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Home » Clarion » 2014 » April 2014 » Pathways Lawsuits Dismissed

Pathways Lawsuits Dismissed

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On February 21, Judge Anil Singh dismissed a lawsuit challenging the original Pathways resolution adopted by CUNY’s Board of Trustees. The suit had been filed by leaders of the PSC and CUNY’s University Faculty Senate (UFS).

“We maintain that the initial Pathways resolution was passed in violation of the law and feel confident that our position will eventually be upheld,” responded PSC President Barbara Bowen and UFS Chair Terrence Martell in a joint statement. The union and UFS are consulting with attorneys about legal strategy and a decision on filing an appeal.

“Nothing in the legal decision changes the terrible impact Pathways is having on our students or the importance of our collective fight for a curriculum that offers a meaningful college education,” the PSC and UFS leaders emphasized. “Pathways is wrong for our students, it represents a betrayal of CUNY’s mission, and we will continue our resistance.”

In its efforts to dismiss faculty actions against Pathways, the CUNY administration has so far won in one arena and lost in another. Two months before Judge Singh ruled for CUNY in court, an arbitrator had rejected CUNY’s request to dismiss a PSC grievance over Pathways implementation. Arbitration hearings on the merits of the grievance are still to be scheduled.

Outside of the courtroom and the grievance process, Bowen and Martell noted that the overwhelming faculty opposition to Pathways has forced CUNY to make the first substantive changes to the administration-imposed curriculum, and that the problems with Pathways have become an issue in New York City politics (see pages 6-7).

Faculty Role

At issue in the lawsuit was the role of elected faculty bodies in formulating CUNY policy on curriculum. In briefs and in oral arguments last November 6, the PSC and UFS described how CUNY administrators had designed and implemented Pathways through a series of brand-new administration-appointed committees, instead of through CUNY’s elected faculty senates. The union and the UFS charged that this violated a 1997 settlement in an earlier lawsuit, Polishook v. CUNY.

As part of the Polishook settlement, the Board of Trustees had adopted a resolution reaffirming “that the faculty, in accordance with CUNY Bylaws section 8.6 ‘shall be responsible, subject to guidelines, if any, as established by the board, for the formulation of policy relating to the admission and retention of students,…curriculum, awarding of college credit, and granting of degrees,’” and that this should be done “through the college faculty senates…or the University Faculty Senate.” While the PSC-UFS lawsuit did not contest the board’s right to ultimately make its own decision, it insisted that the role of faculty senates was not optional.

Judge Singh disagreed. CUNY Bylaws, he ruled, “do not provide that the faculty and Faculty Senate have the exclusive right to formulate academic policy,” and “the 1997 resolution did not…limit the board’s power to initiate policy.” Therefore, he concluded, the court had no grounds to interfere with the trustees’ Pathways decisions, and the lawsuit must be dismissed.

A second lawsuit by the union, charging violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law, was also dismissed by Judge Singh. In this case the PSC detailed how, after many college senates refused to approve Pathways courses, a number of college administration decided, in private, what Pathways courses to submit to CUNY central administration. Since college senates are subject to New York’s Open Meetings Law, the arrogation of their decision-making to a private administration meeting was in violation of that law, the union said.

But Judge Singh’s dismissal of this case did not address Pathways decisions at the college level. Instead, he found that CUNY trustees and central administration had not violated the Open Meetings Law in their own actions on Pathways, and he then moved to dismiss this second suit.

To initiate an appeal in either of the two cases, the PSC and UFS must file the first papers in April.

Arbitration

The December arbitration ruling followed a different chain of reasoning, rejecting CUNY’s request for dismissal of the PSC’s contractual grievance over Pathways implementation. It held that the PSC had the right to bring this grievance under terms of the union contract, because “faculty duties and responsibilities with respect to curriculum development and implementation” are a “fundamental condition of employment at any academic institution.”

The arbitrator’s ruling did not speak to the merits of the grievance filed by the PSC, which charges that the implementation of Pathways has violated various elements of the union contract. But it held that faculty rights on curriculum are within the scope of the contract, and that the union’s arguments on the merits of its case should therefore be heard – something that CUNY had tried to prevent. Further action on the union grievance is expected later this year.

On Campus

In the wake of the administration’s first substantive changes to Pathways (see Clarion, January 2014), faculty at the campus level continued to express opposition to the new general education rules. In addition to testimony before the City Council (see pages 6-7), the Brooklyn College PSC chapter unanimously approved an anti-Pathways resolution for submission to the Stated Meeting of the college’s faculty on April 8. Declaring that “Pathways has significantly undermined the educational standards at Brooklyn College, including the elimination of science labs, speech and foreign language requirements,” the resolution says that CUNY and college administrations must respect the faculty’s role in curriculum decisions.

Noting that BC’s Faculty Council is moving to “develop new general education requirements at Brooklyn College,” the resolution calls on administrators to implement “whatever general education requirements are adopted by the Faculty Council.”

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For more Clarion coverage on Pathways, read faculty testimony at a City Council hearing, the find out details of that hearing and submit your own personal story on how Pathways’ is affecting your classroom.


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