In late September, Mayor Bloomberg announced “a new partnership we’ve entered into with IBM and the City University of New York.” According to a New York City press release, CUNY and the NYC Department of Education plan to “work jointly to develop a school that runs from grade 9 through the equivalent of grade 14,” combining high school and two years of college with a focus on information technology and computer science.
“When they graduate from grade 14 with an associate’s degree and a qualified record, they will be guaranteed a job with IBM and a ticket to the middle class,” Bloomberg told an NBC studio audience at Rockefeller Center on September 27.
A SCHOOL – OR NOT?
But in fact, IBM has not promised to guarantee any jobs for CUNY graduates. It has made no specific financial commitment to the project, and there are no clear answers about how IBM would be involved with its curriculum. The proposed “school” may not be a single school at all, but a program spread over a number of high schools and community colleges.
Although the program is slated to begin next September with nearly one hundred 9th grade students, it has not yet been discussed in a CUNY trustees’ meeting – and there is little definite information about it.
PSC President Barbara Bowen reported to the union’s Delegate Assembly that when she called Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, demanding to know why the union had not been informed in advance about creation of a new school, Goldstein said that there was no new school, and that current programs would simply be continued. He also stated that there would be no “grades 13 and 14” at CUNY. In testimony at an October 21 City Council hearing, University Provost Alexandra Logue described it as a program that would open a number of “new schools running from grades 9 through 14 (the first two years of college).”
“IBM envisions that the 9-14 school would be in one physical location,” IBM spokesperson Doris Gonzalez said in a statement, “but it is possible for the students to attend a New York City Department of Education school in grades 9-12 and then attend a CUNY community college for grades 13 and 14.”
“We are excited about the prospect of engaging IBM in opportunities for our students,” CUNY Director of Communication and Marketing Michael Arena told Clarion. “It’s very early in the process, but certainly if this new model proves successful, we would want to build upon that success.”
The City’s press release says that the “school” will be developed “with the generous support of IBM.”
How much money might be forthcoming? “IBM has already invested in other education initiatives that will be leveraged for this new school,” Gonzalez responded, “such as the work we are doing with Queensborough Community College’s STEM Academy, where we have donated $250,000 in technology and technical services.”
“The level of contribution is still in discussion,” CUNY spokesperson Rita Rodin told Clarion.
Corporate funding of higher education is nothing new, but this particular proposal seems unprecedented in the CUNY system – especially given its expressed purpose of feeding graduates into a specific company. Questions about whether a public university should have this close a relationship with a particular corporation might not be the top concern for CUNY students anxious to secure employment. But it is unclear how many graduates would actually benefit from this arrangement.
Despite the mayor’s talk of “guaranteed” jobs, or graduates being “first in line for a job at IBM,” the formal press release on NYC and CUNY websites is more circumspect, referring only to “possible job placement with IBM.” And in recent years, IBM has been laying off employees in the US while expanding employment overseas.
Earlier this year IBM laid off thousands of employees across the US and Canada. “What locations and communities had job cuts?” asked Alliance@IBM, a local of the Communications Workers of America. “Nobody knows, because IBM no longer gives out that information. Now IBM has decided that it will no longer inform employees, the government, communities, the media or stockholders how many employees work at IBM in the US….Only the global headcount will be reported.”
Alliance@IBM gathered information on the layoffs on its own, and by late August had confirmed at least 10,425 lost jobs in North America, mainly in the United States.
A number of IBM employees have been laid off and then rehired as full-time consultants – still earning a paycheck, but losing all benefits and any semblance of job security.
“Our students deserve every assistance in getting hired for good jobs after college,” said Scott Dexter, an associate professor of computer science at Brooklyn College. “But it would be unfair to them for IBM to over-promise and under-deliver.”
On the program’s curriculum, IBM’s Gonzalez said that the first several years of study would use existing Department of Education curriculum, but that this would be augmented by “providing students at each grade level with relevant hands-on, project-based learning experiences integrated into core math and science classes.” Beyond that, she added, IBM would continue to discuss educational methods with the DOE and CUNY so as to “ensure that the students are prepared with the critical thinking, problem solving, communications and teamwork skills that are vital for success in IT and other fields.”
CUNY spokesperson Rita Rodin said flatly that IBM will not be involved in developing curriculum on the college level. CUNY faculty and department chairs will help determine courses offered to students. Rodin told Clarion that “IBM’s role will be helping to develop internship opportunities.”
In 2002, plans for a new CUNY campus on Governors Island were announced with great fanfare. But funding never materialized, and the plans were quietly shelved. The “IBM school” may amount to more than that – but so far, there is little definite information about this information-technology program.