posted 2012-03-22 00:28:40

CUNY Union says Lawsuit to Fight Pathways in Pipeline

PSC town hall meeting attracts hundreds of CUNY faculty and staff

Kimberly Devi Milner

Associate News Editor

On March 8 over 300 CUNY faculty, staff and students crowded a Professional Staff Congress Town hall meeting hosted at The Community Church of New York to strategize on how to halt the “Pathways” initiative, which will standardize and substantially reduce general education requirements at CUNY campuses. The initiative has come under heavy fire from many corners of the CUNY community – with the exception of the board of trustees – as well as many third party academics and higher educational institutions across the country.

“Pathways is rationed education,” said Professional Staff Congress (PSC) President Barbara Bowen to the packed audience. “If 80th street accepts this for our students, we do not.”

Bowen announced that a lawsuit to stop Pathways would be filed by March 18, and that plaintiffs in the suit, in addition to herself, would include Universal Faculty Senate Chair Sandi Cooper and Vice Chair Terry Martell.

“This [lawsuit] is not going to be fun,” said Martell, who nonetheless felt the lawsuit was necessary, stressing the damage he believed Pathways would cause to the CUNY system’s quality of education. Laying in the background of the resolution, he added, was “the subtle racism of low expectations.”

Bowen, emphasizing that the PSC had already received over 2,500 signatures from CUNY staff and faculty petitioning the board of trustees to repeal Pathways at its next meeting April 30, asserted that Pathways would not progress uncontested.

The “Pathways to Degree Completion” Initiative announced last June is rapidly developing, earlier this month the board of trustees created committees to review Pathways-tailored courses which the individual colleges submitted for approval. If colleges and administrative committees continue to meet target dates, students will register for classes under the Pathways framework as early as Spring 2013. CUNY colleges will have less than a year to develop new general education courses that satisfy Pathways’ learning objectives and credit molds.

In most cases, adopting Pathways will require campuses to shrink their general education requirements as well as to drop the requirement of foreign language and lab science. Certain courses would also need to be watered down to fit Pathways’ tight requirements on course content.

“Pathways has courses ‘about’ science,” criticized Manfred Philipp, a Chemistry professor at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center. “These are courses ‘about’ things” that don’t have to be as rigorous as courses currently are at individual campuses.

About 30 speakers took to the podium in an hour-long open mic, with many faculty members expressing distress at the diminished academic environment they believed Pathways would create. Several suggested ways to resist.

“If we all refuse to submit courses, there’s nothing they could do to force us to create a curriculum,” said Karen Anderson, a Media professor from Hunter College.

“Send CUNY the courses you think our students deserve, not the courses you think will fit the [Pathways] straightjacket and imprison them,” said Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) Astronomy professor Saavic Ford.

Professor Ron Rothenberg from Queens College’s Math department suggested CUNY faculty and staff conduct a media campaign – even if only on a local level – as larger publications like The New York Times have not responded to PSC requests to cover the public higher education controversy.

New York students have already been through a Pathways program, added LaGuardia Community College student Amir Khafagy, it “was the city high schools,” he said to applause.

The only other student speaker at the event, Jamell Henderson, an undergraduate student senator at BMCC stated more students needed to be made aware of Pathways, and realize that despite the board of trustees’ positive marketing, the new framework would act as a disservice to students. “One voice – one student is not enough. Encourage students at your college to know what is going on,” he said.

Although the elimination of the foreign language and four credit science lab requirements have surfaced as primary concerns, many CUNY colleges have run into various other obstacles.

Faculty members of the New Community College expressed frustration at being forced to redesign the curriculum they had recently developed to conform to Pathways.

Associate Professor Vicky Garavuso from City College’s Educational department who worked with adult students only able to manage the time commitment of four-credit courses said that despite explaining her students’ situations to the board of trustees, she was told there would be absolutely no exceptions to the standardized three- credit-per-course requirement.

At the end of the PSC town hall meeting CUNY faculty and staff pledged to circulate the PSC petition among their colleagues. Clipboards with petition sheets were distributed to every individual leaving the church.

“In more than 20 years at CUNY I’ve never seen anything hit like Pathways” said Bowen. “We’ve seen before that our presence can change outcomes,” the PSC President said. “We may need to be there on April 30 [at the next board of trustees meeting.”