Leading Educators Endorse…PATHWAYS

April 12, 2012 | CUNY Matters

“an innovative and forward-looking model”
Molly Corbett Broad
President, American Council on Education

“a triumph for higher education in the United States”
Jonathan R. Cole
John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University Provost & Dean of Faculties, 1989-2003
Columbia University

“critically important for regional and national socio-economic success”
Michael M. Crow
President, Arizona State University

“a welcome and potentially powerful approach to ensuring strong general education”
Hunter R. Rawlings III
President, Association of American Universities
President, Cornell University,  1995-2003

“fundamentals and flexible areas defined by rigorous learning outcomes”
William G. Bowen
President Emeritus, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
President, Princeton University, 1972-1988
Founding Chairman, Ithaka/JSTOR

“a commonsense plan that will benefit student learning and increase the rate of degree completion”
Vartan Gregorian
President, Carnegie Corporation of New York

“an excellent model providing both access and quality”
Robert Berdahl
Interim President, University of Oregon
President, Association of American Universities, 2006-2011
Chancellor, University of California, Berkeley, 1997-2004

“totally consistent with best practices around the country”
Paul Attewell
Distinguished Professor of Sociology
CUNY Graduate Center

An array of nationally renowned leaders in higher education resoundingly endorsed the University’s Pathways reform of general education and credit-transfer policies, praising the work as an innovative national model that will promote academic excellence, improve graduation rates and create a more accessible, clear and efficient system of transferring course credits among CUNY colleges.

Twelve strong endorsements of Pathways from prominent academics including former presidents of Yale, Princeton, Brown and Cornell Universities, distinguished CUNY professors and leaders of national education associations are included in a 12-page University document, Pathways Ahead: Reform & Rigor. The booklet explains the new general education framework, which includes establishment of a 30-to-42-credit general education curriculum to be required of CUNY students starting in fall 2013, as well as new mechanisms to ensure courses are rigorous and meet defined learning outcomes, and that students who take courses approved for their majors receive credit for them at any CUNY college.

“The City University’s new common core curriculum is nothing less than a triumph for higher education in the United States,” declared one of the educators, sociologist Jonathan R. Cole, John Mitchell Mason Professor at Columbia University and its former provost and dean of faculties. Cole, known for his work on the sociology of science and on problems facing great universities, said that the “rigorous” Common Core would “permit a much easier flow of students from one tier in the system to another – from the community colleges ultimately to the flagship colleges in the system.”

“It combines what most well informed educators in large public universities have been striving to achieve for decades: a combination of access, opportunity for social mobility through the ability to transfer credit from one college in the system to another, and academic excellence,” Cole wrote.

Distinguished Professor of Sociology Paul Attewell, deputy executive officer of the sociology doctoral program at the CUNY Graduate Center and a member of the Pathways task force that developed the Common Core, called the general education reform “totally consistent with best practices around the country. It will make the transfer process clear and dependable for students. I expect we shall see improvements in transfer rates and in degree completion rates across our university.”

The University’s insistence that courses accepted for the core meet measurable learning outcomes was commended by William G. Bowen, president emeritus of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, former Princeton president and founding chairman of Ithaka/JSTOR. The “system-wide emphasis on both fundamentals and flexible areas defined by rigorous learning outcomes marks Pathways as a truly momentous step forward for CUNY’s dual missions of access and excellence,” Bowen said.

Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian called the Pathways plan a “logical and well-reasoned approach” that would “improve and smooth the transfer of credits among the CUNY institutions, addressing from the outset the issue of the content and quality of the courses that will count for credit . . . rather than solely focusing on the technical articulation between community and senior colleges.”

“Students will understand the core courses they need for their education, and they will be able to transfer those courses readily within the system,” said Hunter R. Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell University. He added that Pathways would promote “better educational outcomes produced in a more efficient way.”

Other prominent academics represented in the document are Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, who praised CUNY “for developing an innovative and forward-looking model” of general education; Interim University of Oregon President Robert Berdahl, former president of the Association of American Universities and former chancellor of  the University of California at Berkeley, who said Pathways promotes “access and quality”; and Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow, who said the plan “creates a solid integrated approach to creating educational success across a very broad demographic.”

Additional endorsements came from CUNY Distinguished Professor of History Laird Bergad, director of the Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies, who cited the need to provide a quality education and improve the “unwieldy” transfer process; Hunter Distinguished Professor of English Elizabeth Nunez, who noted that “every college was represented” in the development of the Common Core; and CUNY Graduate Center President William P. Kelly, who called CUNY’s revision of its core curriculum “an engagement with a national rethinking of general education” that enhances “the range and the depth of a student’s intellectual experience.”

CUNY Board of Trustees Chairperson Benno Schmidt declared the Trustees’ “full support” of Pathways, saying the initiative will help students “remain engaged in meaningful, rigorous study” and “complete all of their degree requirements in a sensible and timely manner.”

The reforms, launched by Executive Vice Chancellor Lexa Logue at Chancellor Matthew Goldstein’s request, were approved last June 27 by the Board of Trustees.

The initiative aims to enhance the academic quality, consistency and efficiency of general education across the University and to reform confusing policies that have led to transfer students’ credits being rejected at their receiving colleges, forcing many to take excess credits, increasing their cost and time to graduate. Pathways streamlines all CUNY colleges’ core requirements – which have ranged up to 63 credits at some senior colleges – to 30 at the community colleges and 36 to 42 at senior colleges, bringing the University in line with national norms.

The first phase of the general education reform, development of the 30-credit Common Core of courses to be taken by all students in specific thematic areas, was carried out by the 54-member Pathways to Degree Completion task force, chaired by CUNY School of Law Dean Michelle Anderson and comprised overwhelmingly of faculty, from every campus. The work of this task force spanned five months and included numerous, sometimes contentious, meetings as well as comment opportunities, review of the comments and revisions.

The first 30 credits of the new Common Core consists of 10 three-credit courses that can be combined or supplemented in a variety of ways by individual campuses so as to provide the campuses with flexibility in the design of their cores. The 30 credits consist of a 12-credit “required core”: six credits of English Composition; three of Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning; and three of Life and Physical Sciences.

It also includes an 18-credit “flexible core” of six three-credit liberal arts courses including at least one connected with each of these thematic areas: World Cultures and Global Issues; U.S. Experience in its Diversity; Creative Expression; Individual and Society; and Scientific World. For each of these thematic areas, a set of expected learning outcomes — aimed at teaching concepts, as well as critical thinking, research, communication, writing, speaking and other skills — was delineated by the task force. The six to 12 additional “College Option” credits required for the baccalaureate programs will be decided entirely by those institutions.

A 128-member faculty Common Core Course Review Committee, led by Professor Philip Kasinitz, who until recently headed the sociology Ph.D. program at the Graduate Center and teaches undergraduates at Hunter College, has begun the process of evaluating the courses to be submitted by each college for inclusion in the core. The committee is divided into eight subcommittees, each focusing on one thematic area of the core.

Associate University Provost Julia Wrigley said that the colleges will choose the courses for the core, specify how they meet the required learning outcomes, and then submit them for evaluation and approval by the committee via a customized Microsoft SharePoint online system.

Wrigley noted that each college’s largely faculty-led governance system will review the proposed core courses before submitting them to the Course Review Committee. Following the committee’s approval, the courses must be approved by the Board of Trustees. Because the new general education framework begins in fall 2013, and thus will be offered to students for registration in spring 2013, “everything has to be ready by January of 2013,” Wrigley said.

When the Board of Trustees approved the Pathways initiative last June, it exercised its authority under New York State Education Law to make academic policy, including curriculum, at CUNY.  Some faculty have challenged the Trustees’ authority; leaders of the Professional Staff Congress and the University Faculty Senate sued March 20 in Manhattan Supreme Court to block the Pathways reforms. University General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Frederick Schaffer responded that the suit lacked legal merit and that a motion to dismiss it would be filed.

Presenting its final Common Core proposal in December 2011, the Pathways task force said the new framework would “develop a broad range of knowledge and skills, and … build a solid intellectual foundation upon which students can engage in more sophisticated study and analysis at successively higher levels as they complete their degrees.”

Two other University committees have begun to prepare for the fall 2013 Pathways implementation. The Implementation Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from each campus, will work to ensure that campus administrative offices and the University Central Office work together to smoothly enact the changes.

The CUNY Pathways Transfer Majors Committee, chaired by Graduate Center President William Kelly, will determine University-wide course pathways for CUNY’s most popular transfer majors, to make the credit-transfer process clearer and more transparent and efficient. Faculty from CUNY’s senior colleges and community colleges have been meeting together in subcommittees focused on particular disciplines, to identify three to six early courses in majors that will be recommended for all students entering those majors. The courses will be made available at all colleges offering those majors.

The transfer majors committees are to recommend the courses to the Office of Academic Affairs by May 1. “Initial recommendations have now been submitted by the faculty committees for seven majors: biology, business, criminal justice, English, nursing, psychology, and teacher education,” Kelly said in a letter to the University community. The draft recommendations are posted online at cuny.edu/pathways. Kelly said comments were welcome until April 18 and could be submitted by sending an email to athways@mail.cuny.edu.

FAIR OR FRIVOLOUS?

In a lawsuit filed by the Professional Staff Congress and the University Faculty Senate against the City University of New York and the Board of Trustees in March, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the PSC/UFS claim that CUNY breached a 1997 agreement regarding the role of faculty in formulating policy by establishing a new core curriculum. The lawsuit, however, omits some important language:

PSC/UFS LAWSUIT SAYS

“The settlement agreement resolved a case then pending before the New York State Court of Appeals. It required the City University of New York (CUNY) and the CUNY Board of Trustees (the CUNY Board) to adopt a resolution recognizing and reaffirming that CUNY’s faculty though the University Faculty Senate and college faculty senates and councils, (collectively Faculty), would be responsible for ‘the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students including health and scholarship standards curriculum, awarding of college credit and granting of degrees.’”

PSC/UFS Omission

“The settlement agreement resolved a case then pending before the New York State Court of Appeals. It required The City University of New York (CUNY) and the CUNY Board of Trustees (CUNY Board) to adopt a resolution recognizing and reaffirming that CUNY’s faculty through the University Faculty Senate and college faculty senates and councils, (collectively faculty) would be responsible, subject to guidelines, if any, established by the Board for ‘the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students including health and scholarship standards… curriculum, awarding of college credit, and awarding of degrees’…”

PSC/UFS LAWSUIT SAYS

“The Settlement Agreement was contingent upon the CUNY Board’s approving a resolution recognizing and reaffirming among other things that CUNY’s faculty, through the Faculty Senate and College Senates, would remain responsible for ‘the formulation of policy relating to  the admission and retention of students,’…”

PSC/UFS Omission

“The Settlement Agreement was contingent upon the CUNY Board’s approving a resolution recognizing and reaffirming among other things that CUNY’s faculty through the Faculty Senate and the College Senates, would ‘remain responsible subject to the guidelines, if any, established by the Board, for the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students,’…”

PSC/UFS LAWSUIT

“CUNY Bylaw #8.6, which was reaffirmed by the Settlement Agreement provides that the ‘faculty shall be responsible…for the formulation of policy’…”

PSC/UFS Omission SAYS

“CUNY Bylaw #8.6, which was reaffirmed by the Settlement Agreement, provides that the ‘faculty shall be responsible subject to guidelines, if any, established by the Board for the formulation of policy’…”