This is an astounding story. On Wednesday the English department at Queensborough Community College voted not to adopt a policy of the City University of New York to reduce composition course credits from four to three. In so doing, they rejected the CUNY Pathways initiative, a proposal for streamlining and centralizing CUNY curricula which many faculty regard as antithetical to students’ needs.
Administrators didn’t like this. And in fact they disliked it so much that Queensborough announced two days later that they’re dismantling the QCC English department in retaliation.
In an email sent to the department chair yesterday QCC Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Steele announced that because the English department insists on granting four credits for composition courses, those courses will no longer be offered by the college and QCC students will be sent to other CUNY campuses to fulfill their composition requirements. Since composition represents such a significant portion of the department’s offerings, moreover,
- All searches to fill full-time positions in the department will be cancelled.
- All English department adjuncts at Queensborough will be fired.
- And the appointments of all current full-time faculty in the department will be “subject to ability to pay and Fall ’13 enrollment in department courses.”
When I first read this, I assumed that there must be some spin involved — surely the administration wouldn’t be so brazen as to explicitly state that they were prepared to essentially eliminate a college’s English department over a credit-hour dispute.
But they are. It’s all there in black and white. (PSC, the CUNY faculty union, is filing a labor grievance, threatening a federal lawsuit, and urging the department to stand strong.)
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Update: It’s worth underscoring one element of this that I mentioned only in passing in the original post.
CUNY community college students are pretty much the definition of “at risk.” They’re disproportionately returning students, first-generation students, the working poor, English language learners, recent immigrants, parents, caregivers. If you make them leave their home campus for one of their foundational courses, a significant proportion just won’t make it through that hoop. And when you knock a CUNY student out of college, there’s a good chance they’re never coming back.
So what’s happening here is that the QCC administration is announcing a plan of action — and again, this isn’t phrased as a threat, it’s presented as a done deal — which will have the effect of dumping some of the college’s most endangered students out of CUNY as collateral damage in a curricular turf war. It’s truly reprehensible.
Second Update: I’ve just been over to the Queensborough website for a little digging.
From what I can see, 175 of the English department’s 206 sections this semester are in composition, which means that the administration is planning to eliminate nearly 85% of the of the department’s current offerings. Given that English has a total of 26 full-time faculty listed on its departmental page, and given that the full-time CUNY community college courseload for three-credit courses is 4/5, the elimination of composition would mean the firing of nearly three-quarters of the department’s full-time faculty even after the termination of all part-timers.
StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing. To contact Angus, click here. For information about bringing him out to your campus or event, click here.