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Chairs protest online MA

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The PSC, the University Faculty Senate (UFS) and history department chairs from four-year colleges that offer masters of arts degrees in American history are protesting a proposed new online graduate program at the School of Professional Studies (SPS) that faculty activists say was put forward without their consultation.

The proposal, developed with the Gilder Lehrman Institute, would serve middle and high school history teachers, most of whom reside outside of New York. The aim of the program, according to the SPS proposal, is to improve “the teaching of American history in the nation’s middle and high schools...at a time when the learning and applying the lessons of our nation’s history would seem especially vital.” The proposal also asserts that classes will be “taught by CUNY SPS faculty, with all the rights and responsibilities of any CUNY faculty presiding over courses.”

But some faculty advocates see things differently. The UFS voted unanimously on May 16 to call on SPS to halt the proposal until proper faculty consultation occurred. In particular, SPS failed to consult with the department chairs who already oversee American history MA programs, the union said. The proposed program will make use of some CUNY faculty who teach at other colleges and will be engaged with students as SPS adjunct faculty. However, most of the “part-time faculty” listed were not consulted about the proposal’s contents – which include detailed course syllabi – or even told their names would be listed in the proposal as “eager to teach in the program.”

“The history department chairs raise serious concerns about the academic quality of the proposed program,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said in a letter to Vita Rabinowitz, CUNY’s executive vice chancellor. “They also question CUNY’s employment of ‘distinguished scholars’ outside of its own faculty to provide videotaped lectures.”

NO FACULTY INPUT

Bowen continued, “The decision to feature faculty from other universities while failing to consult with the university’s own MA history faculty sends a message of profound disrespect.”

CUNY’s History Chairs Discipline Council said in statement that the “online history education at the graduate level must not compromise academic excellence, or undersell and supplant richer, more rigorous existing programs at CUNY through cost-cutting measures. In this context, we harbor serious concerns about the potential of the SPS proposal for an online MA program in history, as currently conceived, to cheapen the quality of CUNY’s graduate degrees in history. Conceived largely without consultation with CUNY’s own talented body of historians, the SPS’s vision of virtual education is governed by remarkably skimpy structures of instruction and accountability. The institution offering this graduate degree has no history department or full-time faculty to anchor the program; the scholars advertised to videotape lectures – the primary mode of content transmission – are overwhelmingly from outside CUNY, and in some cases not aware that their names appear in the proposal; and the shifting contract labor force who did not design the content of the prepackaged lectures, but are envisioned to implement the program, can hardly be expected to provide continuity in mentoring, advisement or assessment.”

Bowen said, “I am also concerned that the proposed online MA represents direct competition with the existing MA programs at the colleges, particularly because it has been planned as a degree with a lower price. It could put at risk the jobs of faculty, especially part-time faculty, represented by the PSC.”

SPS is proposing to charge $800 per course, more than one-third less than the current in-state history MA tuition rate, nearly two-thirds less than the out-of-state tuition.

At press time, the board of trustees’ consideration of the proposal had been postponed until the Fall.