There’s a radical “academic renaissance” underway at the City University of New York, but it’s cause for concern, not celebration. This fall, CUNY is scheduled to undertake the full implementation of its Pathways Initiative, a program Chancellor Matthew Goldstein insists will enable a smoother process for students seeking to transfer from junior to senior colleges within the system. While a more efficient scheme of credit transfer within CUNY is a goal few educators can oppose, Pathways introduces sweeping new measures that harm the interests of the student body.
Pathways will water down the mandatory core curriculum for CUNY students, reduce the number of classroom hours students receive in critical foundation courses, concentrate control of teaching and learning decisions in the chancellor’s office, and undertake further cost-saving measures that have already crippled the system. These goals undermine student progress, but fit securely within the chancellor’s austerity approach to public education.
Resistance to the Pathways project has originated with the university’s unionized faculty, who criticized the proposal process early on for violating principles of shared governance in curricular decision-making. Failing to consult sufficient objective experts in designing the initiative, university administrators relied instead on a handpicked crew of faculty, many politically pliant and happy to promote what the chancellor wanted to hear. Excluded from the initial planning stages, tenured and contingent faculty members and graduate students have since publicly pushed back against the proposal; thousands have signed petitions, testified at hearings, and protested at CUNY administrative meetings.
The most militant actions against Pathways to date have arisen at Queensborough Community College, where the English Department refused to implement the curricular changes mandated by the initiative. The department’s unified stand provoked a nasty skirmish with administrators, who threatened to cancel all writing courses, cut all adjunct contracts, and review all full-time contracts. While the faculty eventually overcame the intimidation and threats of reprisal, and succeeded in appointing a new department chair who hasn’t been shy in speaking out against the initiative, the larger battle, at Queensborough and other campuses across the system, is far from over.
CUNY undergraduates have been considerably less visible in the struggle against Pathways, with many students either unaware of the intended measures or outright supportive of them. The chancellor and the board of trustees have crafted an excellent sales pitch: their approach hinges on the central hook that the initiative makes intra-campus transfer easier and time-to-graduation quicker. Both of these claims may well prove true. But to suggest that Pathways improves the quality of education offered or strengthens the professional position of CUNY students upon graduation is highly dubious. As the university graduates increasing numbers of academically ill-equipped students, the value of a CUNY diploma will almost certainly depreciate, a development which would have adverse consequences for all students within the system.