The pressure to implement the Pathways general education framework by Fall 2013 is harming the quality of course proposals, according to a department chair who served on a Pathways course review committee.
“In many cases, it was clear that the administration at these colleges had just submitted courses without any faculty input, so far as one could tell,” said Stephen Grover, chair of the philosophy department at Queens College. “Courses submitted by the colleges were often poorly prepared and poorly presented because they had been so rushed.”
Under Pathways, courses are offered under one of eight different subject areas. But Grover told Clarion that a lack of clear distinctions means that essentially the same course can be offered in several different areas. “This completely undermines the credibility of Pathways as a general education plan,” he contends.
Chancellor Matthew Goldstein appointed Grover to the CUNY-wide Common Core Course Review Committee in early 2012, to serve from March 2012 through the end of the year. Before a college can offer a course for general education credit under Pathways, it must be approved by this committee, where Grover served on the subcommittee for courses on “the Individual and Society.”
“I have no criticism of the functioning of that subcommittee,” said Grover. “It did as good a job as it could have, in the circumstances – but they were pretty dreadful circumstances.” When delays required the subcommittees to continue their work through February 2013, Grover was not reappointed. “I’d already threatened to resign, so I don’t think it was any big surprise,” he said in March, 2013.
The principal issue over which he had considered resigning, Grover said, was that the subcommittee was unable to influence the area, or “bucket,” to which a general education class would be assigned. “The student learning outcomes are so weak, so generic and so similar across the buckets that you could put most courses in any of several different categories,” he explained. “I could see this was true because in the Sharepoint system we were using, you could see work of the other subcommittees.” He observed that courses virtually identical to those submitted for Individual and Society were being submitted under other categories, such as World Cultures and Global Issues.
Learning outcomes for courses in the Flexible Core include ensuring that students can “identify and apply the fundamental concepts and methods of a discipline or interdisciplinary field.” But when course proposals are not well-prepared, “it’s so often unclear what discipline or interdisciplinary approach is being addressed,” said Grover. “The problem is that the same slop ends up in all the buckets.”
After he raised public concerns about this duplication and overlap, Sharepoint access to the work of other subcommittees was shut off, Grover recalled. “It was apparently said that this had been allowed by mistake,” he added. “It was a strange kind of business.”
Allowing this much overlap, he argues, will mean that Pathways cannot ensure the broad scope of learning that a general education system should require. “It actually enables students to have an extraordinarily narrow education, if they want, especially if you shop around at different colleges,” he explained. “And [the School of] Professional Studies has a lot of Pathways courses online.” It would not be hard, he noted, to complete the Flexible Common Core without a single class in the natural or social sciences.
‘Makes No Sense’
To avoid duplication of courses between different areas, Grover felt that the subcommittees should have some say over the area to which a course would be assigned. “Others felt we should not second-guess the colleges, and I really understand that argument,” he said. “But we are designing a general education system, and it has to make sense.” In the end, the subcommittees were instructed that so long as a course satisfied the stated learning outcomes, it should be approved.
While Grover feels that he and his fellow subcommittee members did the best they could, he says Pathways has become a system that falls far short of what general education should provide.
“Certainly it makes no sense to students,” he told Clarion. “It makes no sense to them at all.”
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