Academics run Amok…


Dean Dad, among others, has posted about a conflict at a community college in Queens.

The gist of it is that the CUNY system has decided to act to standardize curriculum in order for students to more easily transfer between colleges in the system.  Part of the change was to make freshman comp 3 credits.  The English department in Queens declined to make the change, their Academic Vice-President reacted by saying that those courses would no longer be offered and the consequences would be significant reductions in the number of faculty necessary to teach English.

Dean Dad’s read on it, in part, is that one small part of the system shouldn’t be permitted to nullify a system-wide change.  To do so would mean that no changes would be possible.

First, some background and then my thoughts —

I currently teach at a Community College that’s part of a version of a standardized transfer system.  We have courses that meet “goals”.  We have to include language and justification in our course documents that our course meets the goal(s) we say it does.  Students need X number of credits in each goal to complete certain kinds of transfers.  Our system doesn’t specify the number of credits each course should be worth.  That’s left to the local folks.

I know from experience, and thinking like a student, that if a course doesn’t have a transfer curriculum goal attached to it, enrollment is going to be spotty and it’s quite likely that the course will only be taught occasionally, if at all.  This is the heart of the problem when the central administration looks at a list of course names and decides that some aren’t really suitable for the general education curriculum…. a few years ago I ended up adjusting (saving) the course name and outline for what was just “Medical Ethics” and became “Biomedical Ethics”.. The gist of the threat was that our course would be removed from the transfer curriculum — since we taught about 7 sections of that every semester, someone was likely to lose a job if it didn’t change… so, it changed, at least in theory.  In practice it’s the same course with a new title– because it belonged in the transfer curriculum all along.

So — thoughts..

First, the English department in Queens seemed to have had warning of the implications of their decision to decline to change the course.  They decided 14-6 to decline.  It shouldn’t be a huge surprise to them that they got the consequences they were warned about.

Second, one of their arguments against the change was that it would result in an uncompensated increase in workload.. hummm… yep.  Welcome to my world.  I’ve taught four credit and three credit versions of exactly the same course (four credits at a private college, three credits elsewhere).  It was nearly EXACTLY the same amount of work to teach three as four.  The difference is in the number of sections you end up teaching if your contract specifies 15 credits per semester.  It probably means an extra section per semester.. 5 instead of 4… More sections means more students, more problems and more grading.  Yep, most of the rest of us CC profs already do that work. Y’all get no sympathy here, especially since each of my sections is likely to be twice the size of a standard Comp. class.

Third, the AVP over-reacted in a way and much of the screaming is about the loss of jobs.  Fewer jobs would be lost with the change from 4 to 3 credits, but jobs would be lost none-the-less.  If the full-time faculty can now teach one extra section per semester, that section can’t go to a part-time person… it’s really kind of simple.  I think the smart move on the part of the Queens CC English faculty would be to approve the 3 credit change, on the condition that their class size be reduced by 25%… thus increasing the number of sections necessary to teach the same number of students.  There may be practical reasons this didn’t happen (contract language etc..), but it seems like that would have been the way to go if their real concern is job LOSS, not uncompensated increases in workload.

Finally, what I don’t really understand is what the CUNY system is doing dictating the number of credits in the first place?   Sure, they could say that 3 credits is the minimum necessary to transfer a comp class — but, why not permit the 4 credits to satisfy the same requirement that 3 would elsewhere?  In short, I don’t see why they need to have this fight — unless they think they can use the change to then change teaching loads and get more sections out of the faculty for the same pay.  If that’s their real motive, then shame on them.


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