Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BC Administration Increasing Class Sizes

Promising increased revenues and attention to the needs of individual departments, the administration forced through a new structure of schools and deans. What we've gotten instead, are larger class sizes, more bureaucracy, and less support for research.

The natural sciences are facing a double attack. While Pathways has reduced the depth of general education requirements in the bench sciences, the Dean's push for increased class sizes means hands-on lab work, writing, and individual attention will become untenable in many courses.

For example, the Dean has demanded that Computer and Information Science squeeze still more students into its already overcrowded teaching labs. (The extra students sit where they can, using college laptops which must be deployed and stored using class time.) This is in stark contrast to the department's own plan, which has sought to undo years of diminishing retention by decreasing class sizes and increasing individualized attention.
Other departments have heard from the dean that since there is no writing in science courses, there shouldn’t be any problem with expanding sections to 80 students. When faculty in Health and Nutrition disagreed—their courses generally do include writing assignments—they were rebuffed and told to “figure it out.” Faculty in Anthropology and Psychology have raised similar concerns.

Class sizes are also going up in some Core classes. Without approval from departments, sometimes without consultation, primary and secondary limits on some courses have been increased. Some faculty have also reported being pressured to accept overtallies even above the new limits.

This is a classic management speed-up, a scheme to require faculty to take on extra work for no increase in pay.  It is bad for the students, who need more, not fewer, high-impact learning experiences—experiences which require significant faculty time and attention to deliver. And it's bad for faculty, including part-timers, who, when they're not simply being forced out of their jobs, are being required to do extra work without extra compensation.

Deans are also increasing minimum enrollments in many courses to justify eliminating sections, and even pressuring departments to cut the number of Independent Study sections. Though Pathways is supposed to be a panacea for speeding student time to graduation, the problem may lay not with general education transfers but with policies like these, which make it increasingly difficult for students to fulfill the requirements of their minors and in some cases even majors.

When the union and Faculty Council confronted the BC administration with these trends, the administration provided section averages for 2012. The changes being called for, however, won’t have shown up yet in this data.

This pressure to increase class sizes is being driven by several management imperatives. The first is that the new deans, rather than raising outside money, are busy penny-pinching existing budgets to free up resources for pet projects. While some of these initiatives are laudable, we were told that the new system of deans would be a source of new revenues, not a system for increasing faculty workload. In addition, compensation for the Provost and President is tied to a series of management performance measures, known as PMPs, created by 80th St. One of these measures is the number of FTE’s taught by full-time faculty. In short, the Provost and President benefit directly from stuffing more students into classrooms, eliminating student writing assignments, and dismissing departmental expertise in how students learn best.

While increasing contact with full-time faculty is a goal we share, increasing class sizes is not the way to do it. The PSC’s number-one legislative priority continues to be to get the City and the State to fund more full-time faculty lines. Instead, per-FTE State and City investment in CUNY is being decreased and full-time to part-time ratios remain mostly flat, with over 50% of undergraduate courses at CUNY taught by part-timers. The Chancellor’s response to this is to reduce standards, increase faculty workload, and support tuition increases for students.
Please join us in calling for more transparency in, and the enforcement of faculty-determined limits on, class sizes. If you have more information about increasing class sizes, please email us at psccunybc@gmail.com. Stay tuned for more Trustee profiles and details on the Provost’s effort to restrict the use of grants to buy out of teaching.


  1. Silly us: that "problem" of assigning papers in jumbo courses has already been solved...by technology!


    The most insane thing in this article full of insane things is the premise (expressed at the end by a U of Akron professor) that everyone knows good pedagogy only happens at elite universities anyway, so who cares?

  2. Although I agree with a number of your points, you should be careful about overstating your case. For example, the characterization of large classes as "a classic management speed-up, a scheme to require faculty to take on extra work for no increase in pay" is not precisely correct. My faculty often compete for large sections due to the extra compensation. This large-class multiplier applies to adjuncts as well.