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Home » Clarion » 2014 » January 2014 » Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

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The Beach Is For Swimming

In a November contribution to Inside Higher Ed, CUNY Executive Vice Chancellor Alexandra Logue makes an injurious argument for maximum emphasis on distance and flexible learning modes (tinyurl.com/IHE-Logue-11-2013). In “Time, Space and Learning,” Logue contends that it doesn’t matter whether you learn “in a Tuesday/ Thursday 10:00-11:20 am course in your local community college,” or “on occasional Saturday afternoons while you are sitting on the beach.” Logue says that “students should have opportunities to access what they need at any time and in any place – with or without an instructor.”

Logue argues that “learning [is] becom[ing] independent of time and place,” thanks to the drive “to standardize the assessment of learning outcomes,” the “unbundling of course learning,” the continuing development of MOOCs (massive open online courses), and awarding degrees based on a checklist of modules where sustained interaction with a human faculty member is not required. How sad a picture she depicts of self-centered learning emptied of collective and communal connections.

In Logue’s scary vision, the Platonic notion of learning in the presence of people who live for ideas and are committed to sharing their knowledge is all but forgotten and replaced by an eBay consumer approach, where customers pick up the latest piece of informational luggage at cut rates. It comes as no surprise when Logue cites Pathways as a big success.

It is a budgetary proposition that’s being promulgated here. Logue’s vision of online learning and MOOCs seem to be mainly rationalizations for shrinking the number of faculty. It is a cost-cutting measure dressed as educational policy. This bottom-line, neo-liberal use of technology is just a camouflage to undermine faculty governance, weaken faculty unions and take control of academic policy. Indeed, Logue notes that “colleges and universities may have to change many of their labor and governance policies” before they can move in the direction she advocates.

Lost in this fire sale is what is happening on the way to the diploma. Logue takes aim at the need for the quality of the faculty, the substantive worth of the syllabus and the necessary number of contact hours, as if these criteria were merely inconvenient relics of a time gone by. Why do we need to herd and corral our students into data-accumulating graduates? Vice Chancellor Logue’s prescriptions for the reformation of higher education depict a bloodless, homogenized and pedestrian alternative to the joy of learning.

Peter Ranis
Graduate Center & York College (emeritus)


Union Music

As a York College faculty member who is also a member of the York College Big Band (YCBB), I was delighted to read Shane Gasteyer’s article “Education about the Musicians Union” in the November Clarion. Gasteyer correctly says that when music students learn about the union, they gain an “understanding of what resources exist to help them further their careers…[and] a firm understanding of the power of solidarity among musicians.” And I’m glad to say that this is the kind of education Dr. Tom Zlabinger, director of the YCBB, is providing to students at York.

Just the night before I read the article, Dr. Zlabinger had taken the band on a field trip to Musicians’ Union Local 802, where they served as the house band and participated in a master class taught by two great musicians: Bernard Purdie (drummer for James Brown, Miles Davis and Aretha Franklin for 25 years) and Rob Paparozzi (world-class front man and harmonica player for the Blues Brothers and for Blood, Sweat and Tears.) It was such a great opportunity for York students to play with musicians like these. They also heard about the role of Local 802 in protecting the live music so important to New York’s culture, and in seeking economic justice for the musicians who create it.

Because I teach until six, I couldn’t play with the band that night (I’m usually on alto sax), but I was able to be in audience. It made me so proud to see York’s many talented young musicians performing so beautifully. They hold their own with these musical greats and were described by Rob Paparozzi as “a fantastic band with great charts.” They will be graduating from York as musicians aware of how crucial unions are and have been to the music we love and the musicians who make it.

Janice Cline
PSC Chapter Chair, York College & Alto Saxophone, York College Big Band


Time For a Change

To the list of ideas that the public is sending to the mayor-elect, perhaps someone can add getting him to address the CUNY trustee appointments in his power. There are at least two from previous eras whose terms have expired. Outgoing mayors and governors have a way of giving midnight extensions for expiring terms, thus sticking us with the old boys (broadly defined) for seven more years, well beyond the moment when their political ideology has been rejected at the ballot box.

The faculty might not be aware that some of our sitting trustees were Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s deputies and it was Giuliani who appointed the commission headed by Benno Schmidt that gave us the centralized, top-down organization we have; which made presidents far less independent than previously. It was that group that pushed us into policies that eventually created Pathways and which has launched an unprecedented assault on CUNY faculty governance.

The mayor-elect should act quickly. In an ideal world, trustee appointees would include people with real intellectual strengths and a knowledge of how colleges and faculties function. Can we expect such sensibility from high-flying executives, former and current politicians and employees of the mayor or governor? Trustees accustomed to top-down administrative practices will likely appoint a chancellor who behaves as a CEO. But universities evolved from medieval models where faculty often elected a dean or chancellor – a lost tradition worth exploring.

Sandi Cooper
CSI and the Graduate Center
Former Chair, University Faculty Senate


Public Education, Private Profit

A specter of reform is haunting education, kindergarten to college, and right now it is the faculty that seems to be losing its autonomy. In response to the informative resolution “New rules for ed schools” in the September Clarion, there are some important points to be added.
Under edTPA (New York’s new Teacher Performance Assessment protocols), the financial burden for students is enormous – a particular hardship for CUNY teacher candidates, who are the main source of teachers for the NYC public schools. But there are no considerations for those in need.

Our students are largely of middle- and working-class origin, and pay their own way through college. The edTPA system calls for four tests, five workshops, and a video, all at student expense, adding up to at least $1,500 in addition to tuition and fees, travel costs, and the rest of the burden of student teaching. The video alone requires a $300 fee.

What’s worse, New York State has contracted with Pearson Co. to (privately) evaluate all of the materials based on those prepared by Stanford University. There are reports that these will be graded by retired teachers at $75 apiece, leaving Pearson with a $225 profit per head. Not bad, a 300% return! Essentially, the State has relinquished its powers to private industry in a field that Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo have pointedly referred to as vitally important to our economy.

Jack Zevin
Queens College


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