by Anne Friedman
The CUNY Pathways website lists eighty BMCC courses “approved” for inclusion in the Pathways Common Core, including courses in or cross-listed with Computer Science, Developmental Skills, English, Ethnic Studies, Mathematics, Media Arts and Technology, Modern Languages, Music and Art, Science, and Social Sciences. But only about ten percent of these courses have been approved for Pathways curriculum categories by the BMCC Academic Senate. Some of the courses have never been put to a vote by the relevant departments. What’s more, several of the listed courses are phantoms: the Academic Senate has never approved their creation, let alone their inclusion in Pathways.
If the BMCC faculty’s elected senators have not approved most of these new Pathways-ready courses, then who has? The answer seems to be that the BMCC administration has made curriculum decisions unilaterally, sending new courses or course revisions directly to CUNY Central. Faculty members are unclear about the criteria our president has used to send unapproved courses to 80th Street.
What is evident, however, is that Pathways is in trouble. In bypassing governance procedures, administrators tacitly admit a truth they have tried not to acknowledge: the CUNY faculty, as a body, does not accept Pathways. Chancellor Goldstein claims that the June 27, 2011 Board of Trustees resolution justifies his unwavering insistence on implementing this new general education design, but in reality we seem to be living in a lawless environment where local college presidents impose arbitrary decisions and the chancellery makes things up as they go along. Never hesitant to claim by fiat what it can’t achieve following the rules, CUNY Central dodges faculty governance procedures even while it seeks the imprimatur of elected faculty governance bodies for its proposed curriculum changes.
Pathways is in trouble because it was an ill-conceived plan to begin with and because of widespread and ongoing resistance in college governance bodies. The deadline for submission of Pathways courses has been extended twice, most recently until June 30. The chancellery claims that Pathways will be implemented “starting in Fall 2013”—but it is clear that CUNY Central is far from being ready for the complete implementation of Pathways. With the expiration of Pathways’ initial Common Course Review Committees (CCRCs), Executive Vice Chancellor Logue has created new extra-governance committees to vet courses. While the first set of CCRCs had an end date (at first December 15, then February 25) the new ones may last indefinitely. According to a memo from Logue, 80th Street “will assess the performance of this new structure, as well as the projected future CCRC workload, to decide how to constitute the CCRC going beyond June 30, 2013.” So, another layer is added to the Pathways plan: the portent of permanent 80th Street curriculum committees that operate outside normal governance procedures. What will be the future role of these committees? No one seems able to say.
Many battle-weary BMCC faculty members have felt intimidated by the constant pressure to accede to Pathways, and some now feel insecure about the future of their courses. Nevertheless, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to do what is best for our students. Our administration continues to pressure department chairs to convince us to put through Pathways courses, and we must decide how to proceed once the Academic Senate’s current moratorium on Pathways implementation expires on April 24. Should the moratorium end, or should it be extended? Should departments offer to revise their courses to accommodate Pathways, or are there sound pedagogical reasons not to do so?
The mantra that Pathways is inevitable and that we should get with the program forces us to face crucial choices. The situation requires that we debate the pros and cons of complicity while gauging what the future is likely to hold. The potential for the new CCRCs to continue indefinitely should give us pause about continued violations of faculty primacy in determining curricula and graduation requirements. When the CUNY Central Office of Academic Affairs announces that it plans to develop “University-wide general guidelines” for “assessing general education outcomes,” we should ask ourselves how much control of our profession we are willing to cede to administrators. What does it mean to agree that present and future general education courses will be defined in terms of broad “student learning outcomes” rather than focusing on the development of disciplinary-specific knowledge? Are we willing to approve curriculum changes even if we think those changes might lead to problems in the implementation phase and might devalue our students’ education?
We all must continue to deliberate with the same seriousness and resolve that has brought us to this juncture. Pathways is in trouble and it is not a “done deal.” It’s not too late to speak up.
Anne Friedman is Professor of Developmental Skills at BMCC, is Vice President for Community Colleges at the PSC, and is on the Executive Committee of the University Faculty Senate.