Pharyngula

What’s going on at CUNY?

I hate to see a great university system get thumped upside the head by chowder-brained legislators, but that’s what’s going on in New York. The chancellor of CUNY is pushing for a major revamp of the curriculum, system-wide. This ignores the unique culture at each institution and tries to turn them into cookie-cutter degree factories, and ends up targeting the lowest common denominator.

City University of New York’s Chancellor Matthew Goldstein is about to turn the prestigious system of senior and community colleges into a glorified high school. And few people seem to even want to try to stop him. This is bizarre, as Goldstein is a CUNY graduate himself and has been credited with major accomplishments since he took the lead at CUNY in 1999 (e.g., he raised admission standards, created the William E. Macaulay Honors College, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism).

Goldstein has recently begun what is known as the “Pathways to Degree Completion” initiative, which is being quickly rammed down the throats of the faculty members at all CUNY Colleges, in blatant disregard of faculty governance, interfering with curricula and the structure of majors, and possibly resulting in the elimination or great reduction of entire departments, mostly in the humanities (beginning with foreign languages, arts, assorted studies programs, history, and philosophy). The science and math requirements also are being reduced to ridiculous minimum common denominator standards, all in the name of increasing the graduation rate and decreasing the time to graduation of CUNY students — apparently the only currencies understood by the inept (to say the least) State legislators up in Albany.

This is a familiar story. All administrators care about is a couple of simplified parameters for “success”: the average time to degree completion, which is supposed to be around four years, and the percentage of incoming students that graduate. It’s throughput, baby, how fast can we shovel ‘em through and get ‘em out the other side with a diploma.

There is a good solution to this problem. That is, you hire enough faculty to staff all your programs with good teachers, they teach the students well, they have time to advise and guide students efficiently to degree completion, and they’re there to catch any students who threaten to fall through the cracks, and give them personal assistance. In other words, you give the students the best possible education and help them over any hurdles so they emerge from your program knowing stuff and best of all, knowing how to learn more.

Any faculty reading this are laughing cynically right now, because that’s not the solution we generally get to follow.

The poor and realistic solution recognizes the fiscal reality that state legislatures want to cut, cut, cut higher ed’s budget, and so administrators are looking at cheap ways to get graduation rates up and years to graduate down, and there is an easy way: cut graduation requirements. Standardize the curriculum. The job of the college is no longer to deliver an education, but to issue diplomas, which are awarded for attendance in a defined series of classes. I’m sorry to see that CUNY wants to get into the business of mass-producing diplomas.

Hey, 99%, this is an issue for you, too. The higher education system in this country has been starved for decades — state contributions to university budgets have been steadily declining, and tuitions have been rapidly increasing to compensate, squeezing out many worthy prospective students. What’s driving it is the short-sightedness of legislatures that don’t realize what’s involved in teaching and learning, and want to low-ball education. You get what you pay for, and I don’t think we need university administrators who cater to economic catastrophe rather than advocating for good education.

(Also on FtB)