posted 2011-04-27 12:00:43

Hunter Senate Passes Resolution Against CUNY-wide General Education Framework

Hunter College's Office of Admissions. (Photo: Daniel Szumski/Envoy)
Hunter College's Office of Admissions. (Photo: Daniel Szumski/Envoy)
Hunter Senate Passes Resolution Against CUNY-wide General Education Framework



Hunter College joins the long list of campuses opposing

a proposed change to general education at CUNY


John Bolger

Staff Writer

Hunter College joined the ranks of the University Faculty Senate (UFS) and several of the other senior colleges in voicing its opposition to the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs’ proposal to create a CUNY-wide general education framework. The Hunter College Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Apr. 13 to reaffirm individual campuses’ authority to dictate their own curriculum and to urge the chancellor's office to delay the forwarding of the proposed policy to the board of trustees.

The proposed policy would create what has been called the “30 + 6 + 6” general education framework. Under this policy, all campuses would be required to eliminate their existing general education requirements and instead offer courses whose content is determined by various bodies of the CUNY Central Office. Community colleges and senior colleges would each be allowed six credits of freedom to determine curriculum outside of the imposed 30. Effectively, under this policy, the General Education Requirement (GER) would cease to exist as well as other non-inclusive graduation requirements

Of the senior colleges, faculty bodies have passed resolutions of disapproval in each of: Hunter College, Brooklyn College, Baruch, Queens College, City College, the College of Staten Island, the Graduate Center, and Lehman College. The Undergraduate Student Government at Hunter has not released a statement on the matter although the student governments of Brooklyn College and Baruch have. The UFS has been maintaining a list of all such resolutions and statements on their website (cunyufs.org).

Pamela Mills, a professor of physical chemistry and chair of the General Education Committee of the Hunter Senate, said she believed the policy would reduce the quality of education at Hunter. She recalled a time before the GER when most students were graduating with excessive amounts of elective credits, most at the 100-level. She said the GER was created in part to address this problem and to raise the standards of the institution.

“We don't want our students graduating with more than half of their credits at the 100 level. That would be like an inflated high school education,” Mills said. “We just spent 10 years implementing the GER and years before that developing it. All of that hard work is going to waste.

The proposed policy has been marketed by the Central Office as a fix to what it called the “excess credit” problem for transfer students — a problem which faculty at CUNY are dubious of. Speaking before the senate, Mills said that graduation data from Hunter seemed to indicate that there was no such “excess credit” problem. According to the data revealed by Mills, native (non-transfer) students at Hunter graduated with an average of 128 credits. Transfer students graduated with an average of 129 credits. “I don't think excess credits are the real motivator,” she said at the senate meeting. “There are other more deep-seeded motivations.”

Although the tone of the senate discussion was one of anger and alarm, Mills hinted that courses of action could be taken against the policy's negative effects next year. “I'll commit heresy right now,” she said at the meeting. “Let's take this opportunity to re-examine the majors. We can start thinking creatively about this.”

Prompted by this “heresy,” Ezra Shahn, a professor of biology and long-time senate member, discussed at the meeting a time in Hunter's history when the GER and other requirements did not exist. Back then (“pre-history,” Shahn called it) general education courses were usually included in the individual majors. The various graduation requirements that exist today came out of an effort to unify the common courses between majors into a single campus-wide requirement in order to simplify the process of graduation and departmental administration.

“So it would seem that if we returned to pre-history … we could get rid of any distribution requirements at the college. If CUNY is putting it on us, so much the worse. But if the majors could do this [include general education courses,] we could say that's where our education is strong.”

Addressing this suggestion in an interview, Mills said that the departments may have 20 to 30 credits of room to work with. She also addressed the possibility of a universal minor — although she was quick to say that at this point in time, any sort of discussion was hypothetical and that any concrete discussion was conditional upon the policy being passed by the board of trustees.

Sandi Cooper, a professor of history at the College of Staten Island and chair of the UFS, has been one of the most vocal opponents to the proposal since its introduction in January. She said that she did not believe the board of trustees would allow the type of work-around that Mills and Shahn had in mind.

“The board of trustees will say it is violating the policy,” Cooper said. “If everybody in every major decided to adopt these classes, the board would say it needs to fall within the 30 credit framework.”

Another issue of contention has been a proposed change to the CUNY Bylaws, which will, according to the board of trustees, “clarify” that university faculty has only the authority to make recommendations on policy changes. According to numerous faculty members, this change to the bylaws — set to occur ahead of the general education policy — is further proof of the Central Office's motives to usurp power from the faculty.

“It demonstrates to the faculty whose hand the hammer is in,” Cooper remarked. “If the Board of Trustees thinks they can overtake the labor of all the laborers, then they are living in a fantasy.”

Chancellor Goldstein is expected to put the proposal before the board Jun. 27, where it is expected that they will pass it into policy. The general education framework and all other changes to the CUNY system would be in full operation by Fall 2013.