RSCC Position Paper: LEVEL THE TWO-TIER CUNY SYSTEM!

 LEVEL THE TWO-TIER CUNY SYSTEM: A POSITION PAPER ON PATHWAYS
—Writing Group of the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC), NYC

OUR DEMANDS IN RESPONSE TO PATHWAYS

We demand:

1. Automatic transfer of all credits between all schools in the CUNY system.

2. Abolition of the two-tier system in CUNY, through the transformation of all community colleges into senior colleges, while maintaining the trade and vocational programs.

3. Abolition of the Honors College and transfer of all its resources to the SEEK and College Discovery programs.

4. One-third voting representation for students, one-third voting representation for working-class and oppressed-nationality communities, and one-third voting representation for faculty on all bodies that make curriculum, hiring and other departmental decisions. Student and community representatives to be elected by the students and the communities.

POLITICAL STATEMENT

The ability of students to transfer from the community colleges to the senior colleges in the CUNY system is a key issue in the struggle to open up CUNY to serve the working-class and oppressed-nationality communities in NYC. For many decades, there have been tremendous obstacles preventing community-college students from transferring into and graduating out of the senior colleges. As described by SEEK founder Allen B. Ballard in his 1973 book The Education of Black Folk: The Afro-American Struggle for Knowledge in White America, each of the senior colleges has established “substantial barriers to students wishing to transfer from the community colleges’ liberal arts programs,” forcing community-college students to “make up large numbers of courses” that are “required for graduation from the senior colleges but not required in the community college liberal arts programs.” The majority-white faculty has been a major driving force behind the creation of these barriers.

Due to the openings created by the debate on Pathways, now is the time for students to raise the demand for the automatic transfer of all credits between all schools in the CUNY system. The struggle over transfer policy is part of the struggle to transform the racial composition of the senior colleges to reflect the racial composition of the high school population in NYC and to achieve full equality for Black and Latino students in CUNY. Black and Latino students constitute the majority at five out of six community colleges (excluding Kingsborough), but only six out of eleven senior colleges. At senior colleges like Baruch and Hunter, the enrollment of Black and Latino students continues today to be disproportionately low. Furthermore, the Graduate School remains an overwhelmingly white institution, where only 8.1% of the students are Latino and only 6.4% are Black. The professional schools in Law and Journalism are similar to the Graduate School (see Appendix A. Key Facts on CUNY, with Stats from the CUNY OIRA).

The most striking aspect of the ongoing discussion on Pathways, CUNY’s new general education and credit transfer policy (see Appendix B. Summary of Pathways), is the absence of this demand for automatic full-credit transfers. The perspective that students from proletarian and oppressed-nationality backgrounds must have full access to every school in CUNY, regardless of the racist expectations of the administration or the majority-white faculty, must be part of the Pathways debate.

Level the two-tier CUNY system. Schools are not gated communities.

The PSC is circulating a petition to repeal Pathways that pays lip-service to student transfer as a “genuine and important” problem, but does not explain why the problem exists on such a massive scale and why the faculty has never done anything substantial to address it. Now that the CUNY Board of Trustees is implementing Pathways, which is a flawed policy that nevertheless addresses the transfer issue, the faculty finally intervenes in a major way, in order to maintain the status quo and defend their privileges.

Given the 40-year record of the faculty on this issue, going back to the CCNY faculty senate’s opposition to the 1969 Black and Puerto Rican student strike and the CCNY faculty’s efforts in 1973 to impede the transfer of community-college students by segregating their records, the faculty’s claim that, yes, they too believe student transfer is a “genuine and important” issue seems disingenuous. This 40-year record of blatant exclusionary attitudes and general inaction shows us clearly that the white-dominated professoriate cannot be relied on to make curriculum decisions in the interests of the students and the oppressed-nationality communities, which contain the most proletarianized sections of the population of NYC.

Unfortunately, a section of politically-active students is uncritically tailing the faculty’s stance. One student organization, Students United for a Free CUNY, is circulating its own petition that simply repeats the demands of the PSC for the repeal of Pathways and for the implementation of a new undefined but “more effective” credit transfer policy. Rather than offering up students to be led by the faculty on this issue, student organizers must put forward independent demands for the automatic transfer of all credits and for breaking down the barriers between the community colleges and the senior colleges.

We appeal to the students in SUFC who understand the importance of the transfer problem to resist the influence of the PSC on this issue and to challenge the white-left organizations in the CUNY student movement that do not prioritize the struggles of Black, Latino, and other oppressed-nationality students in CUNY for full access. It is shortsighted to claim to defend Ethnic Studies at the senior colleges when large numbers of oppressed-nationality students cannot even get in the door.

While the professors act as the gatekeepers of the white-liberal college model, we recognize that the CUNY administration wants to impose a uniform corporate model, one that will boost their numbers in the higher-education rating systems, such as the US News & World Report’s yearly rankings. This is their motivation for creating Pathways. The CUNY administration wants to implement an assembly-line style education meant to arbitrarily raise graduation rates and create robots to serve the capitalist ruling class. The fact is that the CUNY administration does not care about educating our oppressed-nationality peoples, who attend one of the worst K-12 public education systems in the US. Pathways is not meant to give us a well-rounded education that serves the interests of our communities. There is no consideration of the content, rigor and purpose of what we are learning.

All of this demonstrates the desperate need for a self-defining CUNY student movement that does not take direction from either the administration or the white-dominated faculty. Proletarian and oppressed-nationality students must exercise our ability to be self-defining and independent. We should not tail the narrow demands of the white faculty and we should not go along with the corporate plans of the administration. Above all else, the CUNY student movement must serve the interests of the most exploited and oppressed communities in NYC. It must fight for the exploited and oppressed to have full access to CUNY and for the content of a CUNY education to be oriented towards uplifting the communities. We must elevate the political consciousness of our people and raise demands such as guaranteed admission for all high school graduates and all holders of high school equivalent diplomas, no tuition, a liberating education and community control (see Appendix C. The RSCC Platform).

We must demand the abolition of the two-tier system in CUNY, through the transformation of all community colleges into senior colleges. The two-tier system, where there are community colleges on one end and senior colleges on the other end, should not exist. The CUNY administration and some faculty want to maintain the image of the senior colleges as an exclusive property reserved for the “best” students. For many students, community college is a roadblock to getting a bachelor’s degree. The community colleges are underfunded and have fewer resources than the senior colleges. Every student who enters CUNY must have the option of obtaining at least a bachelor’s degree and going on to graduate school, law school, and other professional schools. We call for abolishing the Honors College, an exclusionary project that most embodies the separation of the CUNY system into tiers. Its resources must be transferred to the SEEK programs at the senior colleges and the College Discovery programs at the community colleges. At the same time, because we recognize that our people need jobs to provide for our families, we stand for maintaining the existing trade and vocational programs. CUNY must have a tremendous commitment towards remedial education and must be fundamentally oriented towards serving the communities that are experiencing educational genocide in the elementary and high schools in NYC.

We must look at the reality facing Black and Latino youth in NYC. Only 13% of Black and Latino high school graduates are ready for college, according to official city statistics. The other 87% will most likely not go to the senior colleges, but will be attending the community colleges in CUNY, if they go to school at all. The fact that under Pathways many Black and Latino students will be going through one less obstacle to get a bachelor’s degree is something that we support.

We recognize that Pathways is flawed. It does not provide for the automatic transfer of all credits from the community colleges. There must be continued struggle over defining the Common Core structure, in terms of Ethnic Studies, language, and science requirements. Representatives of the students and the working-class and oppressed-nationality communities must have decisive voting power over curriculum, hiring and other departmental matters.

However, everyone must ask themselves, how did things get to this point? How did we end up more than 40 years after the 1969 struggle with a Pathways policy imposed by the CUNY Board of Trustees? The main reason is the 40-year lack of activity and – at some points – flat-out exclusionary attitudes of the majority-white faculty on this issue.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Black and Puerto Rican students marching in front of Shepard Hall before taking over the South Campus of City College in 1969.

To fully understand the origins of the transfer problem, we have to briefly trace the historical development of CUNY admissions policy, from the period before the 1969 strike to today. Prior to the 1969 strike, senior colleges like City College (CCNY) required an academic high school diploma and an average of at least 82 for admission (Allen B. Ballard, The Education of Black Folk: The Afro-American Struggle for Knowledge in White America, Harper & Row: 1973, 122). Community colleges typically required an average of at least 75 for admission (David E. Lavin and David B. Crook, “Open Admissions and Its Outcomes: Ethnic Differences in Long-term Educational Attainment,” American Journal of Education, Vol. 98, No. 4, Aug. 1990,  399).

As a part of their demands during the 1969 strike, the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community (BPRSC) proposed a new admissions policy that would guarantee a spot on the entering CCNY freshman class to all high school graduates and all holders of equivalent diplomas, as well as full remedial courses, to ensure that “the racial composition of the entering freshman class be racially reflective of the high school population” (Five Demands).

Such a policy would aim to correct the educational genocide committed against Black and Puerto Rican students by the elementary and high schools in NYC. Black people and Puerto Ricans were 40% of the high school population back then, but only 9% of the students at CCNY (Five Demands). The BPRSC explained that the abuses imposed on Black people and Puerto Ricans were “done by the people who run the City to promote white privilege” and that “the ruling class forces our children out of the high schools so that their children can be the only ones to attend college” (Five Demands).

In the aftermath of the Spring 1969 strike, the BPRSC and faculty representatives reached a settlement agreement for a proposed admissions policy for the Fall 1970 semester. Under the negotiated policy, half of the Fall 1970 CCNY freshman class would be admitted based on grades as before and the other half would be admitted based on “graduating from schools that traditionally had sent few of their graduates to college” (Ballard 125). If adopted, this would have meant that Black and Puerto Rican students would gain access to CUNY in substantial and proportional numbers for the first time.

However, after a massive backlash of opposition from white-supremacist elements, including NYC mayoral candidates, the white-dominated CCNY faculty senate, and the white-dominated City College Alumni Association, the negotiated agreement was shelved, never to be implemented. Instead, the Board of Higher Education passed what became known as the Open Admissions policy, allowing the consideration of class rank in the admissions criteria of the senior colleges and opening up the community colleges to all high school graduates.

The new Open Admissions policy mandated that an average of at least 80 or a class ranking in the top half of one’s graduating class would guarantee admission to the senior colleges and graduation from high school would guarantee admission to the community colleges. It must be understood that even though Open Admissions was a major victory for the oppressed, it was not the actual demand of the 1969 strikers for full access. The new policy constituted a compromise won through militant struggle.

The Open Admissions policy did not fundamentally alter the two-tier structure of CUNY. The Black and Puerto Rican communities continued to fight hard against the tracking of their young people into the community colleges, against the isolation of the community colleges within the CUNY system, for full access to the senior colleges, and for full equality within each and every CUNY school (Ballard 129-130). However, because the new admissions policy continued to allocate students to specific senior or community colleges based on their averages or class rankings (Ballard 131-132), rather than providing for enrollment by lottery, it contributed to the situation today where certain senior colleges like Baruch, Hunter, Queens and Staten Island still have disproportionately low numbers of Black and Latino students, while Black and Latino students are channeled into the community colleges in large numbers. Furthermore, ever since its creation, there has been an ongoing struggle to maintain Medgar Evers College as a senior college, against administration plans to turn it into a community college. MEC has a 89.3% Black student enrollment.

Since 1969, there have been persistent efforts by both the administration and the faculty to cut away and ultimately eliminate the Open Admissions reforms that had been won by the Black and Puerto Rican communities for all working-class and oppressed-nationality students. In the early 1970s, the CCNY faculty governance body opposed the automatic transfer of community-college credits and the admission of community-college students as upperclassmen (Chris Gunderson, “The Struggle for CUNY: A History of the CUNY Student Movement, 1969-1999,” citing an interview with Ron McGuire). The Board of Higher Education had enacted a progressive policy admitting all graduates of community colleges with two years of credit (“Faculty Hits BHE On Transfer Policy,” City College Observer Post, April 6, 1973). In response to this policy, the CCNY Faculty Council sought to segregate the records of students transferring to City College from the community colleges, threatened to refuse to recommend transfer students for degrees, and defended its stance on the basis of protecting the quality and standards of City College. Later, in 1976, the high school graduating class rank eligible for admission to the senior colleges was raised from the top half to the top third. In 1976, tuition was imposed for the first time. By the mid-1990s, class rank was eliminated as an admissions criteria at the senior colleges, marking the formal end of Open Admissions.

A THEORETICAL POINT: BOURGEOIS STANDARDS, PROLETARIAN STANDARDS

Many have approached the debate on student transfer from a perspective of protecting “standards” of admissions and “standards” of educational quality in CUNY. This approach fails to understand the class bias and class character of any “standard” of admissions or educational quality.

The bourgeoisie has one set of standards. They measure applicants by grades, test scores, and ability to pay. They call this “merit,” never explaining that all of these measures are determined by the conditions of class exploitation and national oppression. They want to train students who will serve ruling-class interests. They do this, on the one hand, by simply pushing out working-class and oppressed-nationality students, and on the other hand, by training all students in the ideologies of the ruling class. They call this a quality education.

The Filipino student movement knows what’s good!

The proletariat has another set of standards. People must be admitted to CUNY based on the simple fact that they come from working-class and oppressed-nationality backgrounds, regardless of grades, regardless of test scores, and regardless of ability to pay. The original negotiated settlement after the 1969 strike tended to embody this approach, allowing half of the incoming freshmen class to be admitted based on “graduating from schools that traditionally had sent few of their graduates to college” (Ballard 125). Once enrolled, students must have full access to remedial education, in order to counter the educational genocide taking place in the elementary and high schools. The quality of a CUNY education must be measured by the number of graduates who become committed, life-long servants of the exploited and oppressed, who are also experts in their specific work areas.

Without this understanding of class bias and class character, any discussion of “standards” only reinforces the exclusionary policies of the bourgeoisie.

APPENDIX A. KEY FACTS ON CUNY, WITH STATS FROM THE CUNY OIRA

Today, the City University of New York (CUNY) consists of 11 senior colleges with a total enrollment of 141,400 students, six community colleges with 97,700 students, and four graduate and professional schools with 33,000 students. CUNY is governed by the Board of Trustees, composed of 17 members, ten of whom are appointed by the Governor, five by the Mayor, one who is chair of the University Student Senate, and one who is chair of the University Faculty Senate. The BOT is composed almost entirely of various ruling-class functionaries, with deep individual ties to corporate and state interests.

The CUNY faculty is overwhelmingly white. Out of 7,331 full-time faculty in 2010, only 933 were Black (12.7%), 777 were Asian / Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander (10.6%), 455 were Latino (6.2%), 187 were Puerto Rican (2.6%), and 17 were American Indian / Alaskan Native (0.2%). Excluding Medgar Evers College, only 798 full-time faculty were Black (11.2%).

The CUNY Graduate School is even whiter than the faculty. Among the total enrollment of 4,701 students, 13.7% were Asian / Pacific Islander, 8.1% were Latino, 6.4% are Black, and 0.1% were American Indian / Native American. These numbers are significant due to the role of the Graduate School as a transmission belt into the CUNY faculty, indicating that the faculty will remain white-dominated for a long time, unless drastic and fundamental changes are made to both the racist hiring practices of the academic departments and the racist admissions policies of the Graduate School. The stats are similar for the Journalism School and the Law School (respectively 5.4% Black and 7.6% Latino; 8.5% Black and 12.3% Latino).

At the undergraduate level, as an indication of the significance of the gains won by militant Black and Puerto Rican students in 1969, every school except two (Queens and Staten Island) has a majority of Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian students. Black and Latino students by themselves constitute the majority at five out of six community colleges (excluding Kingsborough) and six out of eleven senior colleges. However, schools such as Baruch, Hunter, Queens and Staten Island continue to have disproportionately low numbers of Black and Latino students.

In Fall 2011, a total of 2,378 new students transferred from CUNY community colleges to the senior colleges with degrees and 3,417 new students transferred without degrees.

APPENDIX B. SUMMARY OF PATHWAYS

The CUNY Board of Trustees passed the Pathways resolution at its June 27, 2011 meeting. The resolution established a general education framework, with a Common Core of 30 credits for all CUNY schools and a College Option of 12 additional credits for each senior college. All undergraduates must complete the 30-credit Common Core to get an AA, AS, or bachelor’s degree. All non-transfer baccalaureate students must complete the 12-credit College Option. All baccalaureate students transferring from the community colleges must complete 12 College-Option credits if transferring with 30 or fewer credits, 9 College-Option credits if transferring with 30 or more credits without a degree, or 6 College-Option credits if transferring with an associate degree. Most importantly for students, Common Core credits transfer automatically among all colleges without further evaluation and College Option credits transfer among all baccalaureate colleges without further evaluation.

The Chancellor approved the 30-credit Common Core Structure proposed by the CUNY Pathways Task Force on December 1, 2011. The structure is split into a 12-credit Required Core and an 18-credit Flexible Core. The 12-credit Required Core contains the following allocations: English Composition (six credits), Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning (three credits), and Life and Physical Sciences (three credits). The 18-credit Flexible Core contains six three-credit courses, at least one from each of the following areas and no more than two in any discipline or interdisciplinary field: World Cultures and Global Issues (explicitly including ethnic studies and foreign languages), U.S. Experience in its Diversity, Creative Expression, Individual and Society, and Scientific World. The policy bars colleges from requiring 4-credit courses for the Common Core, allowing them only to offer optional 4-credit math or science courses that satisfy the Common Core.

The Common Core structure and Pathways policies are to be evaluated and modified each year for the next three years beginning in 2013 and once every three years afterwards.

APPENDIX C. THE RSCC PLATFORM

RSCC at May Day in NYC, 2012.

Affirmed at February 12, 2012 general membership meeting.

1. We want the seizure of CUNY by oppressed people as a form of reparations for slavery, colonialism and imperialism. We want community control of CUNY and the opening-up of every campus for the community’s use. We want the abolition of the CUNY Board of Trustees.

2. We want guaranteed admission to every CUNY school for all poor, working-class and oppressed-nationality students, the abolition of systematically exclusive admission practices (e.g. placement exams, standardized tests) and an end to tuition.

3. We want a democratic and scientific education system to replace the current reactionary white-supremacist patriarchal capitalist education system. We want an education that exposes the exploitation and oppression of the US Empire, informs us of our true history and prepares us to struggle for liberation.

4. We want administrators and teachers who harass, threaten and punish students for political organizing to be removed. We want teachers who suppress progressive and revolutionary ideas to be removed. We want the abolition of all policies that prevent political organizing and the expression of political dissent by students, faculty and staff.

5. We want an end to police brutality, harassment and intimidation in our communities. We want all police to be permanently banned from CUNY. There was never a CUNY police force until the early 1990s. We want any security force to be controlled by the community.

6. We want all of the measures that materially improve our study and living conditions, such as childcare, healthy food, transportation, tutoring, remedial classes, sports facilities, healthcare and housing.

7. We want to transform the schools into centers for promoting national consciousness, developing women’s leadership and providing students with skills to serve our communities. We want to transform the schools into base areas for advancing all of the peoples’ struggles for liberation. We want CUNY to be a tool for achieving these goals.

3 thoughts on “RSCC Position Paper: LEVEL THE TWO-TIER CUNY SYSTEM!

  1. This is extremely well written. Thank you for another crisp analysis.

    However, i have just one point i want to bring up

    “It is shortsighted to claim to defend Ethnic Studies at the senior colleges when large numbers of oppressed-nationality students cannot even get in the door.”

    when we say defend, we imply a structure, in this case a program, worth keeping. by that merit, the ethnic studies are a necessity to our representative student population. however, the way im interpreting this comment is that its [ethnic studies] entire existence (therefore its preservation) is irrelevant because of the amount of students who will never make it to the college to experience it. in my opinion, thats disregarding the nature by which these programs were established (through demands made from black and puerto rican students in the 60s) these programs were made for us who made it to the college. lets not ignore the fact that we cant even run them because it exists under the white dominated curriculum.it is impossible to correct from underneath institutional barriers.

    While we must not lose sight of the fact that oppressed nationalities are being denied access to education, its not to undermine the oppressed nationalizes that exist (unrepresented by faculty) within the institution. they too seek and are entitled to academic directions that take into consideration their history. those programs already exist, but they are in jeopardy.

    it is not shortsighted to try and save these programs, especially here at QC, where the latino studies department has been set up with a new director (who was promised the position) who represents and upholds the while male dominated cuny faculty. if we want institutional control , we cannot lose even the smallest grips of institutional and academic freedom we may have in our respective and representative ethnic studies departments. theres certainly something to defend here, in regards to latino studies at qc, and its our right to a representative member of our own ethnicity. ESPECIALLY since historically this type of inclusion in cuny is almost non existent.

    • @sansignorance:

      Thanks for the comment. Agreed on the importance of defending and expanding Ethnic Studies.

      The line you quoted from the paper is referring specifically to the student petition that opposes Pathways on the basis that it cuts various course requirements, but treats credit transfer as a secondary issue. That position is shortsighted and doesn’t get the historical and political implications of the transfer problem. Difficulty transferring from community to senior colleges is too often treated as an individual frustration and an accepted misfortune. The problem has to be politicized – its class and racial/national dimensions have to be exposed.

      Both demands – one regarding access (credit transfer) and the other regarding educational content (Ethnic Studies) – have to be raised at the same time. The opening up of CUNY is linked to the transformation of the character of the education, as reflected in the Five Demands of 1969. Does the faculty agree with these demands or not? Some likely do and relations with them have to be firmed up, but the movement has to be self-defining enough to pose the question in the first place.

      – One of the participants in the Writing Group

  2. Pingback: Stand in Solidarity With the Professional Staff Congress! Faculty, Students, Staff Unite! | Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee

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