CUNY, Pathways would become a road block to the type of education students need and deserve.
“Pathways diminishes the quality of a CUNY degree by imposing a general education framework in which science courses have no lab component, foreign language courses are minimal and other essential areas of study are left out,” read PSC’s statement. “The result is a curriculum that is academically unsound and limits all general education courses to three credit hours. The reduction from a four- to three-credit hour requirement, faculty argue, threatens the intellectual rigor of many courses.”
Barbara Bowen, PSC president, expressed similar sentiments when she spoke with the AmNews. While the changes are a governance issue, which usually falls under the purview of the faculty senate, Bowen also sees it as union issue.
“The imposition of Pathways is a union issue because it violates the legal settlement reached between CUNY and the union, along with other parties, in 1997,” said Bowen. “That settlement reaffirmed that the CUNY faculty, through our elected bodies, has responsibility for the formulation of policy on academic matters such as curriculum. Part of what makes a university a university is that the faculty has the primary role in academic matters–and that role has been usurped in the imposition of Pathways.
“Pathways threatens the quality of the work we do and the education CUNY offers to students,” Bowen added. “A fundamental part of the union’s mission is to advance teaching, learning and research at CUNY. Pathways, if it is implemented, will endanger both teaching and learning. It offers students a stripped-down general education–one that is considerably less rich than what they now receive. We will not stand for a second-class education for CUNY students, and that’s why we are calling for the repeal of Pathways.”
However, the university’s administration is not rolling over. CUNY General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Frederick Schaffer released a public statement last week, saying, “The City University of New York will file a motion to dismiss any lawsuit by the Professional Staff Congress filed in New York State Supreme Court aimed at preventing implementation of CUNY’s Pathways initiative to ease student transfer of credits earned within the CUNY system and to offer rigorous general education courses with clear learning outcomes.”
Schaffer said the actions of CUNY’s board of trustees and the chancellor concerning Pathways are “consistent both with applicable law and prior practice at CUNY.”
Despite the petition signed by thousands of faculty and staff members, Arena believes that there hasn’t been that much of an outcry over the changes by the faculty and staff of the university system.
“I guess the first thing I would say is that there are many faculty members who are supporting it,” said Arena. He said the perception of faculty rising up against their policy in large numbers is inaccurate. “There are a number of faculty members who stepped forward to participate; national education leaders have come forward to endorse it.” Arena directed the AmNews to a document with quotes from CUNY faculty members and presidents of other universities like Cornell praising Pathways.
“There’s substantial support among the faculty,” said Arena. “That’s the way I’d describe it.”