UPDATE (Sept. 22): Seems like it’s time for a bit of backpedaling.
From studentactivism.net comes a story that is becoming all too commonplace.
You can read about the roots of the problem here, but here’s a brief summary. The setting is the City University of New York, a university made up of 23 campuses that serves predominantly “at risk” students. The university administration, seeking to streamline and centralize a complicated transfer credit system, has proposed something called the Pathways initiative. In a nutshell, it aims to cut costs and shrink the length of time it takes for students to complete a degree (and to require CUNY colleges to accept all transfer credits from other CUNY colleges). Unfortunately, numerous faculty have pointed out that the proposed plan really doesn’t address the needs of the students. In particular, the faculty of Queensborough Community College disagreed with reducing the number of required writing credits from four to three (and reducing the level of compensation for those courses, which are very grading-heavy). The faculty voted 14-6 not to adopt the Pathways plan. The CUNY administration responded with the following:
- Writing courses will no longer be offered at Queensborough
- All faculty searches in the Queensborough English department will be cancelled
- All English department adjuncts at Queensborough will be fired
- The reappointment of full-time Queensborough English faculty will be subject to “ability to pay”
This story is horrifying for a lot of reasons, not least of which is the idea that an entire department can be dismantled for disagreeing with the administration. (The CUNY faculty union is filing a labor grievance and threatening a federal lawsuit.) The union calls the administration’s response particularly disturbing “in its punitive dismissal of faculty judgment in matters of curriculum development.”
As one of my friends pointed out, such a brazen disregard for the basic rights of faculty points to the fact that academia has become a buyers’ market–administrations believe that adjunct AND full-time faculty are so desperate to keep their jobs that they’ll meekly do whatever they’re told, even when it goes against everything that their experience tells them is best for students.
For me, there are echoes here of the Chicago teachers’ strike, and of an overall battle for control in both secondary and higher education that so often seems to pit administrators against teachers. I would argue that the Queensborough faculty and the Chicago teachers–and plenty of teachers and professors around the U.S.–are fighting for the same thing:
- the right to teach curricula that are created with substantial input from educators (not forced on them by administrations without discussion)
- the right to fair hiring / firing policies
- the right to be evaluated as educators in a fair and balanced manner (not primarily through test scores)
- the right to exercise some control over what they teach and how they teach it
I’ll be following the CUNY situation closely.