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CUNY Pathways sparks discourse, yet again

Imagine a college in the United States — a community college within a university that prides itself on its diversity and immigrant population — suddenly shrinking its English department by 70 percent.

Queensborough Community College saw the possibility of just that on Sept. 12 when the English Department staff — upon rejecting the revaluation of courses based on the Pathways curriculum — was threatened by the vice president of the college, listing “serious repercussions” for their rebuff. These included: cancellation of writing classes, termination of adjunct contracts and a review of the employment of the entire full-time faculty.

The letter was signed, “Regretfully, Karen,” by Vice President Karen Steele of QCC.

CUNY’s Pathways was approved by the board of trustees in June 2011; curricula across its 19 four-year colleges are being evaluated and re-written to comply with the initiative, set to be implemented in Sept. 2013.

Pathways seeks to homogenize courses across CUNY to make the process of transferring credits between colleges easier. The program has been controversial and readily criticized for the low number of general education credits required for students.

CUNY officials have responded saying “this number of credits is consistent with general education requirements around the nation.”

The English department at QCC decided not to follow the new system which required teachers to shorten their introductory English class to three from four hours. Currently, almost all CUNY schools hold four hour introductory English courses.

After the angry message from Steele — which she quickly apologized for, calling the repercussions, hypothetical — the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty union and other staff members protested and are currently looking to file a federal lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.

QCC is the number one feeder school of transfers to Queens College; more than half of all those who transfer out, come to QC.

After a unanimous vote, the QC English department decided to continue counting English 101 credit from QCC as English 110 credit, regardless of the Pathways mandate. They believe that departments have the right to determine their own curricular necessities.

“It’s about expressing solidarity with them and the fact that it should be the experts in the department who really know what’s best pedagogically to decide. We wanted to support their resolution in that matter,” chair of the QC English department, Glenn Burger said.

The QC department is only accepting English courses from QCC validated by the English department there; if administrators validate three hour courses on their own, the QC English department will not accept that course.

QC and Hunter College were the only two colleges to voluntarily accept the implementation of Pathways on April 1, 2012. Doing so gave them an advantage in being able to reorganize their own curricula in order to do what they deemed best for their students. The other colleges — upon their initial refusal to implement the new system — were handed down directions about curriculum changes from senior administrators.

This top-bottom approach scares some professors, including Ryan Black, a QC professor who teaches English 110.

“I think it’s kind of a dangerous precedent to do that, to have some absolute authority to make this decision with so little conversation,” Black said.

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