In one of the most direct challenges to Pathways so far, full-time faculty of Brooklyn College (BC), voted for a resolution demanding that the Brooklyn College and CUNY administrations abide by decisions of local faculty in designing a new general education program at Brooklyn College. The April 8 vote came at the Stated Meeting of the Faculty, a special college-wide gathering held once each semester.
Elaine Brooks, co-chair of the Brooklyn College Faculty Council’s general education committee, and PSC Chapter Chair Alex Vitale.
“Too often, the Stated Meeting has been a place just for speeches and announcements,” said Ken Estey, assistant professor of political science at BC, reporting on the vote at the PSC Delegate Assembly two days later. “What we did was to reassert its governance role.”
The vote on the resolution was 298 in favor, 9 opposed and 18 abstentions. The lopsided result reflected BC faculty members’ deep discontent with the CUNY administration’s imposition of the controversial Pathways general education program, which was opposed by 92% of full-time faculty voting in a CUNY-wide referendum a year ago.
Pathways, the resolution contends, “has significantly undermined the educational standards at Brooklyn College, including the elimination of science labs, speech, and foreign language requirements.” It notes that according to Brooklyn College’s governance plan, “it is the faculty who determine the college’s curriculum and degree requirements.”
With the school’s Faculty Council now “undertaking a process to develop new general education requirements at Brooklyn College,” the resolution urges BC’s administration “to implement whatever general education requirements are adopted by the Faculty Council.” It calls on CUNY’s central administration “to respect the historic role of the faculty in developing curriculum” and do the same.
“I was impressed and pleased with the turnout,” said Elaine Brooks of the Faculty Council’s General Education Committee. “I have been at previous meetings where there was not a quorum, so it’s a testament to the faculty’s concern that they showed up to speak out.”
One reason for the strong response, she said, is that her committee is currently in the midst of a review of undergraduate general education and has been seeking faculty input throughout the semester. “We’ve been sending around surveys, asking people to come to Town Hall discussions, and so on, as part of this review. I’ve been at Brooklyn College a long time now, and each time that there’s been a review of the general education program, a lot of the faculty have been involved in articulating what they would like it to be,” she told Clarion. “I think it’s something the Brooklyn College faculty have taken pride in for the past 30-odd years. So this was on their mind, and it’s to the faculty’s credit that it motivated them to come.”
Spreading the Word
Brooks, who is deputy chair of BC’s English department, also gave kudos to organizing by the college’s union chapter. “The PSC chapter really made an effort to encourage people to show up,” she said. “Not to push them one way or the other, but mainly to make sure they were aware that there would be a vote and that it was important that they attend.”
Jocelyn Wills, an associate professor of history and a PSC activist, said the vote reflected the depth of faculty concern for the quality of BC’s curriculum. “Even people who were on sabbatical, or were going to be out of town, made sure to attend,” she said. “Anti-Pathways feeling is strong at Brooklyn College.”
“The fact this was a nearly unanimous vote – I think that’s a very important statement, which should be recognized by all,” said Yedidyah Langsam, chair of the college’s Faculty Council. “Curriculum is something that has always been in hands of the faculty at Brooklyn College, because we know what is best for our students.”
“What our own administration will do next, I don’t know,” said Langsam, who is also chair of the college’s computer and information science department. “ I do know that we are going to continue to do our own, faculty-run evaluation of general education – not just Pathways, but general education as a whole. A draft report is due to be distributed around the end of the semester, It will be discussed over summer, and the Faculty Council will consider action on it in the Fall.”
The resolution was introduced at the Stated Meeting by Alex Vitale, associate professor of sociology and PSC chapter chair. The goal, he said, was “to support the Faculty Council’s general education development process” and “develop the best possible educational program for our students.”
“Across the country faculty are experiencing attacks on their control over the intellectual direction of their programs and colleges,” noted a union statement. “Too often administrators are using cost savings as an excuse to undermine educational standards. The faculty at Brooklyn College feel strongly that their daily interaction with students and in-depth knowledge of the fields they work in best qualify them to make decisions about educational content.”
The resolution declares that Brooklyn College faculty “have no confidence in the CUNY Board of Trustees as currently constituted to make curricular decisions.”
“The current board of trustees is almost completely devoid of educators,” the union statement explained. “It is comprised of political appointees, whose main qualification was political support for current and former mayors and governors, rather than their expertise in educational policy.”
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the vote as a move to “retake control of curriculum decision making” by the college’s faculty, sparked by opposition to both the content and process of the administration-imposed Pathways curriculum. “Professors complain that Pathways ‘waters down’ the core curriculum and is meant as a cost-cutting measure,” the paper reported. “Faculty members say they were excluded from the planning stages of the program,” which served “to ‘consolidate power at the top.’”
“Can’t Sit Back”
A college administration spokesperson acknowledged to the Eagle that “the president of Brooklyn College must transmit recommendations of the Faculty Council to the chancellor,” but added that “the college is obligated to be guided by the broad framework of the Pathways initiative approved by the CUNY Board of Trustees.”
That response highlighted that fact that “we can’t just sit back” in the wake of the vote, Estey said. “We’ve got to follow up and really hold their feet to the fire.” A thorough, independent review of Pathways’ first year and continued expression of dissent are both key, he said.
“This vote is about much more than just Pathways or general education. It’s ultimately about faculty power,” Vitale wrote in a campus-wide email. “So far, in higher education we have avoided some of the worst abuses meted out on K-12 teachers, but there are many out there who would like to see us disempowered in the same way, through high-stakes testing, one-size-fits-all curriculum and the erosion of faculty governance.”
PSC Treasurer Mike Fabricant called the overwhelming vote for the BC resolution “a remarkable victory.” In discussion at the union’s April Delegate Assembly, Fabricant said the timing was important: “With a new chancellor coming in, CUNY faculty need to make clear where we stand.”
That sentiment seemed to have wider support. “Faculty governance leaders at other CUNY campuses have already approached us about replicating our strategy,” Vitale said.