September 17, 2012

Academic thuggery

by

There’s no point in pussyfooting around it: Friday was a terrible day for the academy. Emory University announced that it would eliminate three departments, close down its journalism degree program, and suspend graduate admissions in a number of areas, including economics and Spanish. You’d think a university with a $5.4 billion endowment, which made it the sixteenth wealthiest university in the country last year, might be able to keep a Visual Arts department going. And they can—they just don’t want to. Robin Forman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, laid it out in a letter sent out Friday afternoon:

…these steps are not in response to the deficit, and will play no role in reducing our expenses… these are fundamentally academic decisions about the size and scope of our mission.

Meanwhile, at Queensborough Community College, after the English Department voted against a CUNY-wide program to reduce the number of credits composition classes are worth, the university administration retaliated by axing the entire department. They cancelled all QCC composition classes, will fire all adjuncts, halt the search for new full-time staff, and the appointments of all current staff will be “subject to ability to pay and Fall ’13 enrollment in department courses.” That’s right—because QCC faculty did not support the university’s plan to downgrade the value of writing courses, they lost their jobs. And QCC students, many of whom are ESL learners, will have to travel to other locations to take a still-required course. Angus Johnston over at Student Activism makes it clear just how thuggishly this was all conducted:

The shift from the department’s existing four-hour composition courses to new Pathways-compliant three-hour offerings required a departmental vote, and as it became clear that faculty were disinclined to approve the change, administrators made it known that a failure to approve the Pathways plan would result in harsh consequences.

Faculty were alarmed by these threats. They delayed the vote by a week, and asked that an administrator appear at their next meeting to state CUNY’s case in person. Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Steele represented the administration at Wednesday’s meeting, and according to the faculty member I spoke with, made the threat to the department’s offerings explicit prior to the vote.

In the other words, the person the English Department faculty had hoped might discuss the proposal with them instead came in with threats. Which, on Thursday evening, she then carried out in a letter you can read here.

CUNY’s faculty union will be filing a labor grievance and is threatening a federal lawsuit.

 

 

Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.

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