Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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Over the last several months this blog has become an essential tool for communicating with PSC members and supporters across CUNY and more broadly within academia. We want to encourage you to stay connected to our work by subscribing to the blog by entering your email in the box provided on the right of this screen. This will allow you to get an email notice whenever we post a new story. We promise not to overwhelm you with stories. We typically only put out 1-3 a week.

We've also created a Twitter feed linked to this blog. We post links to new posts and also pass along news about similar struggles going on at CUNY and throughout higher education. Our Twitter handle is @PSCCUNYBC. https://twitter.com/psccunybc.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Contract Rights Upheld in Pathways Grievance

CUNY management was defeated in its attempt to block consideration of a union grievance on the way the University implemented Pathways, and has been told in no uncertain terms that faculty’s curricular duties are terms and conditions of employment covered by the PSC’s contract. The ruling was issued on Friday by an independent arbitrator of a grievance filed by the PSC. CUNY had petitioned for the grievance to be dismissed, arguing that issues of governance are not covered by the PSC contract and cannot be challenged by the PSC. The petition to dismiss was an attempt to narrow scope of the contract, and was soundly rejected by the arbitrator.
The grievance, filed by the PSC in 2012, alleges that in its implementation of Pathways CUNY failed to act in accordance with University Bylaws and college governance plans established for the development and execution of curriculum changes. The grievance also alleges that the implementation of Pathways was a violation of academic freedom and that CUNY retaliated against members of the faculty for acting in opposition to Pathways.
The arbitrator ruled that the grievance was subject to arbitration, or “arbitrable,” in its entirety and ruled against CUNY on every point. The arbitrator held that the ability to maintain some degree of control over curriculum was an integral part of faculty members’ terms and conditions of employment and was therefore subject to the grievance and arbitration procedure in the PSC-CUNY collective bargaining agreement. The PSC will now be permitted to present evidence to establish the violation of Bylaws and college governance plans that have occurred in CUNY’s headlong rush to implement its deeply flawed Pathways Initiative.
The grievance should not be confused with the two lawsuits filed by the PSC against Pathways, which are still moving slowly through the courts. The grievance is limited to violations of the PSC-CUNY contract and is an entirely separate proceeding. The grievance challenges only the implementation of Pathways, not the adoption of Pathways.

Friday, December 13, 2013

On MOOCs, E-Permits, and Centralized Control of the Curriculum

Last month CUNY Vice-Chancellor Alexandra Logue wrote an essay for Inside Higher Education in which she called for expanding the use of MOOCs. Logue seems to have missed the latest research. This week’s New York Times outlines the latest research affirming the very limited effectiveness of MOOCs (see below and also see this).  Given that students in MOOCs have an almost infinitesimal completion rate, and given that few students are willing to pay for what MOOCs offer, why are the Chancellery and Board of Trustees so keen on them?  Are they simply the latest victims of the agenda of the K-12 plutocratic reformers and technocrats?

The answer may be that MOOCs represent yet another way to degrade public education in the name of lowering costs.

Today we learned that as part of CUNY’s ongoing effort to streamline and centralize the curriculum that the Board of Trustees passed a measure that eliminates local controls over the issuing of e-permits. Students now no longer need permission from their home campus or major to take classes for equivalent credit at another CUNY school that offers a similarly labeled class. As a result, even essential courses within a major can be taken for credit at another campus so long as the student meets the basic residency requirement for the major. This change is consistent with CUNY’s effort to standardize intro courses and electives in the largest majors and to flatten out CUNY into one single, large institution run by administrators who have little or no contact with faculty, let alone students.

Once again the Chancellery and Board of Trustees have asserted centralized control over local faculty decision making about the curriculum—moving from gen. ed. in the form of Pathways to increasing standardization of majors. Do we really want CUNY administrators creating a one size fits all curriculum? And once CUNY has control of this process what will stop them from further reducing standards to accelerate graduation rates, regardless of academic achievement, in the name of demonstrating their ability to do more with less?

Departments should look closely at these policies and consider taking steps to maintain faculty control over the curriculum and to encourage a diversity of approaches to both general education and specific majors. It is out of that diversity and local expertise that innovation and best practices will flourish. 

The New York Times

December 10, 2013

After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought

Two years after a Stanford professor drew 160,000 students from around the globe to a free online course on artificial intelligence, starting what was widely viewed as a revolution in higher education, early results for such large-scale courses are disappointing, forcing a rethinking of how college instruction can best use the Internet.
A study of a million users of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, released this month by the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education found that, on average, only about half of those who registered for a course ever viewed a lecture, and only about 4 percent completed the courses.
Much of the hope — and hype — surrounding MOOCs has focused on the promise of courses for students in poor countries with little access to higher education. But a separate survey from the University of Pennsylvania released last month found that about 80 percent of those taking the university’s MOOCs had already earned a degree of some kind.
And perhaps the most publicized MOOC experiment, at San Jose State University, has turned into a flop. It was a partnership announced with great fanfare at a January news conference featuring Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a strong backer of online education. San Jose State and Udacity, a Silicon Valley company co-founded by a Stanford artificial-intelligence professor, Sebastian Thrun, would work together to offer three low-cost online introductory courses for college credit.
Mr. Thrun, who had been unhappy with the low completion rates in free MOOCs, hoped to increase them by hiring online mentors to help students stick with the classes. And the university, in the heart of Silicon Valley, hoped to show its leadership in online learning, and to reach more students.
But the pilot classes, of about 100 people each, failed. Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring — including many from a charter high school in Oakland — did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students — and only 12 percent of the high school students — earned a passing grade.
The program was suspended in July, and it is unclear when, if or how the program will resume. Neither the provost nor the president of San Jose State returned calls, and spokesmen said the university had no comment.
Whatever happens at San Jose, even the loudest critics of MOOCs do not expect them to fade away. More likely, they will morph into many different shapes: Already, San Jose State is getting good results using videos from edX, a nonprofit MOOC venture, to supplement some classroom sessions, and edX is producing videos to use in some high school Advanced Placement classes. And Coursera, the largest MOOC company, is experimenting with using its courses, along with a facilitator, in small discussion classes at some United States consulates.
Some MOOC pioneers are working with a different model, so-called connectivist MOOCs, which are more about the connections and communication among students than about the content delivered by a professor.
“It’s like, ‘The MOOC is dead, long live the MOOC,’ ” said Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State University-Pueblo professor who has expressed fears that the online courses would displace professors and be an excuse for cuts in funding. “At the beginning everybody talked about MOOCs being entirely online, but now we’re seeing lots of things that fall in the middle, and even I see the appeal of that.”
The intense publicity about MOOCs has nudged almost every university toward developing an Internet strategy.
Given that the wave of publicity about MOOCs began with Mr. Thrun’s artificial-intelligence course, it is fitting that he has become emblematic of a reset in the thinking about MOOCs, after a profile in Fast Company magazine that described him as moving away from college classes in favor of vocational training in partnerships with corporations that would pay a fee.
Many educators saw the move as an admission of defeat for the idea that online courses would democratize higher education — and confirmation that, at its core, Udacity, a company funded with venture capital, was more interested in profits than in helping to educate underserved students.
“Sebastian Thrun put himself out there as a little bit of a lightning rod,” said George Siemens, a MOOC pioneer who got funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for research on MOOCs, and last week convened the researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington to discuss their early results. “Whether he intended it or not, that article marks a substantial turning point in the conversation around MOOCs.”
The profile quoted Mr. Thrun as saying the Udacity MOOCs were “a lousy product” and “not a good fit” for disadvantaged students, unleashing a torrent of commentary in the higher-education blogosphere.
Mr. Thrun took issue with the article, and said he had never concluded that MOOCs could not work for any particular group of students.
“I care about education for everyone, not just the elite,” he said in an interview. “We want to bring high-quality education to everyone, and set up everyone for success. My commitment is unchanged.”
While he said he was “super-excited” about working with corporations to improve job skills, Mr. Thrun said he was working with San Jose State to revamp the software so that future students could have more time to work through the courses.
“To all those people who declared our experiment a failure, you have to understand how innovation works,” he wrote on his blog. “Few ideas work on the first try. Iteration is key to innovation. We are seeing significant improvement in learning outcomes and student engagement. ”
Some draw an analogy to mobile phones, which took several generations to progress from clunky and unreliable to indispensable.
Mr. Thrun stressed that results from the second round of the San Jose experiment over the summer were much improved, with the online algebra and statistics students doing better than their on-campus counterparts. Comparisons are murky, though, since the summer classes were open to all, and half the students already had degrees.
Some San Jose professors said they found the MOOC material useful and were disappointed that the pilot was halted.
“We had great results in the summer, so I’m surprised that it’s not going forward,” said Julie Sliva, who taught the college algebra course. “I’m still using the Udacity videos to support another course, because they’re very helpful.”
Mr. Siemens said what was happening was part of a natural process. “We’re moving from the hype to the implementation,” he said. “It’s exciting to see universities saying, ‘Fine, you woke us up,’ and beginning to grapple with how the Internet can change the university, how it doesn’t have to be all about teaching 25 people in a room.
“Now that we have the technology to teach 100,000 students online,” he said, “the next challenge will be scaling creativity, and finding a way that even in a class of 100,000, adaptive learning can give each student a personal experience.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

BC Faculty Council calls for Withdrawal of CUNY "Expressive Conduct" Proposal

On Tuesday Brooklyn College’s Faculty Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing CUNY’s draft policy on “expressive conduct” (see below). The draft policy has been heavily criticized by faculty and students and the PSC Delegates Assembly also called for the withdrawal of the policy at its last meeting.  Today the New York Times reported on the issue, quoting PSC President Barbara Bowen saying, “if CUNY is to be an intellectually vibrant university, it must recognize that ‘expressive activity’ is a vital part of campus life, not a danger to be confined to narrow limits.” CUNY senior vice chancellor Frederick P. Schaffer, claims that it was faculty who requested the creation of a unified policy. While it may be true that one or two of the 15,000 faculty may have mentioned something to him along these lines, that does not mean that this point of view is representative of faculty opinion broadly. Now that CUNY has heard from the PSC’s Delegate Assembly, elected by the entire faculty, as well as campus based faculty governance bodies, it’s time for CUNY to drop this misguided endeavor and to stop hiding behind unnamed or hand-picked faculty to justify their policies of increasing centralized control over the university.  

Resolution on Draft CUNY Policy on Expressive Conduct

Whereas, the CUNY Central Administration has circulated at least two drafts policies on “expressive activity” in an effort to centralize control over college protest policies; and

Whereas, there has been an increase in excessive administrative action against protests at CUNY in the last 2 years including arrests and injury of students at City College, Baruch, and Brooklyn College; and

Whereas, no effort has been made to consult with either the Professional Staff Congress or elected campus governance bodies representing faculty, staff, or students; and

Whereas, the new policy would create restrictive protest zones, limit locations for distribution of flyers, enhance potential penalties against protestors, encourages cooperation with the police in controlling protests, and signals a general intolerance of protest; and

Whereas, existing educational laws and CUNY policies already set legal standards for protests at CUNY; therefore be it

Resolved, that as a university founded as the result of dissent, CUNY should uphold the highest standards for freedom of speech and assembly; and

Resolved that the Brooklyn College Faculty Council calls on the University Administration to withdraw from any future consideration by the Board of Trustees the proposed “Policy on Expressive Conduct” and any successor drafts that may be issued.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cuomo Appoints Two New Trustees.

Gov. Cuomo appointed two new trustees to the CUNY Board yesterday. The news is mixed. First the good: Jeffery Wiesenfeld has been replaced. Wiesenfeld is best known for trying to deny an honorary degree to Tony Kushner. Unfortunately he wasn't replaced by Kushner as some suggested. However, his replacement has some positive aspects. Barry F. Schwartz is a business executive, who manages MacAndrews and Forbes Holdings Inc., which is the financial vehicle for the wealth of Ronald O. Perelman, one of the richest men in America. Unlike, most other CUNY Trustees, however, Schwartz has a background in higher education. He serves as chairmen of the Board of Kenyon College, where he received his BA and is on the Board of Visitors at Georgetown Law School, where he received his JD. Interestingly, he’s also on the Board of Human Rights First, a major player in the human rights world. Schwartz’s connection to Culomo is probably that Cuomo’s former chief of staff is also an executive at MacAndrews and Forbes.

Less encouragingly, Pataki’s Staten Island’s appointee, Kathleen M. Pesile, a financial advisor and sometimes educator, was replaced by retiring Staten Island Borough President James P. Molinaro. Molinaro is a member of the Conservative Party and a Republican, who backed Cuomo in his election bid.  This appears to be little more than a continuation of two troubling trends. The first is the use of political appointments based on patronage and political payback rather than any actual qualification to manage the University. The second is Cuomo’s penchant for appointing right wingers to important positions.

There are two more mayoral appointees with expired terms, who could be replaced by Mayor-elect de Blasio.  This could be an opportunity for a more substantial remaking of the Board, including the choice of a new Board Chairman. Who do you think would make a good choice?