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Home » Clarion » 2012 » April 2012 » Pathways Under Fire: Calls for a Halt Are Growing

Pathways Under Fire: Calls for a Halt Are Growing

Peter Kwong, a distinguished professor at Hunter College, signs the Pathways petition. At left is PSC Chapter Chair Tami Gold.

“I had no idea the vote would be so overwhelming.” That’s what Glenn Petersen, chair of the sociology department at Baruch, said after the faculty of Baruch’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences voted 125 to 5 in favor of suspending work on Pathways, CUNY’s controversial overhaul of general education.

“We worked really hard to create a good proposal under Pathways, but we didn’t like the result. We held our nose and we did it, but no one had a good word to say about our proposal – or about Pathways,” said Petersen. “The problem was, everyone was so afraid. Everyone said, ‘We detest this, but we’re afraid of what will happen to us if we don’t comply.’”

That’s why Petersen put forward a motion calling for an alternative. “I just couldn’t bear to put up with that,” he explained. “Now it’s utterly clear that when people see they can stand together and say what they think, they’ll say that this is not to be borne.”

The Baruch resolution, approved at a March 22 meeting of arts and sciences faculty, declares that they have “been unable to find sufficient pedagogical merit in curriculum guidelines established by the University’s Pathways program to warrant the substantial cuts the program requires in the College’s current general education requirements.”

Therefore, the resolution “recommends that Baruch College discontinue the process of revising the College’s general education curriculum until a University-wide summit meeting of campus faculty, students, and administrators” can convene to discuss alternatives with CUNY central administration. The body also voted to reject a detailed proposal on how to implement Pathways at Baruch, a proposal that many of those same faculty members had helped to develop.

Opposition to Pathways is on the rise. Beyond Baruch, faculty governance bodies at other CUNY colleges have called for Pathways to be put on hold and reassessed. A petition for the repeal and replacement of Pathways has drawn 4,189 signatures so far, and the number continues to grow. And on March 20, the PSC and the University Faculty Senate filed a lawsuit to halt the Pathways initiative, arguing that it violates a 1997 court settlement on the role of CUNY faculty in curriculum decisions.

CUNY administration describes Pathways as an effort to simplify the University’s transfer requirements, which many students have found difficult to negotiate. Pathways proponents blame most of the problems in student transfer on general education rules and current practices of accepting credits; Pathways sharply reduces the number of credits that a college’s general education framework can require. It calls for a Common Core of 30 credits at all CUNY colleges, with an additional College Option of up to 12 credits at senior colleges. (Past Clarion coverage here.)

These credit limits make it difficult for colleges to maintain elements of general education that many faculty view as fundamental – for example, foreign language requirements, or time for lab work in a science class.

PSC leaders say that faculty have been working to conform to the new policy, fearful that their courses will be marginalized otherwise. The union, they say, is seeking ways to help faculty express their collective voice on Pathways as a whole.

The PSC petition emphasizes that there is a “genuine and important” need to facilitate student transfer within CUNY. But this can be done, it says, without destroying years of faculty work on curriculum and putting educational quality at risk.

“More than 500 people signed the petition in the first hour,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “That is an unprecedented response.” Signers to date include 50 distinguished professors, 155 department chairs, and 51 members of CUNY’s own Pathways committee, the Common Core Review Committee.


In a February 17 statement, CUNY’s discipline council for natural sciences warned that the “Pathways general education curriculum dramatically decreases the amount of science taught to [non-science] majors in the senior colleges, and diminishes the quality of education and value of a CUNY degree.” (The council is made up of the elected chairs of biology, biochemistry, chemistry and physics departments across CUNY.)

The science chairs warned that, under Pathways, general education science classes will not have adequate time for laboratory work, which they argue is fundamental to real science education. They urged that the basic Pathways science requirement be changed from three credits to four or four-and-a-half, and said faculty must retain the right to require additional hours for lab work. (Full text here.)


“We are astonished at the reduction of the role of science education in Pathways at any time, but especially during the Chancellor’s declaration that 2005-2015 is the Decade of Science at CUNY,” the statement said. “With this general education initiative, what will be left of science at CUNY by 2015?”

Not providing for lab sessions means that Pathways “fails to meet the nationwide norm for general education science courses,” warned the chairs. This in turn “eliminates transferability of CUNY general education courses to other colleges and universities.”

When Chronicle of Higher Education covered the Pathways lawsuit in March, online comments included this observation: “[A]fter creating this curriculum that allows for the elimination of a science laboratory requirement, CUNY created a 12-page PR booklet praising the high standards of this curriculum. Guess what the cover picture of the booklet is? A student doing work in a laboratory.”

On March 13, Queensborough Community College’s Academic Senate urged that “the ‘Pathways’ Initiative be suspended by CUNY and fundamentally rethought.” It described the credit limits imposed by Pathways as “inadequate, arbitrary and capricious,” and ultimately harmful to QCC’s academic reputation and the career prospects of its graduates. The resolution also objects to the exclusion of elected governance bodies from the decisions that shaped Pathways, and linked this to the poor quality of the result.

In place of Pathways, the QCC Senate called for CUNY “to establish more dual-joint degree programs, enhanced articulation agreements” and to improve academic advisement. These measures, it says, would be more effective in helping resolve the problems with student transfer without compromising academic quality.

At Baruch, the day before anti-Pathways resolutions were approved by faculty at the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, a college-wide General Faculty meeting took advisory votes with near-unanimous backing for the same position.

As Clarion went to press, BMCC’s Academic Senate and the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate at Medgar Evers College both passed resolutions against Pathways.

At a Brooklyn College Faculty Council meeting on March 13, a call for the repeal and replacement of Pathways was supported by about a four-to-one margin, but fell short on procedural grounds. (The resolution was officially approved at the BC Faculty Council meeting on April 3, when it carried by a vote of 65-8, with two abstentions.)

At CCNY, arts and sciences faculty made clear that their Pathways plan was not an endorsement. “The City College CLAS Faculty Council needs 45 rather than 42 credits to design a general education curriculum that meets the educational needs of its students,” a resolution declared. “If these three additional credits are not granted, it will precipitate a governance and educational crisis.”

At CSI on March 22, the Faculty Senate voted to reject a proposed Pathways plan as inadequate. It also told 80th Street that it would be unable to formulate an acceptable plan before the April 1 deadline – a target that faculty bodies at several other colleges also looked likely to miss.


As the details of Pathways become clearer, student opposition has begun to grow. The Queens College student paper chose “Pathways to Ignorance” as the headline in the print edition for its report on the program. “CUNY’s Pathways Initiative leads students away from science,” was the choice of the student paper at Baruch.

Student government leaders at four CUNY campuses were already on record with criticism of Pathways by this semester, and several student activists spoke against Pathways at the PSC’s Town Hall Meeting).

The next flash point with Pathways is likely to be its attempt to exert control over what courses can be required for a department’s major. By May 1, new committees appointed by the chancellor are to recommend three to six courses that can be accepted as entry-level courses for the highest-transfer majors. The final decisions will not be made by departments, but by CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs. UFS Chair Sandi Cooper called the plan “a veritable coup in higher education.”

As criticism of Pathways mounts, voices across CUNY are calling for a time-out. “There is no justification for rushing a curriculum revision of this magnitude,” said the Bowen. “It’s time for 80th Street to slow down, start again, and respect the role of our elected faculty bodies.”



Pathways Petition Takes Off
Union Files Lawsuit Against Pathways
Hundreds Attend Town Hall Meeting
Voices from the Town Hall Meeting

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