The Board Strikes Back — Darth Chancellor weighs in on CUNY brouhaha.
Far be it for me to be so naive that I think money grows on trees and oversight is avoidable. The Board of Trustees is a function of universities (or maybe a symptom?) that is not going anywhere. What troubles me, however, is that the majority of boards I am familiar with are not actually staffed with academics (though, surely there is representation). Now, before you blow the ‘play fair’ horn, I do acknowledge that there is a reason for governance that is not completely by the faculty — there is more going on at a university than education. Yet, when the board of trustees gets to decide curricular directions I hear alarms sounding (let’s agree this is not the first time a board has asserted itself against the wishes of the faculty— everyone remembers Mitch Daniels and Purdue University, right?)
As one Purdue protester put it:
“What we see again with this appointment is a top-down, corporate driven shaping of education.”
And every American university I have stepped foot in has demonstrated this exact trend. Lamentable and destructive to the integrity of the college degree, standards are loosened, bars are lowered, whining is appeased. I have witnessed curricula that have been adjusted for certain schools within universities who also happen to secure a plethora of funding externally. The student-as-consumer and education-as-commodity model is, quite frankly, a destructive load of hooey. The best argument I’ve heard against this is actually marvelously simple: college students do not have the knowledge to act as a consumer; rather, they are in college to gain that knowledge. It is generally up to the educators to determine what they need to know by virtue of their extensive education. Here’s another argument against it, however.
All of this to report that Chancellor Matthew Goldstein of the City University of New York, a consortium of many colleges throughout the five boroughs of the city, has responded to the concerns expressed by the CUNY community in regards to the flippant remarks of a Queensborough Community College administrator. (You can find her remarks here.) The Professional Staff Congress (a cross-campus advocacy body) has voiced its condemnation of the situation. (You can find PSC president Barbara Bowen’s comments here.) After the PSC body broadcast its condemnation loudly to the CUNY community which was simultaneously joined with an outcry at the QCC administration and the University administration with further condemnation of the Pathways Initiative, Chancellor Goldstein has sent out an e-mail to the entire CUNY community today:
I am writing to address several issues that have arisen recently in connection with the implementation of the Pathways resolution of the Board of Trustees.
First, earlier this month, the interim vice-president for academic affairs at Queensborough Community College wrote an unfortunate letter to the College’s English Department. The author subsequently apologized for the character and tone of her communication. We should remember that while Pathways established the structure for curricular reform and its implementation, faculty are fully engaged in developing course content. Such collaboration is very much in the tradition and spirit of a great University.
Second, Dr. Terrence Martell, chair of the University Faculty Senate, and Dr. Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress, have sent an email to the faculty in which they erroneously state that the faculty have the power to block the implementation of Pathways. This claim misstates the core principle, embodied in state law and the bylaws and policies of the University, that the authority for the governance of the University on all matters rests with the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees has delegated a significant role to the faculty on academic matters, and the faculty have the right to exercise their professional judgment in fulfilling that role. However, the faculty are not empowered to ignore or violate a policy established by the Board of Trustees or the implementation of that policy by the Chancellor.
I hope this clarifies matters and allows us to continue to work collaboratively to implement Pathways in a manner that is in the best educational interests of our students.
The issue of curricular change joined with phrasing like “the faculty are not empowered,” are particularly piquant. I cannot help but metaphorically reach towards the adage of the corporate bean-counter deciding what treatment physicians can give their patients, the requirement to have procedures and tests approved (you know those physicians, they just love to fire up the MRI and do spinal taps for giggles).
Now, we are told that faculty have “the right to exercise their judgement,” only not when it involves what composes the degree they’re participating in…actively. Curricular changes forced on a community like a steam-roller (as, with an inside perspective, I can vouch that this Pathways Initiative is like some form of academic Eminent Domain), non-academics making those decisions – wow, it sounds a lot like local public education in America. Let’s have the non-educators decide who learns what and when. After all, who needs history, literature, foreign language? (See this great post by Carceral Nation). You can’t quantify them, therefore they must be useless.
Enjoy your degrees. Soon they’ll mean little more than “I was present for 4 years.”