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Home » Clarion » 2013 » May 2013 » Forum on CUNY and Racial Justice

Forum on CUNY and Racial Justice


The PSC Union Hall was filled to capacity for an April 3 forum on “Racial Justice and CUNY,” discussing access of students and faculty of color to education and employment in public higher education. Presenters included David Jones, president of the Community Service Society (CSS); Ann Cook, co-founder of the Urban Academy Laboratory High School; Frank Deale, professor at the CUNY School of Law; Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP); and PSC President Barbara Bowen.

Chairing duties at the forum were shared by Paul Washington, chair of the PSC’s Anti-racism Committee; Michelle Fine, distinguished professor of psychology and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center (GC); and Edwin Mayorga, a doctoral candidate in urban education at the CUNY GC.

Soaring Enrollment

“I think this is one of the most important discussions for the future of the City of New York,” David Jones told the forum audience. He described the findings of a recent CSS report, Unintended Impacts: Fewer Black and Latino Freshman at CUNY Senior Colleges After the Recession (

“As a consequence of the recession and rising college tuition, more students are applying to CUNY than ever before,” Jones said, citing a 50% increase in applications to CUNY between 2008 and 2010. “CUNY responded by raising the minimum SAT requirements at all their senior colleges and ending conditional admission, which allowed students to take summer programs to enter if they fell just short of requirements,” he explained. “The results of these changes were that after 2010 there were large drops in the numbers and share of black and Latino freshmen at CUNY senior colleges.” The CSS report discusses these declines in the context of longer-term trends in CUNY admissions.

Jones criticized “the use of a single exam, to the exclusion of virtually everything else – grade point average, whether you’re the first in your family to go to college or high school, academic achievement despite enormous challenges in your community – none of that is considered now in the CUNY equation.”

While NYC’s public schools have a student population that is 75% black and Latino, Jones said, only 29% of students at CUNY’s five “top tier” colleges were black or Latino in 2010. “In 2011, Baruch College had a lower share of black freshmen, 6%, than Harvard, which had 7%,” Jones said, provoking murmurs in the audience. “By 2011, fewer than 1 in 10 freshmen at the five most selective CUNY colleges was black.”

“We have to have a better equation than this,” Jones said in closing. CSS’s goal, he said, is not to bring back open admissions. “But we should at least do what the most elite colleges in the country are doing, which is to make sure that you have a diverse student body that is somewhat reflective of society. In New York City, it would seem we should be among the first in doing that.”

Single Test

Next to speak was Ann Cook, who is also executive director of the NY Performance Standards Consortium, a coalition of 28 public alternative high schools. Schools in the consortium have more students of color, more students qualifying for free lunch, and more students getting special education services than other NYC schools. Yet even though they have more students entering 9th and 10th grade with below-average scores on State tests for reading and math, she said, “Consortium schools post a lower dropout rate, a higher graduation rate, a higher college-going rate and higher daily attendance rates” than other public schools in NYC. “It turns out that despite our students’ record of success in high school and in college persistence, fewer and fewer of our Consortium graduates are gaining admission to CUNY four-year colleges,” Cook said. “Yet these very same students were gaining admissions to high quality private institutions as well as the SUNYs, often with substantial financial packages.”

Meetings with CUNY officials about these “disturbing trends” produced some ideas, but ultimately no results, Cook reported. “What it all came down to was this: CUNY’s admissions officers were judging students solely and narrowly on standardized exam scores,” she said. “In this regard, CUNY seems to be moving against the trend of the growing numbers of colleges and universities across the country…that have rejected the use of the SAT and ACT as gatekeepers for college admission, preferring instead to use GPA, work samples and recommendations as evidence of college preparedness.”

Following Cook on the panel was CUNY Law Professor Frank Deale. “To me, so much of the struggle about affirmative action is about ‘super-qualifications’ – using qualifications as a means to exclude people who are in fact well qualified,” Deale said. “This makes sure that you’re weeding people out so that only the few can take full advantage of what the society offers.”

Deale described measures the Law School has taken to avoid narrowing its applicant pool with an over reliance on high-stakes tests. “One of the things that we did, which has been successful, is to set up a pipeline program at the Law School, where we take students who can’t get in because of the pressures to focus on LSATs and GPAs, and we work with them over an academic year.” Participants attend evening training courses, Deale said, “to essentially prep themselves for some of these standardized tests and to also get an introduction to what law school is all about.” They go on to earn admission to law school, Deale said, and often become outstanding students and lawyers.


After a discussion period, the focus shifted to CUNY employment. First to speak was National Institute for Latino Policy President Angelo Falcón. A 2005 report by Prof. Felipe Pimentel of Hostos Community College on the declining number of Puerto Rican faculty at CUNY had sparked concern, said Falcón, prompting him to organize a meeting with Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and other CUNY officials. The community representatives at the meeting were pleased, he said, when Goldstein committed to launch a “Puerto Rican Faculty Initiative” to address the problem.

But over time, said Falcón, the project was a disappointment. Understaffed and under-resourced, its name changed (without explanation) to the Latino Faculty Initiative. Falcón said it seemed to have no impact on the problem that had prompted the meeting. As of 2010, the numbers of Puerto Rican faculty had continued their decline. Yet CUNY continues to cite the program as a sign of its commitment to a more diverse faculty, he said. “My experience with this program was that it’s all cosmetic,” Falcón told the forum. “It’s like it was set up to fail from the beginning.”

Initial Findings

The final panelist was PSC President Barbara Bowen, who described some initial findings from the union’s report, now in preparation, on the race and gender composition of CUNY faculty and professional staff. Her remarks focused mainly on findings for full-time faculty; she told the forum that results for adjunct faculty and professional staff will be released in the future.

One of CUNY’s strengths, Bowen noted, is that it has a more diverse faculty than many other US universities. But CUNY’s faculty resembles its student body less than is the case at many comparable institutions, like UCLA or University of Illinois at Chicago – and that, she said, is a weakness.

There are many reasons why it’s imperative that CUNY build a faculty “closer to resembling the ethnic and racial composition of the student body, which is 74% people of color,” argued Bowen. “It’s well documented that students of color are more likely to stay in college and graduate if there are more faculty of color,” and other measures of college success show a similar impact. “There are a lot of reasons cited in the literature,” she said, with faculty members’ impact as role models commonly cited. “The idea of faculty role models is important not just for students of color,” she added, “but also for white students. White students also need that role model of having a person of color standing in front of the classroom.”

The need for a more diverse faculty not only involves teaching, Bowen said – it’s also about producing knowledge. “If we want to support scholarship in a way that is not naïve, that draws on the experience of more than half the population, then one pivotal way to do that is to bring in a more diverse faculty,” she said. “CUNY should be leading that effort.”

Bowen discussed initial findings in three areas of the PSC study: faculty recruitment, stratification in where they are hired, and attrition after they arrive.

On recruitment, she discussed racial composition of new assistant professors, from 1999-2000 to 2008-2009. “The number of full-time faculty increased by 20% in the decade we studied,” Bowen said. “Yet over that period, we saw only a 4.3% increase in the diversity of our faculty.” This decade, she said, represents “a missed opportunity to diversify our faculty.”


Of further concern, she said, is that among new assistant professors, the proportion of black or Hispanic faculty did not increase – in fact, it showed a slight decline. In 1999-2000, these new hires were 12.5% black and 7.9% Hispanic, falling to 11.7% and 7.2%, respectively, a decade later. Asian faculty showed some gains in this group over the same period, rising from 12.6% to 16.4% “We are proud to see that gain,” Bowen told the forum. “But at a time when there are more people of color getting a PhD, CUNY should show gains across the board.”

Bowen noted that CUNY often cites the absolute numbers of faculty of color, which in many cases have increased. “But you have to go beyond that and look at the percentages as well,” she emphasized.

One note of hope in recruitment, Bowen said, was that in this decade, 34% of new assistant professors had held a previous position at CUNY, most often as an adjunct. But for black faculty, this figure was higher, at 40%. “So there’s some kind of internal pipeline there,” she observed. “Why are we not looking at that? Is this something we could cultivate further?”

On stratification, Bowen said that CUNY faculty are stratified by race, and somewhat by gender, according to college type, with faculty of color and women disproportionately concentrated in the community colleges. “Why does that matter? Because in the community colleges there is more rapid turnover, there is a lower starting salary on average, there is a higher teaching load.”

CUNY’s community colleges should be applauded for making progress in diversifying their faculty, Bowen said. But for CUNY, it should not be the case that once people of color or women are hired, they will on average face harder conditions.

On attrition, Bowen said that untenured women faculty are more likely than untenured men to leave within their first five years – and for black and Hispanic women, the rates were highest of all. The denominators involved are fairly small, she cautioned, but the broad trends seem clear. New full-time faculty at CUNY “face differential conditions on the basis of race, ethnicity and also gender, and they are also leaving at different rates.”

Lively discussion not only filled two discussion periods during the presentations, but kept audience members in the room long after the forum had concluded. Edwin Mayorga’s comments in the discussion period clearly captured the feelings of many: “This forum is a call It’s a ring of the bell. It’s asking us to hold CUNY accountable and ourselves accountable.” And the way to do that, Mayorga said, was both complex and simple: “Organize, organize, organize.”

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