Dear Commons Community,
Over the past few days, the English Department at Queensborough Community College (QCC) has been the center of controversy over its rejection to reduce English composition courses from four hours to three as required by CUNY’s Pathways policy. The response from acting academic Vice President Karen Steele was an intimidating email (see letter from Barbara Bowen below) canceling faculty searches and advising students to take English composition courses at other colleges. The New York Times is reporting today that Vice President Steele has since issued an apology to the English faculty.
Diane B. Call, Interim President of QCC, said Dr. Steele’s original e-mail was not an ultimatum, but members of the department saw it differently. “I understood it as a threat,” Professor David T. Humphries said. “As saying you have the right to vote however way you feel as long as it’s what we tell you. Honestly, I felt a little like I was being asked to vote for Raul Castro or Ahmedinijad.”
In Dr. Steele’s follow-up e-mail Monday, she said she regretted the earlier message, “primarily because it was needlessly hurtful to members of the English department and to other faculty as well.”
“It was an e-mail sent in haste, out of an over-dramatized fear of the possible impact on the department,” she said. Dr. Steele said that the college would work to make sure faculty members had “plenty of classes to teach.”
“At the same time, as a member of CUNY, we have the responsibility to comply with the board’s policy and the guidelines issued under it,” she wrote.
The English department is scheduled to meet again Wednesday, at which time it will discuss whether to reconsider last week’s vote.
Letter from PSC President Barbara Bowen
Dear PSC member,
Below is the PSC’s response to the outrageous reprisals Queensborough Community College Vice President Karen Steele announced after the English Department voted ‘no’ on three-hour, three-credit composition courses for Pathways. What happened at Queensborough is important for all of us.
On Wednesday the English Department at Queensborough voted overwhelmingly to reject the reduction of hours for English composition courses from four to three. The faculty’s decision was guided by a deep commitment to sustaining a quality education for students. They determined that if English composition classes were reduced to three hours from four, the integrity of the department’s standards would be profoundly compromised. Students at Queensborough speak 120 different languages. Faculty understand that such a reduction would compromise students’ ability to learn to write at the college level.
The administration’s response, which includes eliminating all composition courses, cancelling all English Department searches, calling all full-time faculty reappointments in fall 2013 into question, and announcing that all adjunct faculty will be sent non-reappointment letters in fall 2013, was especially disturbing in its punitive dismissal of faculty judgment in matters of curriculum development. We call on Vice President Steele to rescind her message immediately. The relevant section from Vice President Karen Steele’s email is included at the end of this statement.
There is no reason for the administration to eliminate English composition courses, or any other courses, that do not comply with Pathways. They will still fulfill the college’s degree requirements. Such courses could still transfer to other colleges for credit outside the general education curriculum. The elimination of English composition courses also raises questions about compliance with NYS Education Department regulations, which mandate that colleges offer the courses required fortheir degree programs. In addition, it could put Queensborough’s accreditation in jeopardy. The vice president’s extraordinary retaliation threatens the most basic understandings of both academic freedom and faculty authority.
The PSC firmly stands with the faculty at QCC who were exercising their rights as faculty and citizens. Vice President Steele’s response signals the clear intention to undermine academic freedom and freedom of speech. If the threatened actions in Vice President Steele’s message are not rescinded immediately, PSC legal counsel will file a charge with the Public Employment Relations Board regarding this act of retaliation. The union is also exploring filing a federal lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.
The department chair has scheduled another meeting for September 19 to discuss the administration’s threatened reprisals. According to Robert’s Rules, the department vote stands unless or until the faculty vote to reconsider. We urge our colleagues in the QCC English Department to continue to exercise their professional judgment if they decide to vote again. We further urge all departments, curriculum committees, and other governance bodies throughout CUNY to vote to maintain the integrity of a CUNY education when voting on Pathways-compliant courses. The union will stand by you as you exercise your academic freedom and professional responsibility.
QCC’s department of English has taken a brave and necessary stand. They have demonstrated that we have the power to stand for the preservation of a quality curriculum that serves our students’ interests and that we need not succumb to the administration’s scare tactics. When you are confronted with a vote on Pathways, we urge you not to be intimidated into voting against your conscience. Every faculty member should know that the union is here to defend your rights.
Professional Staff Congress/CUNY
From an Email Message that Vice President Karen Steele sent to English Department Chair Linda Reesman on Thursday, September 13:
We will no longer be able to offer EN-101, 102, or 103 in their current configuration (i.e., four contact hours) as of Fall 2013. Since we don’t have in place courses that will meet the Pathways requirements for the Common Core, we can’t put forward a Fall 2013 schedule of classes that includes English Composition courses. Given that fact, and the resultant dramatic drop in enrollment, we will have to take the following actions:
- All searches for full time faculty in the English Department will be cancelled immediately;
- The existing EN 101, 102, and 103 will not be included in the common core, and therefore will not be offered in Fall 13;
- Beginning March 2013 (our Fall 13 advisement cycle), continuing and new students will be advised to take the common core requirement for I A at another CUNY institution, since the courses will not be available at Queensborough;
- Neither EN 101 or 103, nor EN 102 will be submitted to the University in the QCC list of ‘gateway’ courses for the English Major (we must submit the list of gateway major courses by October 1, 2012);
- Of necessity, all adjunct faculty in the English department will be sent letters of non-reappointment for Fall 2013;
- The reappointment of full time faculty in the English Department will be subject to ability to pay and Fall 13 enrollment in department courses.