AGAINST COMMON SENSE

by Barbara Bowen, PSC President

PSCcuny
NEWS BULLETIN

APRIL 2001

 

CLICK TO GO TO

PSC Home Page

The CUNY Budget: Moment of Truth

TeachCUNY reaches 18 campuses, 100s of classrooms

Negotiations Update

Letters to the Editor

New PSC Committee on Diversity Begins Work

Health and Safety Update: It's in the Air

New Faculty Speak Out at Brooklyn College

DA Approves Dues Change for Part-Timers

Lights Out for Edison 

Spotlight on Adjunct Concerns at Legislative Hearing

Washington State & California Take the Lead on Adjunct Equity

What the Statistics Say

What the Adjuncts Say

ACTing Out: Giuliani & Media vs CUNY (with bibiliography on testing)

"Teach CUNY" and the Classroom

How Not to Teach at CUNY

The Past Year and the Union's Future

Against Common Sense

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of one of the "Teach CUNY" forums last month, students were asked to write about their responses to the event. "It’s not really clear to me," wrote one, "why the politicians would not want to see their city university thrive." Another asked, "Why did the government let this happen? Why is the government careless about one of the most essential ingredients of the next generation?" It should tell us something that students resisted hearing the answer to those questions. The simple facts of the decline in CUNY’s funding are hard to believe; it is even more difficult for students to accept that there is an active, if complex and diffuse, political agenda opposed to their receiving a serious college education.

One of the valuable things about "Teach CUNY"—and it was an amazing day, a turbo-charging of the University as an intellectual community—was that it reminded us that knowledge about the disinvestment in CUNY has been suppressed, and not only by those responsible for cutting our funds, but by the University itself. Even though the CUNY Administration has mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign this year for more full-time faculty lines and other budget increases, only the PSC dared to tell the whole story of the University’s devastating loss of funds. The shock of that story—felt by our students and perhaps ourselves during "Teach CUNY"—seems to have registered in Albany at last. The union’s independent budget proposal, coupled with vigorous, systematic lobbying, has helped to produce signs of movement on the budget that are more encouraging, even at this early stage, than they have been in years.

An advance toward restoration of the budget would be great news for CUNY, but I am disturbed that the University continues to issue major statements that accept underfunding as an act of nature. The recent Board of Trustees’ report on the community colleges, developed without proper consultation with the faculty and staff, naturalizes the underfunded university just at the moment when we may be close to some success on the budget. The report’s acceptance of a diminished model for our community colleges is dangerous for the entire University, because it presents as common sense a program that is in fact rooted in a very particular political agenda—one antagonistic to the values of an academic or democratic institution.

The Board of Trustees’ report is full of such pronouncements as: "Programs that have little intellectual value or market demand should be phased out and resources redeployed," or "Expand the array of credit and non-credit certificate programs that lead directly to employment," or, most ominously, "Ensure that campus administrators have the flexibility to make personnel adjustments deemed necessary to meet changing market demands." What masquerades here as common sense is actually an almost theological faith in market forces. It is pure neo-liberalism, a return to a nineteenth-century idea of liberalism in which the market is assumed to be universally efficient and the best arbiter of value in all arenas.

There are other ways to think about CUNY, for instance as a serious university whose academic policy should be determined by academics and not by the market, or as a university whose mission goes beyond preparing students for entry-level jobs and instead offers them the richness of a liberal arts curriculum. Even the needs of the market can be examined with more care: Chancellor Goldstein recently conceded that the decision in the early 1990s to close the nursing program at City College may have been a shortsighted response to perceived market demand—today we face an acute shortage of nurses. Faculty intervention resulted in some last-minute changes, which made the community college report less damaging than it would have been in its original draft. But without the true consultation that should prevail in a university, the final product still reflects the narrowed vision of the Trustees.

At a time when other states are recognizing the necessity of extending, rather than limiting, higher education—California has just approved at 17% budget increase for public higher education—New York still lags behind, with reports such as this one providing the necessary cover. Students at "Teach CUNY" asked those devastating questions because their own university has succumbed to neo-liberalism’s deformed model of education. Most stridently in the Schmidt Report, but also in contract proposals that ape the corporate model and now in the statement on community colleges, CUNY management has shown itself willing to sacrifice the University’s fundamental social and intellectual mission on the altar of market demands.

When will we see some courage of mind from the CUNY Administration? If the community college report is an example of common sense, I hope they will free themselves from its tyranny in time to offer us the contract we need. It is time for some uncommon thinking.