On October 19th, the Faculty Council of Community Colleges (FCCC) passed unanimously the “Resolution in Opposition to a De Facto Core Curriculum.” This resolution calls on SUNY to “suspend the implementation of Seamless Transfer requirements” and to “engage in established state and local campus shared governance processes” in order to resolve the very serious curricular questions that have been raised about Seamless Transfer. So far, the Academic Senates of Nassau Community College, Suffolk, Westchester and many other community colleges have endorsed this resolution. We are gratified that this groundswell of opposition to Seamless Transfer is rooted in a commitment to shared governance, because shared governance is what gives two-year institutions the independence and flexibility to meet the needs of their individual communities.
We are also gratified that this opposition is spreading beyond the walls of higher education. The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has also drafted a resolution opposing SUNY’s “de facto core curriculum.” The NCCFT, along with many of the Community College locals in Election District 39, has signed this resolution as a cosponsor. Modeled on the FCCC resolution passed last month, this resolution will be submitted to the NYSUT Representative Assembly in April. If approved, it will authorize and direct NYSUT to pursue all avenues available to it, legislative, political, and legal, to help SUNY’s two and four-year campuses in opposing Seamless Transfer as it is currently defined. NYSUT has also assured the NCCFT that we will have NYSUT’s full support if SUNY takes any action related to Seamless Transfer that harms this or any campus within the SUNY system.
As you are aware, Acting President Saunders has vetoed the recently passed senate resolution directing the College Wide Curriculum Committee (CWCC) to postpone voting on the proposal put forth by the Ad Hoc Committee on Seamless Transfer. In light of the FCCC’s resolution and NYSUT’s draft resolution, we believe that postponing the CWCC’s vote is the only responsible thing to do and we urge you, the membership, to support unequivocally an override of Dr. Saunders’ veto (though if the Senate Parliamentarian calls the veto out of order, the override is moot). We also urge you to support the motion we will introduce at the Academic Senate to withdraw the charge to the CWCC and to disband the Ad Hoc Committee on Seamless Transfer until we have a clear and definitive policy that does not result in a de facto core curriculum and/or remove our ability to shape curriculum to serve our particular community. We believe that the best way to encourage such a policy is to oppose the Seamless Transfer initiative in its entirety—for all the reasons we have outlined in our previous posts (here, here, here, and here). Indeed, there is mounting evidence to suggest that the promised “seamlessness” of Seamless Transfer is far from the reality, and we will write about that in future posts.
The NCCFT Executive Committee is so convinced that the Seamless Transfer initiative is the wrong policy at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons that we, along with NYSUT’s legal division, are investigating possible legal actions against SUNY in the event that we are forced to move forward. In order to preserve these legal options, however, we must first exhaust all administrative avenues for exemption from the policy. For that reason, if it becomes necessary we will call on the Academic Senate to request blanket waivers for all our AA, AS, and AAS programs. We urge you to let your senators know that you support the NCCFT Executive Committee’s position and that you expect them to:
- Vote to override Acting President Saunders’ veto
- Insist that the Academic Senate support the NYSUT resolution
- Vote to pass your Union’s motion to withdraw the charge to the CWCC and disband the Ad Hoc Committee on Seamless Transfer
- Support the request for blanket waivers in the event these are needed to preserve our legal options
The NCCFT Executive Committee will not be complacent when our academic freedom, shared governance, local control or collective bargaining agreements are put at risk, but we can only succeed with your support.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s idea of “systemness,” especially as she defined it in her 2012 State of the University address, sounds good in theory. “Systemness,” she said, “is the coordination of multiple components [within a system] that, when working together, create a network of activity that is more powerful than any action of individual parts on their own.” Indeed, if a September 2012 SUNY press release can be believed—and we have no reason to think it can’t—“systemness” may already have borne fruit that is a good deal more than theoretical. The “shared services” initiative, which began in August 2011 charges SUNY campuses with “work[ing] to identify and eliminate duplicative administrative services and to collaborate on business, finance, and procurement operations.” According to SUNY, this process has enabled the redirection of more than $6 million to student services and resulted in more than thirty full-time faculty hires. Assuming that no one has actually lost a job as a result of this administrative consolidation, who would not applaud those numbers?
The problem is that when “systemness” is applied to the academic services SUNY offers, it becomes a one-size-fits-all solution, mandating a kind of homogeneity across SUNY’s thirty community colleges—rural, urban, and suburban—that would appear to contravene our mission. Recognizing the role of a community college in “serv[ing] the needs of the community” where the college is located (NYS Education Law, Article 126, Section 6301), SUNY made it clear in Section 601.6 of the Community College Regulations that a community college education should be flexible enough to serve a wide range of students, offering them “sufficient time to explore appropriate career goals,” while also permitting them to “change [their] chosen field of study” if they so desire. Moreover, a community college education should provide “appropriate instruction” to those students whose “basic educational skills need improvement,” and it should make “provisions for [both] individualized instruction [and] ‘nontraditional’ learning resources.” All of this, the regulations stipulate, is in the interests of giving students academic choices that should include “developmental studies, certificate and diploma students, and associate-degree studies, either transfer or college” (Community College Regulations, Part 600, 7-8).
“Systemness” threatens this flexibility and inclusiveness not just because SUNY Seamless will almost certainly create a cookie-cutter educational paradigm that will be imposed throughout SUNY from the top down. “Systemness” itself is part of a national trend in which corporate and other well-funded groups work to take curriculum design and content out of the hands of local educators so that public education can be redefined as job training, and in which teaching is being reimagined as “content delivery,” reducing teachers to technicians whose primary role is to operate and manage “content-delivery systems.” So, for example, as Acting President Saunders discussed at last year’s General Faculty meeting, SUNY plans to measure our campus’ performance using a so-called “Campus Report Card.” This report card, however, will not be designed by us—the people who know this campus, know our students, and understand the educational mission and vision of the institution—but by an outside agency. Not only are those who have seen the report card concerned that it does not adequately reflect our campus’ achievements. They worry that, if it becomes part of the performance-based funding scheme that we know SUNY and Governor Cuomo’s office are preparing—based in part on whether or not students get jobs when they leave here–we will, to the detriment of our students and their communities, lose any voice we might have had in how our work as a campus should be evaluated and therefore over what and how we teach. (SUNY, in collaboration with the governor’s office, has already tried to impose this scheme once. NYSUT was able to lobby against the proposal at that time, but we have no doubt that we will see this proposal again.)
It is, of course, possible to treat “systemness” as, actually, less than the sum of its parts: to applaud the benefits of “shared services,” for example, while tweaking SUNY Seamless and treating both as if they were actually two separate and unrelated initiatives. The problem with that sort of complacency, however, is that it fails to connect “systemness” at SUNY to the “systemness” that is at least implicit in the anti-teacher, anti-intellectual, pro-business, and anti-union educational reform that is being pushed throughout the country. That is a complacency we cannot afford and it is one to which the NCCFT refuses to surrender.
In our last post, we started to place SUNY’s “Seamless Transfer” (SST) initiative in the larger context of what SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher calls “systemness,” a concept she defined in her 2012 State of the University address as, “the coordination of multiple components that[,] when working together[,] create a network of activity that is more powerful than any action of individual parts on their own.” In this post, we ask you to consider how one aspect of SST, which establishes the curricular infrastructure of Zimpher’s “systemness,” impacts the education students come to NCC to claim, limiting them in ways they would not be limited if they were taking their first two years of college at a four-year institution.
Under SST, community college students will have no choice but to take seven out of ten of their General Education requirements during their first two years of college. Their peers at four-year institutions, on the other hand, will be able to spread those requirements out over all eight semesters of their college education. As well, students at two-year institutions will be required to declare a major after only thirty credits of classwork, while their four-year counterparts will be allowed to wait until junior year to do the same. We will address in a later post how this aspect of SST directly contradicts the mandates laid down for community colleges in New York State’s Education Law. For now, we would simply like to point out that creating this distinction between two- and four-year college students essentially creates a two-tiered educational system, giving one group of students the relative freedom to explore the educational opportunities that are available to them, while denying that freedom to the students, our students, who are not in that first group.
Given the fact that community college students tend to be less advantaged socioeconomically, less well-prepared educationally, less able—for a whole host of reasons—to focus full-time on their education, and therefore more in need of support in order to succeed in college, it’s hard not to see some very ugly biases at work here. Indeed, as Chancellor Zimpher explains in an essay she published on the website of The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute, her goal in “capitaliz[ing] on [SUNY’s] ‘systemness’” is not “simply [to] educate students;” it is to accomplish the “equally if not more important” goal of preparing them for a career. No one disagrees about the importance of preparing students for the job market. We just wonder why, and by whom, it was thought necessary to shoehorn community college students into a career track so much earlier than students who enroll in four-year schools from the start.
In that same essay, Zimpher also says this:
Strategic enrollment management [of which SST is by definition a component part] will allow SUNY to [meet] local workforce demands. In 2012, we will begin using labor statistics to determine workforce demand by region, and then we’ll adjust program offerings and enrollment patterns in each region to directly meet those needs.
Leave aside the purely logistical problems associated with adjusting program offerings based on a periodic response to “labor statistics.” The only way such adjustments would even be conceivable is if curricula throughout the SUNY system were standardized and homogenized from the top down, eviscerating shared governance and depriving students of the value that a locally developed and locally controlled curriculum has to offer. More to the point, given the recent political rhetoric lauding community colleges in particular as engines of job growth, we should be asking just whose programs Chancellor Zimpher imagines she will be adjusting and whose students will then be tracked according to those adjustments.
We’ve said it before and we will say it again: Public education has been the single most powerful democratizing force in the history of this country, not because it has focused on getting people jobs, but because it has focused on preparing our young people, in all their diversity, to become actively engaged citizens of a democracy. In contrast, Chancellor Zimpher’s notion of systemness, with its focus on “controlling cost” and “enhancing productivity” (two of the headings from the essay we quoted above), clearly emerges from a world view that treats public education more as a business than a public good. As such, it is of a piece with all the other anti-public education initiatives that have taken hold nationwide, from consistent, systemic, and systematic underfunding to the rise of charter schools; from the drive for performance-based funding in higher education to No Child Left Behind-type high stakes testing and the attempt to impose unfair teacher evaluations at the K-12 level.
It’s not that there is nothing of value in these initiatives (with the exception of underfunding, in which there is, truly, no value). Rather, it’s that their implementation has been designed to centralize, standardize, and homogenize education, removing it from the purview of those who actually educate students and putting it in the hands of those whose interests often lie elsewhere. We believe that SST, in its current form, will have precisely that effect, which is why the NCCFT Executive Committee supports the “Resolution in Opposition to a De Facto Core Curriculum,” which was passed unanimously by the Faculty Council of Community Colleges (FCCC) on October 19th.
As Kimberley Reiser noted in her email of October 21st, that resolution, “asks SUNY to halt implementation of seamless transfer [until] proper shared governance processes [are] utilized so that faculty retain the most basic of rights[:] purview over the curriculum.” In that spirit, the NCCFT Executive Committee calls on our colleagues in the Academic Senate and College-Wide Curriculum Committee not to move forward with the proposal for dealing with the 64-credit mandate submitted by the Ad Hoc Seamless Transfer Subcommittee. We believe it is in our and our students’ best interest to wait until the FCCC endorses SUNY Seamless and until our faculty have had the chance to discuss, in their departments, with their senators, and with their union representatives the full implications of SST and Chancellor Zimpher’s concept of systemness as they would apply here.
This guest post was written by Jason Gorman.
On Saturday, October 12, Porter Kirkwood, Chris Schwertman and I went out canvassing for NCCFT-endorsed candidates. We met in the morning at campaign headquarters in East Meadow, where we had a chance to say a brief hello to Tom Suozzi and Jay Jacobs, Nassau County Democratic Party Chairman, and let them know that the NCCFT was there to show our support.
Our specific task was to canvas in Laura Curran’s district, so we headed out to Baldwin with our map, list of residents and canvassing materials in hand. Prof. Kirkwood took the lead. He introduced himself as a Professor at Nassau Community College, which turned out to be a great way to start talking with people. As soon as I introduced myself as an NCC faculty member, smiles would appear and people seemed more interested in what I had to say. They often invited other family members to come to the door and listen. At one stop, I congratulated a couple that wed very recently, after the Marriage Equality Act was passed, speaking with them about how the NCCFT negotiated domestic partnership recognition in 2009. At another home, a father invited his daughter to talk with us because she wanted to be involved politically and volunteer. People were much friendlier and receptive than I’d expected them to be.
I have heard that politicians sometimes respond to a single letter or decide things during a phone call with a single person, and as Porter, Chris, and I moved from house to house, I couldn’t help but wonder about the effect it might have if one or more of the residents with whom we spoke were to write a letter in support of us to their legislator. I thought about being in that office when Tom Suozzi smiled and thanked us when he heard we were NCCFT members. I believe connections like these can make all the difference. Tom Suozzi frequently reminds people that he lost to Edward Mangano by only 386 votes. I hope more people join us in these next few weeks before Election Day. Not only do the candidates who can make a difference in our lives at the college need our support, but the more we strengthen our ties to the communities we serve as educators, the more likely they will be to offer their support when we need it.
In Part One of this series, we introduced some of the issues raised by implementation of SUNY’s “Seamless Transfer” (SST) plan, the stated goal of which is to increase student mobility and graduation rates by making it easier for students to transfer from college to college within the SUNY system. Most of you probably encountered SST for the first time when your department reviewed the proposal under consideration by the College-Wide Curriculum Committee (CWCC) for how to accommodate the reduction to 64 credits that SST will require of most degree programs. That document, which represents a tremendous amount of work on the part of those who put it together, outlines an elegant and well-considered response to the SST-mandated credit reduction. However, that document does not place SST in any context larger than Nassau Community College’s degree programs, and so the document does not address the very serious concerns about SST that have been raised SUNY-wide by the Faculty Council of Community Colleges (FCCC), the University Faculty Senate (UFS), United University Professions (UUP), as well as the unions, governance bodies, and even administrators of many other two and four-year institutions. In this post and the posts that follow, we’d like to tell you why we share those concerns and explain why we think it is important for NCC to oppose SUNY’s Seamless Transfer—despite any narrow, short-term benefits that individual aspects of the initiative might bring to students.
Consider first that while SUNY claims to have developed SST in consultation with campus presidents, chief operating officers, and faculty governance leaders, there is no documentation describing who those administrators were or their individual views on the final product. More to the point, neither the Faculty Council of Community Colleges, the University Faculty Senate, nor the Student Mobilization Committee have endorsed SST. The same is true, as far as we know, of every single faculty governance group across the entire SUNY system. Consider as well that despite the potential impact of Seamless Transfer on faculty, both full-time and part-time, no faculty union was consulted during the development process. Finally, note that the term “Seamless Transfer” belies a very slick marketing strategy, raising the specter of an intractable, SUNY-wide “transfer problem”–which, as far as we can tell, does not actually exist–while simultaneously presenting “SUNY Seamless Transfer” (SST) as the best and only solution to that problem. Taken together, these factors not only make it difficult to take at face value SUNY’s claim that SST is motivated solely by a desire to help students; they also suggest that SUNY is working very hard to make sure that SST is seen only through the lens that they are providing. We would like to offer you a different perspective.
Using data culled from the Nassau Community College Catalogue and our campus’ strategic planning documents, we calculated the impact SUNY Seamless would have over the course of one complete student cycle—taking as our cohort, in other words, all the students entering as freshman in a given year and assuming each one graduated at the end of two years. Given that scenario, reducing all our programs to the SUNY-mandated 64 credits for community colleges would result in the following:
- A potential loss of 61,879 required credits (i.e., courses that students would no longer be able to take), which would translate into $15,576,800 in lost tuition revenue;
- Losing those credits would take 20,626 three credit courses off the books, a total which represents more than one thousand full-time faculty loads.
Obviously, we do not have that many full-time faculty at NCC, nor is it the case that all students who begin their college education here graduate from here. Nonetheless, we hope these numbers–which represent SUNY’s ideal scenario, i.e., all students who start at a community college graduate from there–suggest the trend line that will begin to take shape across SUNY once SST is fully implemented. Imagine that trend rippling through SUNY over the course of an entire four-year degree, and it’s hard to escape the implication that SST represents an overarching strategy to reduce the number of full-time faculty teaching within the system.
Were this purely a labor issue, it would be bad enough, but SST is no less disturbing when looked at through the lens of its curricular mandates, one of which is that all courses throughout the SUNY system should be transferrable to any other SUNY school. On the surface, of course, this sounds eminently desirable. However, given the limits on course offerings that will be a direct consequence of both the reduction to 64 credits and the standardized general-education curriculum that is another SST mandate, some students will be forced to look elsewhere for the classes they want or need to transfer. SUNY’s solution is to offer them MOOCS, or Massive Open Online Courses, a largely untested means of delivering a single course’s content to many thousands of students at the same time. (Coursera, for example, the private corporation with which SUNY has partnered to deliver its MOOCs, boasts on its website today, October 9th, an enrollment of 5,098,469 “Courserians.”)
We will be writing in more detail about MOOCs in future posts. For now, consider that SUNY Chancellor Zimpher envisions students being able to fulfill up to 1/3 of their degree requirements with such courses. A student could graduate from Nassau Community College, in other words, having taken 21 of her or his 64 credits in online classes that were neither designed nor taught by NCC faculty, that had not been vetted through our curriculum development process, and that–since control over MOOCs would reside with SUNY’s central administration–had not been vetted through any other campus’ process either. Such a change would inevitably undermine each campus’ control over the development and academic integrity of its own curriculum and, for community colleges in particular, it would weaken our ability to respond to the specific educational needs of our communities—a flexibility that is supposed to be central to our mission.
No one disagrees that students should be at the center of what we do in higher education. Nor does anyone disagree that those of us in higher ed should make it a priority to find ways of making it easier for students to persist in their college education and eventually to graduate. Indeed, we at Nassau Community College, along with our colleagues throughout SUNY, have been doing that successfully for decades. Are there things we could be doing better? Sure. Do we need to figure out how to incorporate the online world more fully into the education our students come to us claim? Absolutely. But the old adage about not fixing something that isn’t broken applies here. Instead of imposing a top-down, cookie-cutter approach that serves corporate and administrative interests more than it does the long-term interests of students, SUNY would be better off making sure that its institutions, and particularly its community colleges, are adequately funded so that we can do the jobs we went into education to do.1
- For a generally sympathetic, but nonetheless apt critique of “systemness,” a concept that Chancellor Zimpher has been promoting and that finds expression in SUNY Seamless, read Sara Goldrick-Rab’s essay “The Power of Systemness” in Inside Higher Ed. While Goldrick-Rab sees much to like in Zimpher’s theory of “systemness,” the concerns she raises about how money and authority would be distributed through the system complement in significant ways the concerns we are raising here. [↩]
Central to the principle of shared governance is the idea that curricular and other academic concerns should fall under the purview of the faculty. The logic is not hard to follow. We are the ones who deal with students on a daily basis, both in and out of the classroom; we are the ones whose job it is to stay current in the fields that our expertise qualifies us to teach; and so we are the ones in the best position to decide what the content of a college education should be. Here at Nassau Community College, our unwavering commitment to this aspect of shared governance has resulted in an academic program widely recognized as one of the best among the nation’s two-year institutions. The seamless transfer requirements that have been adopted by SUNY (Seamless Transfer) threaten the integrity of this program—and of two-year college programs SUNY-wide—by taking significant curricular decisions out of the hands of faculty and imposing, from the top down, an academic structure that privileges increased graduation rates over quality instruction.
According to SUNY, Seamless Transfer, which is to be implemented by 2015, will make it easier for students to move on from two-year to four year SUNY institutions. However, faculty across the SUNY system have serious reservations about the initiative. As recently quoted in Darryl McGrath’s article for NYSUT United, “PSC, UUP, Community Colleges Push Back on Plans that Will Dilute Quality Higher Education,” for example, United University Professions (UUP) Vice President for Academics, Jamie Dangler said, “SUNY has not adequately involved faculty in discussions about Seamless Transfer’s implications for the quality of our educational programs…. This is being imposed from above, rather than vetted through the curriculum review process that should start at the academic department level.”
One major concern is this: Under Seamless Transfer, students who cannot find a course they need on their home campus must be permitted to take that course at another SUNY campus, either online or in person. While taking such courses at other colleges and then transferring the credits back to a “home institutions” is a not uncommon practice among students, the fact that SUNY wants to allow this practice online raises the specter of MOOCs, massive open online courses, in which many thousands of students can enroll at the same time and which SUNY envisions as potentially accounting for as much as one third of a graduating student’s credits. Whatever else may be true about MOOCs, however, they are untested as a means for delivering credit-bearing instruction or for evaluating student work in response to that instruction. As such they raise a number of concerns, including but not limited to:
- Their potential for the watering down of what we mean by a college education
- Their potential for further removing control of the curriculum from classroom faculty
- Their potential for reducing the need for (particularly full-time) classroom faculty, since one professor will be able to teach so many students at one time
The questions raised by MOOCs deserve a series of posts on their own, and such posts will follow this one. For now, consider that MOOCs represent a trend of curricular standardization that is more in keeping with the educational reform agenda funded by private organizations, such as the Lumina and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations, than with the democratizing force that public education has been in the United States since long before the beginning of the 20th century. Equally to the point, this standardization is backed by corporations like Pearson and Coursera, with which SUNY has partnered to offer its own MOOCs and which see MOOCs as an inexpensive and very lucrative source of revenue.
This question of standardization has raised serious concerns among SUNY community colleges, since Seamless Transfer requires them to fit many, and perhaps all programs into a 64-credit limit. The challenges of figuring out how to do that without cannibalizing parts of their program offerings has people seriously worried. Degree programs at community colleges already strike a delicate balance between and among the demands of general education, the disciplinary requirements of specific majors, the curricular decisions of individual departments, and the value of the degrees that community colleges award. Having to recalibrate that balance within smaller and strictly enforced parameters has the potential for setting disciplinary areas, departments, and individual faculty against each other in ways that will only undermine the institution and ultimately hurt students. As Ellen Shuler Mauk, past president of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College, put it, “We might have people saying, ‘Why do we have nine required English credits? We’ll lop off three.’ Or, cut out all physical education credits.”
Here at Nassau, as vice president for classroom faculty Frank Frisenda says in the NYSUT article, the pressure by the administration to meet the 64-credit requirement has been “especially pronounced” because our acting president seems eager to comply with the Seamless Transfer initiative. The NCCFT and the Academic Senate have been hard at work crafting a response to Seamless Transfer, which you will be hearing about soon. In addition, Frank, along with other community college union leaders, representatives from UUP, NYSUT, and CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress (PSC), who are dealing with CUNY Pathways, an initiative very similar to Seamless Transfer, met this summer to discuss ways of educating people across SUNY and CUNY about the negative effects of these initiatives. This blog post, and the ones that will follow, are part of that effort.
Initiatives like SUNY’s Seamless Transfer and CUNY’s Pathways have the potential to transform public higher education in ways that directly contradict its democratizing mission. It is crucial that you be informed as possible about what’s happening. Here are some links for further reading: