Saturday, March 30, 2013

Protecting CUNY Reform

By Nicholas Stix

The column below appeared pseudonymously in the New York Post on June 28, 1998, under the title, “How to Make Change Real.” It was the second part of a page devoted to guest op-ed columns under the title, “CUNY’S ROCKY ROAD TO REFORM.” The top column, “The Tone-Deaf Trustees,” was written by Michael Meyers, the head of the New York Civil Rights Coalition (NYCRC).

As far as I know, none of my proposals was adopted.

I submitted the article pseudonymously, because I was then teaching on various City University of New York (CUNY) campuses, and using my own name would have been professional suicide. I didn’t tell the editors at the Post who I really was, because they wouldn’t have run any of my articles, or would have forced me to use my own name.

Why would newspapermen, who have the protection of full-time jobs at a powerful institution force a part-time whistle-blower to write under his own name? Good question. I’d love to hear the newspapermen try and answer it with a straight face.

My manuscript below runs 946 words, which is at least 100 words longer than the version the Post ran, but the Post appears to have maintained its integrity.

This was not the first of the four pseudonymous op-eds I published in the Post, but it was the first for which I could find the manuscript on a floppy, so as to save me the trouble of having to transcribe the text off an old photocopy.

How to Make Change Real
By Robert Berman

On May 26, the CUNY Board of Trustees voted to phase out remediation at CUNY's four-year colleges over three years, shifting this responsibility to community colleges, but not before 24 "demonstrators" had to be arrested. In 1970, intimidation and politicization brought about the institution of open admissions and massive remediation; they have been central in fighting reform ever since. Hence, I believe that it will take more than a Trustees' vote to ensure reform.

Prior to 1970, CUNY provided an advanced education to the talented citizen-scholars who, regardless of social standing, [would later run] ran the city's agencies and taught its children. In transforming CUNY into Remedial U., the University's stewards saw its students as clients. If CUNY is to return to preeminence, its anti-intellectual, dependency orientation must change. Some suggestions follow for improving four of CUNY's many problem areas.

English as a Second Language (ESL). CUNY presently has two sets of competing ESL programs; those administered by campus English departments, and those of the CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP). While campus ESL helps exhaust students' financial aid grants (which may net a student $4,000-6,000 per year, after paying the $3,200 tuition) long before they graduate, CLIP does not affect aid eligibility, and costs only $10 per week. Requiring a 25-hour-per-week commitment, CLIP classes are intense, disciplined, and results-driven. The stacks of CLIP essays I have read were typically much better than those by students in advanced campus classes who had been socially promoted from campus ESL to remedial English to "college-level" English, while remaining strangers to the language. Campus ESL students may spend twelve hours per week in soft ESL classes, while taking "college-level" classes of questionable value to maintain their financial aid eligibility. As CLIP does not disburse financial aid, it effectively discourages those who are not serious about academics. All campus-based ESL programs should be eliminated, and all ESL students directed to CLIP.

Financial aid. Some campuses check attendance rosters before disbursing financial aid, but others don't. This practice should be made universal. Better still, would be for CUNY to return -- with the agreement of the feds and Albany -- to its pre-1976 practice of neither charging city residents tuition nor providing them financial aid. Reform opponents argue that 70 percent of today's CUNY students work (primarily part-time); prior to open admissions, the number was closer to 100 percent. Night classes are full of exhausted yet diligent students who work full-time, often have children, and pay for their classes through their tuition, and again through their taxes. Conversely, too many day classes are dominated by well-rested, unmotivated students who work little, pay no taxes, and whose tuition is paid by the taxpayers. This inequity must end.

Eliminating tuition and financial aid would rid us of a large, well-paid, non-academic bureaucracy. At the very least, social work programs for students such as "SEEK" should be done away with. CUNY's practice of hiring well-paid, full-time "counselors," while exploiting adjunct professors makes painfully obvious wherein it sees its mission.

Faculty. The majority (58.3 percent and growing) of CUNY professors are "adjuncts" who are treated as part-timers, no matter how many classes they teach. Few earn $20,000 per year. In contrast, full-time professors average a $60,000 salary, and have wonderful medical and pension plans, for seven months of work.

The city owes the adjuncts a tremendous debt. Again, CLIP offers a possible blueprint for paying off that debt. CLIP instructors work eight months out of the year, have benefits, and earn app. $36,000. CUNY could spend the money saved from defunct dependency and financial aid programs on hiring adjuncts as full-timers. The "part-time professor" must again become the exception, rather than the rule.

Meanwhile, CUNY should also eliminate tenure. Rather than shielding holders of unpopular notions, tenure protects incompetents, while functioning as an unconstitutional political litmus test excluding those holding politically incorrect views. The First Amendment and Professional Staff Congress exist to protect unpopular faculty beliefs.

Curriculum reform. Many "disciplines" exist for political reasons alone. Among these are the "identity" programs: black, women's, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian, Judaic, gay studies, etc. These departments should all be shut down. Their tenured faculty can then be "grandfathered" into traditional disciplines, until they retire.

The most problematic discipline of all is that of education. Over 80 percent of New York public school teachers are products of CUNY's teacher ed programs. Economist Thomas Sowell has noted that the ranks of teachers and teacher ed professors alike are dominated by the lowest 25 percent of academic achievers. And the theories! Every discredited notion for teaching children is at home in teacher's ed: self-esteem ed, bilingual ed, sex ed, death ed, whole language, etc. As critic Rita Kramer has noted, these theories have exacerbated the very problems they purport to solve. And it is knowledge of such tendentious theories, as opposed to say, knowledge of history or physics, that is crucial in passing teacher certification tests.

Future teachers still need to observe veterans in the classroom. However, Albany willing, this can be arranged through campus liaison offices, without education departments. Meanwhile, disciplinary requirements need to be beefed up from 30 to 45 or 60 credits in undergraduate disciplines, so that teachers will know something about the fields they teach, rather than being self-esteem and safe sex scholars. The Regents' new reform plan stresses discipline-based knowledge. Unfortunately, it also goes in the other extreme, in making teachers study more "educational" pseudo-knowledge, and ultimately will expand teacher ed programs.

If we do not eliminate programs and practices that have long depressed standards, and repelled talented and ambitious students, we will find that remediation reform has merely changed CUNY's campus student distribution, but not its heart and soul.•

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