There’s a bloodbath going on in Bayside and the site of the letting is the campus of CUNY-Queensborough, and the dagger is called “Pathways.”  Pathways, if you haven’t heard, is the new principle of uniting, and unbinding, disparate CUNY satellite campuses into a single, unintelligible — “Borg Cooperative” — where every course and teaching philosophy all land on the same page, and a student can take a class here and have it count for full credit over there and, as a member of the CUNY community, I believe Pathways sounds great in theory, but in current practice and cudgel, Pathways is a gangplank for faculty and the end of being for any idea of a proper, well-rounded, college education on a undergraduate CUNY campus.

Pathways is, of course, all about the bottom line — enrolling more students and graduating them quicker and paying faculty less money — but the end result will be students who are not as educated as their peers and who will be irreparably intellectually maimed, all in the name of convenience and parsimony.

Angus Johnston has been covering the Queensborough Pathways massacre on his outstanding Student Activism blog, and here’s the backstory and current round up of the massacre:

A CUNY administrator’s threat to dismantle the Queensborough Community College English department is making waves across academic media this morning.

The story, which I’ve been covering all weekend, involves a dispute over whether QCC will adopt a reduced contact-hour standard for composition classes demanded by CUNY central. When the department last week refused to cut students’ class time (and professors’ compensation) by 25%, vice president Karen Steele announced that all departmental job searches will be suspended, all adjuncts will be let go, and all full-time faculty — including tenured professors — will face the possibility of job loss. Students at Queensborough will have to go elsewhere for their composition classes.

It’s completely egregious, and the CUNY faculty union PSC has been fighting back. This morning, Inside Higher Ed has an article and a blogpost up, the Chronicle of Higher Education is on the case, Academe’s blog has weighed in, and other news outlets have stories in progress as well. (The blogs Le HubAdventures in (Post) GradlandClarissa’s Blog, and Juan Monroy have also posted on the topic, if you’re keeping score at home.)

The threat to an intellectual standard starts in Queensborough and ends in the minds on every CUNY campus.

As a foreign language instructor with lots of experience teaching American Sign Language at CUNY, I can translate the palms on the Pathways wall:

(1) a single semester of foreign language, which is the most that can be required, in the current proposal will not give students more than a passing acquaintance with a language;

(2) foreign language courses do not belong in the proposed core curriculum because a semester of language study is not a study of World Cultures;

(3) since it is envisioned that the one semester of foreign language will be a choice among several other kinds of courses, the majority of students are likely not to have the experience of studying a language in college

On April 15, 2012, I sensed this troublesome trend in my Boles University article, “How to Kill Foreign Language” —

There’s an easy way to encourage xenophobia — remove fruitful access to the acquisition and temptation of a language.  You kill the meme by removing it from memory.  Another way to discourage the foreign is to poke it with a stick or, more simply, use a budget axe to cleave the learning from the cleansed mind.

On February 28, 2012, I wrote — When Fluency No Longer Matters — in Memeingful:

There’s an infuriating move afoot in several major universities to “dumb down” graduation requirements by removing foreign language fluency from the core program of study.  Some schools incredibly want to make a mere semester of a foreign language an elective and not a hard requirement for earning a diploma.  When I was in college, we had to take four semesters of a foreign language in order to graduate.  Soon, that minimal forced fluency that formed many generations of students will no longer be important to a college education.

On August 3, 2012, I wrote about the alarming de-emancipation of the student mind — Attacking the Common Core: Building a Nation of Illiterate, Xenophobic, Non-Mechanical, Artisans — in the Boles University Blog:

Our minds are under attack!  Our stake in history and comprehension of the human condition are all under fire!  To crumble the core of common knowledge that we all expect to share and understand is precisely how empires fall and civilizations wither away.  We have been warned.  If we only continue to give in to a devolving educational system, then we deserve what we fail to earn.  Today’s students should want to be better than us, not less than us, but that isn’t happening.

We’ve willfully created a generation of under-achieving children — who now require, at the age of consent, that they do less and perform worse than those who graduated before them — because that is somehow their divine, but twisted, right to their share of the American Dream, and they demand to be given the same degree that more rigorous generations ahead of them earned with much more emotional discipline and intellectual dedication.

CUNY Pathways is the fulmination of all my educational fears and sorrows.  Sure, students will love Pathways because the curriculum immediately becomes cheaper, faster and easier — but never better.

The administration loves Pathways because they can enroll more students and churn a faster graduation rate.

The faculty must never love, or support, Pathways because, we know in our moral coil, that creating a less immersive experience only cheapens the learning and never deepens understanding, and the worst thing we can do for our students is to allow them to believe, even for a second, that they are getting a righteous, and proper, and prudent, and necessary, and urgent, education they unwittingly deny, but unexpectedly deserve, going into an ever-darkening, dumber, world.

19 Comments

  1. I have been watching the dumbing down of generations myself. Just since I’ve attended school (High School Graduating Class 1987), I’ve seen the social and intellectual requirements slowly eroding before my very eyes. Schooling requirements of my own far exceeded that of my own children.
    Therefore it’s not hard to imagine your complete frustration from both sides. Comparing what you had to accomplish then versus what’s being done now, and the enrichment students of today are missing.
    Knowledge is power!

    1. I like the “Knowledge is Power” meme, Lillian. The problem is if we know more than our students, but are not allowed to fully share that information because of newer, lax, teaching restrictions, then everyone tumbles down the tubes in that generational inequity.

      I am reminded of my relationships with my non-college mentors. Most of them have died, but there is no doubt that they always knew more than I knew because their schooling was better. The phrase, “They forgot more than I’ll ever know” bleeds true.

      I tried to catch up and match them and surpass them — but some things can never be known if they are never taught, no matter how smart and motivated you are, and when bits of knowledge die with people, that’s a major problem for the living and the unborn. We need to strengthen our educational requirements, not weaken them. We should all still be learning and speaking and reading and writing Latin! We’ve lost at least an entire culture in that nonchalant passing!

  2. It doesn’t seem like Pathways is very strong in requiring a foreign language in the general core in order to graduate. I don’t think that’s prudent. Students don’t always know what’s good for them, and that’s why they attend college to learn all the things they don’t know, but need to know to be a well rounded and productive person.

    1. We share the same mind on this, Janna! We are devaluing the diploma when we release graduation requirements just because they take too long or they are too hard to accomplish. Should college be easy? No! Knowing new things should be a transitive process, not a meandering one.

      I read somewhere today that the average CUNY graduate takes six years to finish school instead of four — I think that’s fine — if students need extra time and space to learn, then that should be the new, okay, normal for that college. Why rush a good thing and a proven process?

      1. I’m thinking the longer time frame has everything to with what it takes to exist financially. The part time college job is taking more time and making less money than previously, and if the goal is knowledge (not status), “Why rush a good thing and a proven process?” Alas, status seems to be the goal, rather than knowledge.

        1. That’s a good point, Lillian. Some might also think students stay longer to get more financial aid or to defer their loans — if that’s the case, then dumbing down the curriculum doesn’t solve those problems at all. Students will continue to drag it out.

  3. Louisiana has this thing called the GRAD act which seems similar. It has been pointed out that since it is really unfair to minorities and the poor since they are the ones who most tend to go part-time or sit out a semester here and there to work. That means that the new law ends up discriminating against the *institutions* that have a large proportion of such students. It is very problematic.

    1. That’s an excellent link, Lillian, and it causes us to re-evaluate the purpose of a higher education. Going to college cannot be about just getting a good paying job. There has to be more moral and intellectual intention behind the decision to attend.

  4. Great post, David. I’m a graduate student in foreign language in the CUNY system who teaches language. Monitoring Pathways over the past year and actively working against its current form, it is indeed the death of language departments across the university. The only heartening show I’ve seen over the past year is the non-language faculty who have stood up along side the language faculty in solidarity maintaining that language study is indeed important to a college degree and larger understanding of the world we all share. I’ve even told undergraduates that this is one of those things they need to look into and care about since it will correlate to the value of their future degree, if we can still call it that.

    1. Hi there, and thanks for the keen pingback from your fine article!

      I agree Foreign Languages at CUNY are in a death spiral and nobody really seems to care — except those who teach language and the rest of the faculty who find extreme value in going beyond a preternatural xenophobia that can all too easily infect the untrained and the unwitting.

      We wanted to take our CUNY American Sign Language courses online. We had email discussions and in-person meetings, and then Pathways engulfed the process and we were finally told last semester that ASL would NEVER be an online class because there would NEVER be another foreign language course approved for either in person or online teaching because foreign languages were no longer required by CUNY Pathways — except, of course, as a pre-existing remnant oddity for the temporal, inquisitive student who wanted to take a single foreign language class as an elective.

      We were left in unrecognized darkness. There would be no fluency. No requirements beyond basic en passant thinking about a few new vocabulary words and parroted phrases about family and the weather.

      We have come to accept we will no longer be teaching ASL at CUNY beyond the Fall 2013 semester because Pathways will be in full-force lockdown, and Pathways will be the law of the land — and the rue of the day! — and CUNY, and her perpetual students, will be all the worse for the refusal to wear.