posted 2011-03-09 13:00:37

Draft Resolution on CUNY Transfer Policy Garners Opposition from the UFS

Draft Resolution on CUNY Transfer Policy Garners Opposition from the UFS

The University Faculty Senate (UFS) believes general education and faculty authority are at stake

John Bolger

Staff Writer

CUNY’s policy on transfer credits has been the object of mounting controversy following the release of a draft resolution to fix alleged problems in applying these credits to student degrees.

The draft, released on Jan. 6 by the CUNY Central Office, resolved to establish a common CUNY-wide general education framework of courses, and to require that campuses accept all liberal arts and science credits from any other CUNY school, even if no course equivalent existed at the receiving college — resolutions which the University Faculty Senate (UFS) said were misguided and undermined faculty authority.

The Working Group on Transfer and Articulation, an organization established by Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Lexa Logue, released a 65-page report last October on the current transfer policy. Specifically, it said that the policy uses outdated and strict procedures to determine which transfer courses are eligible for credit towards a student’s degree.  The report claimed that as a result of credits not transferring, students have a tendency to accumulate “excess credits” — credits which do not count towards graduation — which it claimed cost CUNY $72.5 million in the 2008-2009 graduation year, a figure which has been contested by the UFS.

To fix the alleged problems, the report proposed the creation of a standardized, CUNY-wide framework for General Education Requirements (GER). This framework would guarantee the transfer of credits between CUNY campuses for those courses identified under the GER umbrella. The report also recommended that a system be put in place to establish the most common entry-level courses in a given major and require that each of these courses be guaranteed to transfer by receiving colleges. The UFS called the report’s recommendations flawed, and challenged the accuracy of its conclusions.

Distinguished Professor of Baruch College and UFS Vice Chair Dr. Terrence Martell authored a discussion refuting the Central Office’s report. In the discussion, released Jan. 5, Martell criticized the report and its claims. The discussion questioned the Central Office's $72.5 million calculation, challenging the methods employed to reach the calculation.  Martell calculated that the actual cost of “excess credits” was closer to $4.1 million. He also noted that there was “no significant difference in success measured by graduation rate between transfer and native [non-transfer] students.”

Martell's discussion concluded that the Central Office's report did not correctly identify the cause of the perceived transfer problems, and that the recommendations outlined would likely “have no effect on the issues commonly raised by the transfer student focus groups.”  The discussion also warned that the recommendations could have the unforeseen effect of lowering the transfer student graduation rate.

“The three recommendations the UFS Executive Committee and I find so troubling will, if enacted, dilute the general education requirements currently in place. Will the transfer graduation rate decline as a result?” a passage in the discussion read.

“A lower 4-year transfer graduation rate will be a very expensive result, both to the individual and to CUNY...If the primary focus is smoothing transfers, these policy changes will fall short since they ignore many of the drivers of transfer problems.”

One day following the release of Martell's discussion, the Central Office issued its draft policy — which did not reflect any of the UFS's warnings. Roughly two weeks following the draft's release, the Central Office issued a response to Martell's discussion, which discounted the criticisms of the UFS and continued to purport the conclusiveness of the initial report.

“We think the response merely repeated the original arguments without adding any data to refute the careful analysis of Dr. Martell,” said Sandi Cooper, Distinguished Professor at the College of Staten Island and Chair of the UFS.  “We can not be rushed into a policy designed from above, from the distant offices of the central administration where most of the officials have not been inside a classroom as a faculty member for decades, if ever.”

Cooper said that she and most other members of the UFS view the points of Martell's discussion as “convictions.” She also noted that many of her colleagues agree that the draft resolution undermines faculty authority.

“The central administration has extended its control over the colleges in ways it never had done before...The Board of Trustees, reflecting whatever policies the Chancellor puts before it, usually votes for his suggestions and recommendations after holding polite open hearings for those who hold other ideas,” she said.  “I think there is far too much central power over the colleges and those faculty with any historical memory probably agree with me.”

Cooper was also concerned that the Central Office was undervaluing the importance of general education to students.  She said that the draft “minimizes student exposure to the rich variety of disciplines so far invented by the human mind...General education is what turns us into mature, civilized and insightful human beings.”

Diandra Atkinson, 22, majoring in anthropology, transferred to Hunter from the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) after two semesters.  She said that the process of transferring was for the most part “simple enough” and that she did not have any serious issue with the system. Though, she did complain that a math course she took at BMCC was not accepted at Hunter.

“In BMCC, the class was 101, but not here,” she said.  “I have to take that class again because it's a pre-req for BIO 101 — which I need for my major.”

When asked what she thought of the proposed changes to the transfer policy, Atkinson said she thought that the GER framework would make CUNY schools “more generic.”

“If you standardize the GER, it will take away from students’ options,” she said.  “There are reasons why we chose our own schools, and even though GER courses are not necessarily related to my major, they are interesting.”

Terrel Mallard, 20, studying history, accumulated 55 credits at York College before transferring to Hunter.  He said all of his credits transferred, but most were only considered electives.  Mallard said that because of this, he is in the process of retaking courses to fulfill the GER, which he had already completed at York. He said that this is delaying his graduation by a semester.

“I'm taking geology again right now and I'm going to have to take history next,” Mallard said.  “The classes did have their differences from York, but … they are more or less the same.”

If all goes according to the Chancellor's plan, the proposed programs will be operational by fall 2013. But the UFS has not given up yet.  In Cooper's experience, “if too many faculty find it flawed, they will find ways to 'adapt' it to their college's interests.”