Friday, March 22, 2013

BC Provost Threatens to Ignore Faculty Council Vote on Curriculum Changes

Faculty Council Steering Committee Responds

More than a month ago, the Provost's office submitted Pathways-compliant courses to CUNY Central from the English Department despite the department's decision not to participate in Pathways. Recently, the English Department brought a proposal before Faculty Council to change the majority of its courses to 4-credits. The Provost and several other administrators spoke out strongly against the proposal and it missed passing by a single vote. When the Provost learned that the English Department would submit this proposal again at the next Faculty Council meeting, he declared that if it passed, he would not submit the proposal to CUNY Central.

In other words, when the English Department doesn't want the Provost to submit courses, he does; when it does, he says he won’t. It's hard to imagine more obvious contempt for faculty control of the curriculum. (For more details on the English Department proposal, read below.)

In both cases, the Provost violates CUNY bylaws. CUNY's Bylaws specify, in article XI.4.A.g, that the President is to, "Transmit to the chancellor recommendations of his/her faculty or faculty council on matters of curriculum and other matters falling under faculty jurisdiction." Nowhere do the Bylaws permit the President not to carry out such transmission.

Brooklyn College's governance plan, in article II.A, states that the faculty, "shall be responsible for the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students, including health and scholarship standards; student attendance, including leaves of absence; curriculum; awarding of college credit; granting of degrees." Nowhere in the governance plan is responsibility for curriculum assigned to any other body.

This is another example of the Provost carrying out CUNY Central's project to break faculty morale and governance rights and shifting ever more authority to a growing cadre of administrators. This is being done not for the benefit of the students, but rather as part of a project to downgrade academic standards and increase the workload of faculty and staff to cover up the massive public sector disinvestment in CUNY.

In response to the Provosts' threat, the Steering Committee of Faculty Council has issued the following letter:

March 19, 2013

Dr. Karen L. Gould, President
Brooklyn College CUNY

Dear President Gould:

At the March 12, 2013, meeting of Faculty Council, a member of the administration referred to “shared governance” when discussing curriculum matters. Following the meeting, one of the Deans stated that the administration would not forward curriculum documents approved by Faculty Council, but with which the administration disagrees, to the Board of Trustees. The Steering Committee of Faculty Council would like to share with you its understanding of governance of the curriculum as set forth in the current Brooklyn College Governance Plan (approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees) and the Bylaws of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York.

The BC Governance Plan spells out the responsibilities of the faculty in Article II, Section A as follows:

The faculty shall consist of all persons having faculty rank or status. It shall conduct the educational affairs customarily cared for by a college faculty. It shall make its own bylaws consistent with this governance plan and Bylaws of the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York. It shall meet at least once each semester, or more often, at the call of the President or by petition of ten percent of its members, and shall be responsible for the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students, including health and scholarship standards; student attendance, including leaves of absence; curriculum; awarding of college credit; granting of degrees. Meetings of the Faculty shall be chaired by the President.

Section B defines Faculty Council as:

The Faculty Council shall be the legislative body of the Faculty and shall have all the responsibilities of a faculty, as exercised heretofore under the Bylaws and Policy Statements of the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York subject only to the review of the Faculty.

The Brooklyn College Governance Plan assigns no other body the responsibility for the development of curriculum.

Furthermore, as curriculum documents passed by Faculty Council represent the exercise of faculty authority on curriculum, and given the Bylaws of the Board of Trustees, Article XI, section 4(A)g, concerning duties and responsibilities of the President, which state:
Transmit to the chancellor recommendations of his/her faculty or faculty council on matters of curriculum and other matters falling under faculty jurisdiction.

it is our understanding that such documents will be transmitted to the Chancellor even if members of the administration disagree with the content therein.

The faculty remain open to discussion with the administration regarding matters of curriculum policy, particularly as these involve budget and accreditation concerns. However, our governance plan is clear that authority over such policy rests with the faculty alone. There is no “shared governance” of the curriculum.

Sincerely, and With Respect,

Bill Gargan (Library)
Maria E. Perez-Gonzalez (PRLS)
Yedidyah Langsam (CIS), Chair
Martha Nadell (English)
Timothy Shortell (Sociology)
The Steering Committee of Faculty Council

The English Department justifies its need for change as follows:

In the eight years since we have conducted assessments of student learning, based on the objectives we identified as crucial to our majors’ success. We have examined students’ ability to think and read critically, to write sentences that are relatively free of lexical and syntactic flaws, to understand the styles of historical periods, to understand literature in its historical, political, and social contexts, to conduct research and write papers that synthesize the ideas of others, with appropriate citation and free of plagiarism, etc.

Too few of our students fall under the “good-enough” and “better- than-good-enough” rubrics as we have defined them; in short, they need more opportunities to practice their skills. Thus, we have decided to adopt a four-credit model that will increase, in our literature classes, the number, and, frequently, the difficulty, of texts and allow, as well, for doubling the page requirement for writing assignments from 12 to 25 (exclusive of exams). Much of this work will be completed away from the classroom. Thus, we will use the '4-credits/3-hours and conference' model that other departments, like Classics, have already successfully adopted. However, in creative writing and most linguistic courses, we will move to a '4-credit/4 hours' model, in recognition of the need for more time in the classroom for exercises and the “workshopping” of student work. That is, the longer class periods will allow for a better balance of craft instruction and feedback from instructor and classmates than is possible in the current hour and fifteen minute (twice a week) configuration. There is no academic justification for increasing credits for independent study and honors thesis courses, which will remain at 3 credits.

Many English Departments around the country have precisely the arrangement that our English Department means to pass, namely, 3 credits of classroom time and 4 credits awarded to both faculty and students. Berkeley's English 45 follows precisely this model, for example. Furthermore, given an increasing trend towards online courses and MOOCs in particular, Middle States recognizes that colleges have some right to determine how they will award credit. Its document on Credit Hour policy observes that while the Carnegie Unit "has served as a traditional unit of measure...the [U. S. ] Department [of Education] also recognizes that institutions are developing other methods of educational content and credit equivalency. The purpose of the credit hour policy is to ensure that credit hour measures are reasonably equivalent regardless of how institutions award credit hours to courses and programs in various modes of instruction and teaching and learning formats." The United States Department of Education's memo on credit hours makes the same point repeatedly, for example, that "The credit hour definition does not emphasize the concept of 'seat time' (time in class) as the primary metric for determining the amount of student work for Federal purposes. Institutes may assign credit hours to courses for an amount of work represented by verifiable student achievement of institutionally established learning outcomes" (3).

In short, the insistence that credit hours exactly mirror contact hours does not represent developing standard practice. Despite the Provost's scaremongering at Faculty Council, the English Department would not be in violation of Middle States or Federal Guidelines if its new course policy were instituted, nor would it stand outside the mainstream of some of most prestigious English Departments in this country. The Provost's declarations about the financial cost of the English Department's policy are equally specious, given that there is no evidence that his office has explored these costs.

After Spring Break, an ad hoc committee comprising the deans, master planning, and the two curriculum committees will be investigating credit hours. Ellen Tremper, Chair of the English Department, has recommended that the committee run simulations to determine the costs and benefits of switching her department's courses to a 4-credit standard. There is no good reason for the institution not to engage in such study and to make its methods and findings available openly to Faculty Council and perhaps the College Community as a whole.

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