The Chronicle Reviews CUNY’s Pathways!

Dear Commons Community,

This reference to CUNY’s Pathways proposal  in The Chronicle of Higher Education, was passed to me by John Wallach, a colleague at Hunter College.  The article (need subscription)  provides a review and perspective of where we are at here at CUNY with Pathways.   As the article indicates:

“A controversial curricular revision at the City University of New York that has been roiling the system for more than two years is approaching its endgame—and tensions show little sign of abating.

The revised curriculum, called Pathways, has sparked dueling advertisements, a nearly 6,000-signature petition calling for a moratorium on efforts to put it in place, accusations that administrators threatened the jobs of uncooperative faculty, and a steady stream of opinion pieces and public pronouncements for and against, both within and beyond CUNY.

The dispute has also resulted in an unusual pair of lawsuits about curricular control that crystallize many conflicts that have beset public higher education nationwide. Running through the debate at CUNY are broader worries about an ascendant managerialism in academe and the marginalization of the faculty; impatience with the inefficiency and slow pace of change in higher education amid shrinking public support; concerns about the costs borne by students; and predictions that the push to graduate students more quickly will result in a lower-quality education.

Academe is experiencing the same tensions that have wrenched other industries, says Peter F. Lake, a professor of law and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.

“The corporate wars are on and the soul of higher education is at stake because academic freedom is butting heads with efficiency.”

Under Pathways, the number of required general-education credits will be reduced and reorganized around learning outcomes instead of disciplinary categories. Faculty opponents of the curriculum dislike both the changes and the process by which they were made.

CUNY’s students will take their first 30 credits in two categories: a 12-credit “required core” and an 18-credit “flexible” one. Each of the system’s four-year colleges is choosing an additional six to 12 credits to require of students, depending on the degree program and college from which they may be transferring, which brings the total number of core credits to a range of 36 to 42. Existing general-education requirements can range from 39 to 63, depending on the campus.

Administrators say changes are needed to streamline the curriculum and ease students’ ability to transfer credits within the system.

Faculty members agree that problems with transfers need to be fixed but have protested a process that they say has marginalized their traditional role in formulating curriculum.

While CUNY is no stranger to pitched battles between administration and faculty, the dispute over Pathways has grown especially rancorous. Since the board approved the framework for the new curriculum in June 2011, those on each side of the debate have offered opposing versions of the effort’s viability and professed to be the ones truly acting for students’ welfare.

Opponents argue that Pathways and programs like it will further polarize higher education. The well-off students at elite and wealthy institutions will enjoy a rigorous education, critics say, while students from low-income backgrounds, which many of CUNY’s students are, will receive a watered-down version. Under Pathways, foreign-language requirements are reduced, science is taught without labs, and hours of contact between students and faculty in composition courses are diminished.

“If it’s such a great idea to teach introductory science courses without labs, then why aren’t they doing it at Harvard?” says Barbara Bowen, a plaintiff in the suits, an associate professor of English at Queens College, and president of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents the CUNY faculty. “If spending less time in the classroom with writing professors is a great idea, why aren’t they doing that at Princeton?”



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