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CUNY Begins to Budge on Pathways: Kelly Makes Some Changes

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CUNY’s central administration has announced significant changes to its Pathways curriculum, conceding to some of the criticisms raised by faculty governance and the PSC. The changes were outlined in a February 3 memo from Interim Chancellor William Kelly to CUNY college presidents and deans, on the process for annual review and evaluation of Pathways that was slated to start in 2013. (See tinyurl.com/Kelly-Pways-2-3-2014.)

A First Step

“This memo is the first crack in CUNY’s Pathways armor,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “Coming on top of the union’s arbitration victory in December, the changes signal a growing realization that Pathways doesn’t work. The administration is still wedded to Pathways, but it has quietly reversed its position on some key points – course hours and, above all, the inclusion of a role for faculty governance.”

According to Kelly’s memo, there will no longer be a three-hour limit on general education courses. Pathways “calls for a 30-credit curriculum” in CUNY-wide general education requirements, “and this will remain in place,” Kelly wrote; the three-credit limit for Pathways courses will also remain in effect. But in terms of time spent in class, “beginning in Fall 2014, colleges can determine how many hours to allocate to courses in the [Pathways] Common Core and will have discretion to allocate hours to courses as they choose,” the memo said.

In addition, the CUNY-wide committee that accepts or rejects general education courses based on Pathways rules will no longer be handpicked by CUNY central administration. “Faculty members serving on the CUNY-wide Common Core Course Review Committee (CCCRC) will be chosen through college governance processes,” Kelly announced, “beginning with those identified to serve during the 2014-2015 academic year.”

Finally, Kelly’s memo encouraged colleges to seek waivers from Pathways rules whenever “a major or degree program cannot be accommodated” within the Pathways framework, as has been especially common with programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The three-hour limit had caused particular problems with first-year English composition courses. Prior to Pathways, most CUNY colleges had adopted a four-hour, three-credit model as the best way to give composition students the instruction and support they need. Such four-hour, three-credit classes are now allowed without any special permission. Kelly’s memo did not address whether faculty time in that fourth hour would have to be “paid for” from local college budgets.

Three-Credit Limit Still In Place

While longer hours will be allowed, Pathways courses are still limited to three credits. As a result, Pathways still interferes with making laboratory sessions a routine part of introductory science instruction, faculty say.

“In the sciences, it wasn’t just the hours issue,” explained Saavik Ford, associate professor of astronomy at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “Labs are typically two to three hours per week, which would be expected to go on top of three hours of lecture per week, so more than three credits had been the norm.”

While the CUNY administration has said lab sessions can be organized as a separate three-hour, three-credit class, this conflicts with guidelines of the National Science Teachers Association. The NSTA says that lab sessions should be an integral part of all introductory science classes, not a separate add-on, and that they should not earn the same credits per hour as lecture and discussion.

“The option of extra hours is good, but for the sciences at least, it isn’t enough to bring us in line with national standards,” said Ford.

Similar issues exist for first-year foreign language instruction. Aránzazu Borrachero, associate professor of Spanish at Queensborough Community College, said her department had chosen to keep first-year courses at four credits, though this meant they could not be part of Pathways requirements. Brooklyn College and other schools have dropped long-standing foreign language requirements because the introductory classes did not fit within Pathways’ credit limits. Art and philosophy have often been left out of Pathways’ limited “buckets” of required subjects, as well, and many faculty say enrollment in these subjects has dropped as a result.

An Opening

“This echoes the effects of ‘education reform,’ on K-12 curriculum, where we have seen ‘frills’ like music and art scaled back or eliminated,” said PSC Treasurer Mike Fabricant. “What they have in common is a compression of the curriculum, and a narrowing of students’ educational experience.”

Still, Kelly’s February 3 announcement is “a step in right direction,” said Borrachero. “It is not what we want, but it’s still an opening.” The inclusion of faculty governance structures in future decisions, in particular, is a first in the long-running Pathways conflict.

“The lesson to draw is that we must continue to stand up for quality education and faculty governance,” said Bowen. “The administration will never acknowledge it, but the reason for their shift was the 92% vote of no confidence in May. It’s clear that pressure works – we have to keep the pressure on.”