CUNY’s School of Professional Studies was established in 2003 with the explicit mission of meeting the educational needs of working adults, organizations and employers in New York City. SPS offers a range of undergraduate and MA degrees, most of which are fully online, with a faculty that is 94 percent adjunct instructors. SPS has been a leaders within CUNY in developing and implementing online degrees, and it trains CUNY faculty in online instruction.
Several weeks ago, a proposed governance plan for the CUNY School of Professional Studies was issued by the dean of SPS. The proposed new plan for SPS is a highly flawed document that undermines shared governance and academic freedom. Union members at SPS and leaders of the PSC Graduate Center chapter quickly began mobilizing to educate their colleagues about its flaws and to oppose the dangerous aspects of the proposed plan. Leaders of CUNY’s University Faculty Senate have also expressed concerns about the proposal.
“The PSC-CUNY contract envisions academic freedom and shared governance to be at the heart of CUNY. When structures of shared governance work well, students do well,” observed PSC Executive Council member Steve London. President Barbara Bowen said, “Instead of promoting shared governance between faculty and the SPS administration the proposed SPS governance plan seriously undermines shared governance by encoding strong administrative control over most academic decision-making.”
Thirteen full-time, cornsortial and visiting faculty from the Murphy Institute (currently a part of SPS), SPS issued a critical statement offering “our deep concerns regarding the proposed governance plans. We do not see in the proposed structures meaningful shared governance. Our concerns flow from two central structural elements, one of the school itself, the other from the plans as drafted. The first is the school’s excessive reliance on contingent faculty positions; the second is the extraordinary powers granted the position of the Dean in the proposed governance plan.
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London noted, “The plan lacks the institutional arrangements to allow for meaningful faculty consultation. The proposal does not envision a school with tenured and tenure-track faculty to contribute to curriculum, admissions criteria, programmatic development, evaluations and other areas of academic policy. Rather, the proposal defines “faculty” to include administrative employees without underlying faculty appointments to perform traditional faculty roles.”
Of particular concern to the PSC, the proposal effectively eliminates peer evaluation for reappointment, tenure and promotion while simultaneously removing any real appeal procedure for those denied. It creates a governing body which denies participation to most part-time faculty and simultaneously creates a “faculty” voice which is controlled by the dean, and establishes an ongoing amendment process that is wholly controlled by the dean.
The current governance plan already undermines shared governance by restricting voting rights and prohibiting participation by the vast majority of teaching faculty who are adjuncts, by misleadingly counting administrative appointees as faculty and by eliminating faculty participation at the program level. The existing governance plan does provide for program-level curriculum and personnel committees; however these are only open to full-time and consortial faculty.
A number of programs at SPS have neither, and most others have very few. The program-level committees’ inability to function has become so acute that the PSC has a pending arbitration challenging the fact that these committees do not function and are being bypassed by SPS management. In response, SPS has not opened up the program committees to part-time faculty – 94 percent of the faculty – who do most of the teaching at SPS, but rather has eliminated all program-level faculty input over curriculum, personnel and budget.
The only governing body established by the proposed governance plan is the council of the CUNY School of Professional Studies. The proposed plan eliminates all program-level governance over curriculum, personnel and budget. However, an SPS-wide council, no matter how capable and distinguished, can never hope to possess the detailed and specific knowledge needed to address program-level issues. The proposed governance plan grants the dean complete power over academic directors such that their independence may be compromised and gives the dean the power to appoint academic directors with no requirement for the dean to even consult with program faculty or with any faculty at all.
Furthermore, by removing the existing term of appointment of academic directors and all checks on the dean’s authority to appoint them, the proposed governance plan creates a school where the independence of the academic directors will be compromised. The plan also contains no requirement that an academic director have a faculty appointment, so it is clearly anticipated that academic directors with no faculty appointment will become the norm at SPS.
The elimination of a meaningful faculty voice is made clear by the composition of the SPS governing council. While the proposed governance plan appears at first blush to give the faculty a bare majority (51 percent) of votes on the governing council, that slim majority is misleading because the definition of “faculty” includes academic directors who are defined as “administrators” and who in any event are appointed directly by the dean and are not required to hold an academic title.
While the academic directors should have a voice in the governance of SPS, their inclusion as part of the faculty is improper. Also included in the definition of faculty are “academic community leaders,” a term not defined in the governance plan and whose qualifications and appointment process are similarly not explained. It appears that these individuals would be that be hired directly by the dean on a year-to-year basis. Therefore, the proposed governance plan pays lip service to faculty decision-making and involvement, but is constructed so that faculty are irrelevant on any matter of contention. SPS offers most of its curriculum online and relies on a contingent teaching force of adjunct instructors – 94 percent of the faculty. In addition to being paid inadequate hourly wages and being largely denied any form of job security, they are also not permitted to engage in oversight and governance of the curriculum they teach and rarely have full-time faculty colleagues to do so, a further disenfranchisement. Under the proposal, only adjuncts with three-year appointments can serve on the SPS governing council, of whom there are about five, but they are not permitted to vote.
The proposed governance plan would replace the current multi-level peer review process for academic personnel decisions with a one-step decision by the administration. The new school personnel committee will be top heavy with administrators. It is to be composed of “the dean of the school as the non-voting chair, the associate dean of academic affairs (who serves as voting chair in the dean of the school’s absence), the associate dean of administration and finance (non-voting), all academic deans, the academic directors of all academic program areas and the academic director of general education or designee.”
The process for faculty personnel decisions as described in the document is that the academic director, appointed solely by the dean, will prepare a report on the faculty member. The academic director’s report shall not be the result of any peer review or discussion at the program level. The report will be reviewed by the school personnel committee. That committee will then make a recommendation to the dean, who is the also the chair of the school personnel committee.
The dean will then make a recommendation to CUNY’s board of trustees. In short, the administration will be solely responsible for the review of candidates for reappointment, tenure and promotion. While SPS’ current governance plan has a multi-step process of peer review, the proposed plan lacks adequate safeguards for procedural rights for faculty, and, furthermore, there is no real appeal procedure of negative decisions.
And there is no discussion of how part-timers will be appointed or reviewed.
As Clarion went to press, PSC President Barbara Bowen was preparing a letter to SPS Dean John Mogulescu, raising these and other issues. One faculty member noted, “Undermining academic freedom deprives faculty, students and the public of real debate. Top-down administrative governance squeezes out professionalism and independence. Contingency increases insecurity. The proposed SPS governance plan would take CUNY in a more authoritarian direction.”