The English Department at Queensborough Community College recently voted “no” to changes in the English composition course design at the school which would conform to the mandates of the proposed Pathways initiative that the Advocate has been steadily reporting on for some months now. On Friday, QCC Vice President Karen Steele announced reprisals against the English faculty. The disgusting details, and the response by the Professional Staff Congress in an email sent out last night, follow below. This is hugely important to everyone at CUNY.
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 nonreappointment letters in fall 2013, was especially disturbing in its punitive dismissal of faculty judgment in matters of curriculum development. The relevant section from Vice President Karen Steele’s email is included at the end of this message.
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 for their 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.
The Vice President’s email, sent to QCC English Department Chair Linda Reesman, reads:
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.
Please share this information widely.
Shameless, but exactly the point of “Pathways,” which was NEVER about providing an access route for students from junior to senior colleges, but mostly about stripping faculty of any autonomous and collective decision-making power with respect to their working conditions (including — especially — academic program). Academic workers are not equipped for, and should have no say, in running schools, under the ruling “business model.” Taylorism in academia…
At the same time, and while assuring the former, “Pathways” is also about assuring that the tuition income from those students will continue to fill CUNY’s coffers. Rather than enhancing those students’ skills, bringing them up to speed, it is more cost effective to dumb CUNY down, while further stratifying CUNY schools, with a number of schools and programs serving as catchment areas for more elite students. The latter, of course, was also the goal of the CUNY initiative rejected by the State Assembly a few years ago, that would have allowed campuses to set their own budgets, set their own tuition rates, salary scales, etc.
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I’m interested in this story, but unfortunately have just found out about it. I gather you’ve been covering it for some time, but there are no backlinks to past coverage, the blog archives only go back a week, and I am unable to find anything here that explains what Pathways is, why it is controversial in the first place, or the context for this dispute.
This is, if I may be so bold, elementary level stuff to make sure is findable when breaking a story you are asking to be distributed widely. Please update this post with links to where people can get the background information.
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The only true university is one guided by the ethical and pedagogical commitment of its faculty. Administrations are a necessary evil who in recent have expanded far beyond any justifiable mandate. The university is not a corporation and must not be conceived of as one. This heavy-handed and, indeed, asinine, response on behalf of a vice-president who has far exceeded any justifiable role.
(Editing the above, which was posted by accident.)
The only true university is one guided by the ethical and pedagogical commitments of its faculty. Administrations are a necessary evil that in recent years have expanded far beyond any justifiable mandate. The university is not a corporation and must not be conceived of as one. This heavy-handed and, indeed, asinine, response on behalf of the vice-president has far exceeded any justifiable role.
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