Blog Post

The Eighty-Five Percent: Or, Why CUNY is New York's Best Kept Secret

On July 1, I left my friends, family, students, and neighbors at Duke University, where I had enjoyed as rich and fulfilling a career  for over two decades as any academic could aspire to, to take up a new position among the distinguished faculty at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  To people who haven’t been paying attention, this choice may seem eccentric.  Why leave two (!) distinguished chairs at a  top, private university to join the nation’s largest public urban university at this historical moment, when so much public education is under duress?  To people who keep track of these things, however, the Graduate Center is “trending.”   Not only does it have as distinguished a faculty as the city's fine, elite, private research universities, but, in the last few years, several of us have moved here to the GC from elite institutions—Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Penn, Princeton, to name only the ones I happen to know about.

Why?  And why now do so many of us want to be part of this public institution for graduate training?  There are many reasons of course but, for me, one of the most compelling is summed up in a number.  Let’s call it the eighty-five percent. That is the percentage of CUNY’s full-time undergraduate students who are free of student loan debt free.  That number is nearly 80% at graduation time.  CUNY undergrads may well be working one or two or even three jobs to make their education happen--but to be relieved of exhorbitant tuition costs is amazing.  It is also counter to the national trend when higher education has been so severely defunded that most individual students and their families are shouldering a tremendous share of their individual higher educational costs. 

Attending college is voluntary.  You do it for yourself, your future, and also, for society that wants to stay ahead, you are doing it because you are your society's future.  It is hard work staying in college against the odds of cost and other responsibilities.   As a society, we've abandoned our collective sense that you need to help young people shoulder a burden that is all our futures.  In contrast again to the national trend, CUNY offers tuition-free education to nearly six in 10 full-time undergraduates thanks to federal, state and CUNY financial aid.  Some 22,000 students earned CUNY bachelor’s degree last year and a large number graduated without the soul-crushing tuition loans faced by many graduates of private or public or for-profit universities in other cities and states.  

What a wonderful gift to the students, their families, the city of New York, and society at large!  At a time when everyone is concerned about the astronomical cost of higher education and is predicting a bursting of the student loan bubble that will dwarf 2008’s real estate disaster, New York (both the state and the city) has invested in quality, affordable higher education.  Hiding in plain sight, in the city of New York (which is not exactly noted for its modesty or invisibility), is a system that offers low-cost, quality higher education to its vast population.  

That is one of the most compelling reasons I came here.  I wanted to be part of this big, bold educational system and learn more about how it works, from the inside.

 

What It Means To Attend College Without DebilitatingTuition Loans

To know you can graduate without the crushing exigency of loans allows you to pursue your dreams--whatever those dreams may be--of a more productive adulthood.  For some, CUNY offers what is often called (too narrowly, in my opinion) "vocational training."  By that term, many people may mean STEM fields or practical fields such as accounting or nursing and certainly, for many, a low or no-tuition allows for a possibility of occupational training for such careers.  Those are wonderful ambitions.  

There is another side too.  When not faced with crushing tuition loans, one can explore many vocations, not just the one that will most immediately pay off the tuition loans.  Recently, on a visit to LaGuardia Community College, for example, I met students who were pursuing their dream of a career in the fine and performing arts, dedicated students  who hoped to pursue future productive careers in theater, art, multimedia, and music who dreamt of future careers in the arts.   In the cultural capital of America, that’s not only a vocation but a contribution to the city's calling card.  

That variety of different aspirations, different talents, different ambitions is exactly what higher education is for--to be able to help students achieve the education that can turn a love into a productive career. 

All the research shows, choices narrow as the tuition debt mounts.   The research also shows that, unless you pursue a career you love, you are not likely to invest the time and energy that allows you to succeed to your full potential in that career.  Low tuition allows students to pursue careers which may not be lucrative but which may be soul-satisfying and which, because of their interest and determination, can be productive and successful.  Not just a job, a career, a good life.  Grinding debt encourages one to simply grind out a major that one thinks will earn one a decent income.  In the nation’s cultural capital, that isn’t low cost:  it is priceless.

 

Tuition-Free in the Natiion's Most Expensive City

In the seven short weeks since I’ve been proud to call myself a CUNY faculty member, I have met some of the most devoted teachers, brilliant researchers, and gifted undergraduate and graduate students that I have ever encountered. So my two questions are:  how does CUNY pull this off and why doesn’t everyone (including New Yorkers) realize we have a model here of affordable, quality higher education that others could learn from?

Believe me, as someone moving here from the hip, lively and low cost city of Durham, North Carolina, I am acutely aware of the downside of New York:  its pricetag.  It costs an incredible amount to live here.  I know, because my former city of Durham has profited from New York’s price tag:  Durham has become the Williamsburg of the South, rivaling Brooklyn in the per capita number of artists, indy musicians, locovore bistros, and artisan coffee roasters.   My entire Durham house is but a down payment on a one-bedroom apartment in NY.  

No New Yorker needs to be reminded of the income inequality lurking in the shadow of all those Trump towers.  Yet there is one remarkable bargain here: I can send my kid to college here in NYC practically free.  Or I can retool myself, taking advantage of this low-cost educational system.  I can afford to learn a new trade or upgrade my current one at one of CUNY’s twenty-four colleges and community colleges.   

As a CUNY student, I might even have the freedom from soaring tuition costs to make it (somewhat) possible to live in the nooks and crannies, the outposts and enclaves of this great city,  without worrying about my student loan turning into a bombed-out credit rating that will hurt my future.  I can be an artist here, or a fashion designer, or a programmer, or an entrepreneur, or, well, anything I want my twenties to allow me the possibility of being.  Why isn’t CUNY being touted as the single most important resource that New York has to offer? 

            As a CUNY student, I am the Eighty-Five Percent.  What that offers to a city as diverse, as populated with immigrants and first-generation college-ready students, is a gift beyond measure. 

 

Of Course There Are Serious Problems To Attend To (i.e. And Please Remember the Faculty!)

        Are there problems?  Of course. 

  • As with all largely commuter campuses where a typical student might be working full-time or have family obligations while taking classes, the CUNY drop out rate before completing a degree is far too high.  We know having a degree is a barrier to being considered for jobs.  It does not assure you of one but it can assure you won't get one. So finding ways to help students find a path to graduation, to do all we can, against socio-economic conditions of living and working and going to school, is the big challenge of every professor, adviser, graduate student, staff member, and fellow student in the system.  Working collectively towards higher graduation rates throughout the twenty-four colleges is a goal everyone I've met is working towards.
  • For faculty in the CUNY system, there are drawbacks as well.  CUNY have a heavy workload and are not paid well enough. Period.  Of course, they should be better subsidized.  They deserve it.  They have earned it. As with any economics in a system with finite resources, there is no question adding in one area, takes away in another--unless there is new revenue into the system.  Perhaps if the taxpayers of NY understand the dividend they receive from this remarkable system, they will continue to invest in higher education--and invest at pre-1980s levels. These profs deserve that support.  They give so much. This is one reason the Futures Initiative is dedicated to reinvesting in public education.
  • Same for graduate students teaching in the CUNY colleges.   (NB:  At the Graduate Center, people, under the leadership of President William Kelly, worked hard for over a decade to improve the situation.  In fact, older students jokingly refer to the more recent students, coming under the new compensation terms, as "The Millionaires."  Graduate Fellows now teach one course a term not two, in the second, third, and fourth years, as part of their fellowships.  They enter on five-year fellowships with support comparable to that of many other graduate programs in the country.  This is a hard-won victory.  Should they be paid more?  Of course!  That is another reason the Futures Initiative is dedicated to reinvestment in public higher education, for better graduate student compensation too.
  • There are too many adjuncts (the part-time, contingent faculty who teach so many college courses these days, not just at CUNY but everywhere, including at the Dukes and Harvards).   This is a national problem, a crisis even.  It is a problem at CUNY as in the rest of higher education in the U.S. As subsidy declines, continent faculty who are underpaid, have no benefits, and no job security are bearing the burden.  That is a debilitating, destructive system everywhere.
  • These are real, significant problems.  I do not want to ignore them but to make them part of our advocacy for re-investment in public higher education, in New York and everywhere.  It's our future and it's key to the Futures Initiative.

 

The Graduate Center and Training the Next Generation of Professors

 Even adding this necessary and urgent dose of realism, I feel enormous optimism about the system of CUNY professorial apprenticeship that is the Graduate Center.  Nearly a third of the undergraduate courses in the CUNY system are taught by the Graduate Center’s four thousand or so doctoral students.  That means the students most dedicated to their own research and future academic careers are also teaching a large percentage of CUNY undergraduates.  That is a vital, invigorating system--and happens to be the method of "teaching as learning, learning as teaching" most relevant to the particular historical moment we are living in when change is rampant, and we all have to learn how to be better learners.

The classes at CUNY are relatively small, in some fields and at some campuses hovering around thirty per class.  That’s a class size many private schools charging $50,000 a year tuition would boast about.   Introductory classes in the colleges are often taught by graduate students, who take full charge of the classes, form them, are responsible for the grading and assessments and assignments and (depending on the field and the campus) the syllabus and other features of the course too.  The Graduate Center is concerned with the quality of teaching and there are many excellent programs dedicated to pedagogy.   My own new position, directing the Futures Initiative, will be a work in progress, with direction spearheaded by student interest and faculty interest, and a collaboration with so many others at CUNY already dedicated to pedagogy and innovation, and to the systemic intertwining of research and teaching. 

As I begin my travels around the CUNY system, I see the benefits of graduate students dedicated to their own education working with the dedicated professors throughout the CUNY system and adding their own new energies and commitments into that system.  I've seen so much innovation in the colleges and community colleges, even in my short seven weeks here.  I see not just quality education but educational leadership for the world we live in now. I'm truly impressed with the quality of the teaching and the learning.  I don't think most New Yorkers have any idea how good it is. There is a vibrancy in the system, with so many new hires (we applauded 70 new hires at LaGuardia yesterday), so many doctoral students, all sharing their passion with the undergraduate students. 

To my mind, that structure of Graduate Center students learning and teaching at the same time not only empowers everyone, at every level, but it is the ideal structure of peer-learning for the interactive, connected world we live in now. At many PhD training research universities, the “plum” for graduate students is a fellowship that relieves you of having to teach.  That reinforces the wrong values:  the implication there is that teaching is somehow demeaning or distracting from the real job of doing research and that the truly gifted graduate students are rewarded by not having to teach.  

At the Graduate Center, teaching and research go hand in hand, as they should. Teaching a course each year during your second, third, and fourth years is excellent preparation for the life of an academic.  Pursuing cutting-edge research while teaching is the balancing act that never stops.  And shouldn’t if you believe that the goal of a university education is a constant interplay of the latest and best research with the best teaching. 

Teaching what you know and love to eager undergraduates is also the best way I know to really learn a field and remain cynical, flexible, motivated, and inspired by that field.

 

Peer Learning is Peer Teaching

When people ask me what I will be doing in the Futures Initiative, I always answer that the real question is what will the students and faculty who join the Futures Initiative want to do.   For example, we are currently scheduling an information session for early October.  During that session, we will talk about the course we are offering in the Spring and I hope that we will talk no more than five minutes and then leave the room--leaving those coming to find out information about the program to build the syllabus.  If that is an exciting prospect, building something with people you have never met before, sharing expertise and learning how to find the expertise of others and connect with it, the Futures Initiative is probably for you.  If you find that suspect or want to step in and control the process or want the professors to step in to control the proces, the Futures Initiative is definitely not for you!

 

The whole point is that much of our way of formal learning dictates the methods and measures the outcomes before it ever really empowers learners to find the best, most creative, most innovative ways to learn.  How you learn, how you become a collective, how you contribute what you know to a group, and how you learn to listen--truly and really and deeply listen--in order to move towards a goal are key.  How you learn patience is one of the most important skills in collaboration and we rarely teach the art of working towards a goal that may not be exactly your own today in order to build solidarity and trust and a movement that might more effectively build something far more consequential tomorrow.    The Futures Initiative is all about that.   But the actual participants will be the ones to find the way and lead one another in that process:  to my mind, that is already a revolutionary pedagogy.

 

Teaching and Research for the World We Live in Now

Even with that open-ended pursuit of student-directed knowledge, I should underscore that the Futures Initiative has a specific, digital and public impetus. Our argument is that on April 22, 1993, our world was changed when the scientists at the National Center for Supercomputing Operations released the Mosaic 1.0 browser to the general public.  By one estimate, Internet usage increased that year by 250,000 percent, one of the fastest and most global adaptations of any new technology, and for a powerful new tool that allowed us, for the first time in human history, to have an idea and communicate that idea to anyone else in the world with an Internet connection—without a pause button and without an editor.  That is a formidable power and a daunting responsibility that has changed all of our work, social, and civic lives.   It has barely made a dent in the Industrial Age model of higher education that we’ve inherited.

The Futures Initiative is dedicated to peer teaching and training, a new system of collaborative and peer training the next generation of college professors.  This means rethinking how we learn and credentialize learning for this Do It Yourself, interactive, data-crazed, fast-moving, paradigm changing world of Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of every day peer-learning. 

It’s just odd that we have one way of learning outside of the classroom and then we have educational institutions based on silo’d and specialized disciplines divided up in the late nineteenth century that saw the creation of the first graduate schools as well as professional medical, law, nursing, and business schools.  We still determine who will get into college with multiple choice tests invented in 1914.  We measure productivity, outcomes, and award diplomas using the four-year march to majors and minors, general education and specialized or distributed requirements, devised in the era of the Model T.

The Futures Initiative argues that peer-learning, collaborative practice, and the constant emphasis on how one gains mastery  is a core skill in an era of rapid change. Mastering content is importantl; knowing how to master new content, when the paradigms change yet again, is an essential, lifelong skill.  Given a world of constant change, knowing how to gain or regain expertise when your field is being updated as frequently as your iPhone’s operating system is a life skill and a success strategy.

The huge lecture hall—the so-called “sage on the stage” model—may have worked in the top-down research university of the Industrial Era but it isn’t working now. Certainly the recent interest in Massive Online Open Courseware (MOOCs) has fizzled because MOOCs digitize the one-directional learning model of the lecture hall, with a canned presentation by someone who has already achieved expertise.  In the conventional video format, MOOCs do not offer much opportunity for learning by doing, for rethinking in iterative, integrated, interactive, collaborative modes that the new workplace demands.  (Sidenote:  This is changing; many inventive professors are playing with turning MOOCs into interactive experiences, as we did last year, in fact, with our MOOC on "The History and Future of Higher Education" where, each week, my face-to-face students served as TA's encouraging the 18,000+ students online to do some kind of interactive, collaborative, world-wide "jam" or exercise.)

But in the classroom, where we have the opportunity to interact, to inspire, and perhaps even encourage students to stay in school and graduate against all the contingencies and exigencies of their lives, we need to engage and connect.  The Futures Initiative encourages graduate students to explore better models of connected learning, to take advantage of the array of digital tools we all use outside of school, and to find the best new ways of doing research in a world where issues of security, privacy, and intellectual property are urgent and where we need to learn new skills for attention and for responsible, credible participation.

         

Reinvesting in Public Education

There is also a polemical, even "public relations" aspect of the Futures Initiative implicit in its name.We call it the Futures Initiative because, like stock market futures, public education is a  collective investment that returns its dividends later.   For the last fifty years, the U.S. has seen a decline in support for public education.  This is a disaster for civil society.  While the rest of the world is amping up its education, we are undercutting our students by cutting the support to higher education so much that it requires ever higher tuition costs.   Do we really want a society where only the rich can be educated?  What kind of democracy is that?  How can that be good for civil society or for a healthy economy in a technological time?    The Futures Initiative has as one of its functions the modeling of the benefits of higher education to society in order to encourage reinvestment in public higher education. 

College students are voluntary learners:  no one forces you to go to college.  As such, they are also all of our role models since, in times of great change, we all have to relearn, be constantly open to new skills, new training, new ideas, new modes and practices. 

CUNY is a vast and great system of public urban education.  Yet most New Yorkers have no idea of how precious its investment in the future is.  I’ve heard people say they graduated from CUNY “when it was good.”   Well, folks, it’s good again.

 

Pay attention, New York!

Everyone in the country is looking for a "solution" to the high cost of higher education. There is no magic.  MOOCs won't solve "the problem" of the cost of higher education.  We all have to take the educational mission seriously and reinvest in public higher education.  That is the first step.  The second step is to ensure that the education is as relevant to this historical moment as the systems we’ve inherited were to the late 19th and early 20th centuries for which they were designed.   And a final step is for New Yorkers themselves to recognize the importance of the astonishing resource that is CUNY.  The eighty-five percent.  As a former Durhamite (and a native Chicagoan), it gives me amusing pride to admonish you to be immodest about this remarkable accomplishment:  New York, know thyself! 

 

--(Revised Oct 4, 2014--some statistics have been corrected, updated, or added, and some comments in the above post were clarified and amplified after the comments were added below and after a very useful conversation with my former student Matthew Clark.  Special thanks to Matthew for this exchanged and, always, for his continued passion on behalf of higher education, equality, fairness, equity, and adequate compensation.   I also made some clarifications after the Graduate Center event with Elizabeth Warren and Graduate Center Professor Paul Krugman).

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7 comments

In many - too many - ways the future you portray for CUNY reflects its own - and most other - higher ed roots. Keep in mind that Harvard is still the fourth branch of Massachusetts goverment (Executive, Legislative, Judicial, and, in Chapter 5 of the Constitution, "the college in Cambridge"). and did not itself charge tuition for more than two centuries. For that matter, Cooper Union only started this year, as did Olin College (in Needham, MA). The tradition of free public education has largely been undermined by 20th century rhetoric and 21st century greed.

But it is not only the cost to which you refer. It's the culture. In that New York - and a very few other cities - has a distinctive and important message. We learn from others what we need to improve our lives and the lives of others. Pretty simple message, and therefore pretty often ignored.

As a Columbia alumnus, with the 1968 rebellion as continuing relevant history, it seems almost obvious that the idea of a university you now find at CUNY reflects the idealism of universities from their beginning. One of my favorite memories is of David Truman (whose career at Columbia was ended by the 1968 rebellion), years after Columbia, while President of Mt. Holyoke, peering at me over the rim of his cup and observing, "Mark Rudd was a freshman when you were a senior." For too many, the "Underground" has gone...under ground. As you re-discover it, don't forget its roots.

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This is an excellent description of an inspiring crusade to make higher education affordable for those who can benefit from it the most.  Thanks Cathy for always giving us a reason to keep hope alive for brighter #futuresed!

I was inspired to respond to this piece by one of my current professors here at Duke, Luke Bretherton.  Today in Luke’s class we discussed the role of lament in social change.  We were reminded how the prophet Jeremiah used lament to usher in a message of change in his own time.  In Jeremiah’s lamentations of the current state of Judah, we do not receive the kind of pessimistic condemnation we might expect.  The providential “therefore,” as Walter Brueggemann reminds us, is followed by an assurance of solidarity, protection, and future.  This is to say that the prophet’s lament gives way to hope.  Lament is not a dead-end, self-service gripe.  This is not whining we’re talking about.  Productive lamentation exists in a space between hurried optimism and motionless pessimism.  

One of the dangers or pitfalls for change-makers living in a world after Thatcher and Reagan is that there isn’t enough room in change-oriented discourse for lament.  Harbingers these days are supposed to be hopeful.  And we often forget the necessary connection between pain and promise that prophets like Jeremiah understand.  We must insist that there is a space for the kind of lamentations that are crucial for social change.  We need to make sure that the voices we hear are those of the oppressed.  Instead of focusing on a hasty hope dealt to us by those who have benefited from the favorable conditions of higher education’s past, we need to pause and clear a spot for those who are experiencing and consequently lamenting higher education’s present.  If we don’t, our assurance of solidarity, protection, and future is at risk.

My concern is that we need more lamentations before we can move forward in a way that is sustainably constructive.  And we are not hearing the voices of those who are most qualified to lament.

Regarding the state of the CUNY system, the desirability of the education it provides, and the conditions for the possibility of its 85%, here is an abbreviated list of voices we should be most interested in hearing:

Sean M. Kennedy, Graduate Center, CUNY

Elizabeth Sibilia, Graduate Center, CUNY

Wendy Tronrud, Graduate Center, CUNY

Dadland Maye, Graduate Center, CUNY

Öykü Tekten, Graduate Center, CUNY

Erica Kaufman, Institute for Writing & Thinking, Bard College

R. Josh Scannell, Graduate Center, CUNY

Preeti Sampat, Graduate Center, CUNY

Peter Matt, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Margaret Hanzimanolis, City College of San Francisco, De Anza College, Cañada College, California Part-Time Faculty Association

Debangshu Roychoudhury, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jack Longmate, Olympic College

Monique Whitaker, Hunter College, CUNY

Anna Spiro, retired CUNY adjunct

Rafael A. Mutis, Hostos Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Jennifer Prince, Graduate Center, CUNY

Esther Bernstein, Graduate Center, CUNY

Héctor Agredano, City College, Bronx Community College, and Graduate Center, CUNY

Collette Sosnowy, Graduate Center, CUNY

Megan Paslawski, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kristen Hackett, Graduate Center, CUNY

Fang Xu, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Christina Nadler, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kristin Moriah, Graduate Center, CUNY

James Anthony Phillips, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice

Tristan K. Husby, City College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Erin Michaels, Graduate Center, CUNY

Cameron Pearson, Queens College, CUNY

David Tillyer, City College, CUNY

Amy Martin, Graduate Center, CUNY

Colin P. Ashley, Doctoral Students’ Council Co-Chair for Business, Graduate Center, CUNY

Ian Foster, Graduate Center, CUNY

Derrick Gentry, alumnus, Graduate Center, CUNY

Melissa Phruksachart, Graduate Center, CUNY

Maureen E. Fadem, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

Alec Magnet, Graduate Center, CUNY

Erin M. Andersen, Graduate Center, CUNY

Ashna Ali, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jerry Levinsky, Member UALE, COCAL Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor

Michael A. Rumore, Graduate Center, CUNY

Makeba Lavan, Graduate Center, CUNY

Conor Tomás Reed, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY; Free University-NYC

Kathryn Moss, Graduate Center, CUNY

David Spataro, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kenneth H. Ryesky, Queens College, CUNY

Betsy Smith, Cape Cod Community College; member of MCCC, MTA, and NEA

Isabel Cuervo, alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jennifer Chancellor, Graduate Center, CUNY

Luke Elliott, Graduate Center, CUNY

CUNY Adjunct Project

Alan Trevithick, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY

Ann Kottner, York College, CUNY

Vanessa Vaile, Precarious Faculty Network

Mary Carroll, Lehman College, CUNY

Linda Neiberg, Baruch College, CUNY

Brian Unger, Graduate Center, CUNY

Ian Green, Graduate Center, CUNY

Eric Lott, Graduate Center, CUNY

John Sorrentino, John Jay College, CUNY

Hulya Sakarya, Mercy College

Allison E. Brown, Graduate Center, CUNY

Rayya El Zein, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Melissa K. Marturano, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Ross Borden, SUNY–Cortland

Frank Reiser, Nassau Community College

Dominique Nisperos, Graduate Center, CUNY

Amanda Matles, Graduate Center, CUNY

Lavelle Porter, City Tech and Graduate Center, CUNY

Lauren Tenley, College of Staten Island and alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY

Mary N. Taylor, Graduate Center, CUNY

Edwin Mayorga, Graduate Center, CUNY

Charlotte Thurston, Graduate Center, CUNY

Robin Hizme, Queens College, CUNY

Sue Clark-Wittenberg, Director, International Campaign to Ban Electroshock

Wilson Sherwin, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY

James D. Hoff, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Mark Drury, Graduate Center, CUNY

Anton Borst, Hunter College, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jason Schulman, Lehman College, CUNY

Wilma Borelli, Lehman College, CUNY

Daniel Nieves, City College and Lehman College, CUNY

Elizabeth Bidwell Goetz, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Maria L. Plochocki, Baruch and College Now, CUNY

Sara Jane Stoner, Graduate Center, CUNY

Anna Gjika, Graduate Center, CUNY

Alicia Andrzejewski, Graduate Center, CUNY

Paul Hebert, Queens College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Patrick Reilly, Baruch College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Kara Van Cleaf, Graduate Center, CUNY

Harry T. Cason, College of Staten Island, CUNY

Kylah Torre, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kate O’Donoghue, Queens College, CUNY

Keith Hoeller, editor, Equality for Contingent Faculty; co-founder, Washington Part-Time Faculty Association

Karen Gregory, City College and Center for Worker Education, CUNY

Michael Friedman, Queens College, CUNY

Heather Heim, Lehman College, CUNY

Marnie Weigle, San Diego City College

Austin Bailey, Hunter College, CUNY

Leigh Somerville, Queens College, CUNY

Lindsey Freer, Macaulay Honors College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Graduate Center, CUNY

Nathaniel Sheets, CUNY Graduate Center, Hunter College

Brianne Bolin, Columbia College Chicago

Sean Collins, trustee, Troy Area Labor Council

Meyer A. Rothberg, alumnus (1958), City College, CUNY

John Martin, chair, California Part-time Faculty Association

Jonathan R. Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Marga Ryersbach, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

Andrew Akinmoladun, Bronx Community College, CUNY

Thomas Smith, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Tyler T. Schmidt, Lehman College, CUNY

Sarah Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Reid Friedson, Adjunct Faculty Union

Emily Nell, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jack Henning

Vakhtang Gomelauri, Global Center for Advanced Studies

Brenden Beck, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Brandon Kreitler, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Alex Kudera, author, Fight for Your Long Day, Clemson University

Aysenur Ataman, College of Staten Island and Graduate Center, CUNY

Anthony Galluzzo, Queens College, CUNY

Jenna Gibbs, Florida International University

Ryan Daley, former NYCCT adjunct; Red Hook Initiative

David Parsons, Baruch College

Rebecca Schuman, all-purpose higher-ed loudmouth

Daniel Levine, alumnus (2013), Baruch College; writer

Stanley W. Rogouski

Kelly Eckenrode, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Danny Sanchez, Queens College, CUNY; member, Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee

Michelle Chen, Graduate Center, CUNY

Carol Lipton

Michael Pollak

Aaron Botwick, Graduate Center, CUNY

Naja Berg Hougaard, Graduate Center, CUNY

Gerhard Joseph, Lehman College, CUNY

Catherine Liu, alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY; University of California–Irvine

Emma Myers, Borough of Manhattan Community College and City Tech, CUNY

Marimer Berberena, Hostos Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Seth Sanders, Trinity College

Evgeniya Koroleva, Graduate Center, CUNY

Johannes Burgers, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

Angelina Tallaj-Garcia, Graduate Center, CUNY

Alexander Chee

Sansanee Sermprungsuk

Lisa Regula Meyer, Kent State University

Sonia Maldonado, Hostos Community College, CUNY

Natalie Yasmin Soto, alumna (‘09) Hunter College, former adjunct, Medgar Evers College, CUNY; NYC public high school teacher

Matthew H. Clark, Duke University, former Teaching Faculty at Coastal Carolina University

These are the signatories of an important open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the CUNY union (PSC).  Most are current or former Teaching Faculty in the CUNY system.  I hope that we will make a space for their lamentations because they are the condition for the possibility of the 85%.  Without them, there is no 85%.  Without them, there is no Futures Initiative.  Without them, there is no CUNY.  

While keeping in mind that the voices we need to hear are those listed above (and others like them), here are some questions that need to be addressed before the Futures Initiative can have a future at CUNY or anywhere else:

1.  What types of courses are taught by well paid and supported research faculty?  What percentage of courses is taught by research faculty?  What percentage of student credit hour production (course units/credit hours X students enrolled) is supported by research faculty?  

2.  What types of courses are taught by poorly paid and supported teaching faculty?  What percentage of courses are taught by teaching faculty?  What percentage of student credit hour production (course units/credit hours X students enrolled) is supported by teaching faculty?

3.  What percentage of total academic salary outlays goes to research faculty?  What percentage of total academic salary outlays goes to teaching faculty?

4.  What roles do teaching faculty play in faculty governance and institutional service?  Are they compensated for their work?  How much are they compensated for this work?

5.  What roles do teaching faculty play in research?  Are they compensated for their work?  How much are they compensated for this work?

6.  Is the distribution of labor and compensation revealed by accurate and responsibly reported answers to above questions desirable?  If not, what are we going to do about it?

A large part of Cathy’s reflection focuses on graduate students, the exciting experiences they’re having at the CUNY graduate center, and the role the Futures Initiative will play in those experiences.  As mentioned here, it’s important to highlight the crucial role graduate students play in the production of the 85%.  In spite of the fact that CUNY graduate students teach over a third of CUNY courses, the most common fellowship at the CUNY graduate center only provides a $25,000 per year stipend (not quite enough for a 1 bedroom apartment in Manhattan).  Here is a list of public services that are available for households of 1 (individuals) making $25,000/year in New York City:

Family Planning Benefit Program (FPBP)

Health Insurance Assistance

Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP)

NYCHA Resident Economic Empowerment and Sustainability (REES)

Section 8 Housing Assistance

Workforce1

There may be reasons for graduate students at the CUNY graduate center to lament.  Let’s hear their voices.

Here are some questions that may need to be answered before graduate students can invest their lives in CUNY and the Futures Initiative:

1.  What types of courses are taught by graduate students?  

2.  How essential is graduate student labor to the CUNY budget/funding model?

3.  Why weren’t graduate students and teaching faculty featured in Barbara Bowen’s short-sighted praise of the mayor’s CUNY budget recommendations?

4. What are the exhaustive outcome/placement records of the CUNY graduate center?  Why aren’t the exhaustive outcome/placement records published on the CUNY graduate center’s website?  Why are vague statements published instead of hard statistics?

5.  To what extent, if any, does the CUNY graduate center lie to or conceal facts from its prospective students in order to support the levels of graduate student labor that the CUNY budget requires?

6.  What would it take to get accurate and verifiable data on all of the above matters published on CUNY websites?  [If the Futures Initiative is dedicated to the inclusion and interpretation of data into methods of higher learning, then why not start here?]

I don’t think we’re ready for a message of hope.  I definitely don’t think CUNY is a model upon which other systems should base their higher education efforts.  I agree wholeheartedly that New York should know thyself!  But we need to be open and honest about what that would mean.  Before we draw these conclusions, there must be room for lament.  The lamentations of teaching faculty, of graduate students, of graduates, of prospective students need to be heard.  We need to listen.  

Are we prepared to listen?

I’m listening.  If you can’t reply here, feel free to follow me on twitter @mhced or shoot me an email (matthew.clark@duke.edu) with your thoughts.

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Hi Matthew,

 

Thanks for this.  This is an important conversation to have--and you and I and our class made the defunding of public education a center piece of many of our discussions and I hope we will continue to do so in the future.  As we talked about so many times last Spring in the "History and Future of Higher Education" course, we've seen a fifty year defunding of public higher education with disastrous consequences across the spectrum--from exhorbitant tuition costs at most universities (public and private) to adjunctification of the profession (including at universities that charge those exhorbitant tuition costs due to lack of funding or other reasons).   CUNY offers affordable, high quality education.  That is a public good.   Adjunctification, overworked and underpaid faculty are not  a public good.  Both of those statements are true. 

I posted this blog inspired by my morning at the Opening Sessions at LaGuardia Community College.  I'm not sure I've ever seen so many committed, energetic, innovative, profoundly forward-thinking faculty, staff, and administrators.  Quite frankly, I was blown away.   I've heard educational theorists talk boldly about brilliant innovative higher education reforms--including with VC's putting quite literally tens if not hundres of millions of dollars into these "innovations."   But at LaGCC, certainly one of the least well funded of public institutions and with students coming from often very stressed circumstances, these innovations were being tried, tested, posed by remarkably collaborative "jams" and other processes that exemplify, to my mind, the best not just in higher education but in the practices of institutional change.   I admit, I was bowled over.  If there was less "lament" in this blog than in many of them--or in the class you took with me at Duke University last Spring--it was, quite frankly, because it was partly because I felt inspired by these remarkable teachers at the Opening Sessions. 

But a fifty year defunding of higher education is certainly cause for lament.  I just don't want it to be a lament of the adjuncts but of society.   That is my polemic on behalf of higher education today.  Indeed, the reason this new initiative is called "futures" (rather than future) is that a large motivation for this program is to change the cynical, negative, corporation put-downs of higher education that are the basis for a fifty-year defunding of higher education.  Higher education is crucially importants for individuals and for society.   The contempt heaped upon public higher education as the justification for budget cuts in so many cities and states is simply unfair and often, implicitly, the justification for for-profits to move into areas that should be non-profit.   (There are analogies to the contempt in which public school K-12 teachers are held . . . as justification for the privatization of public school systems, which, research shows, increasingly turn out not to be offering better education, just more profits for those running such schools).   We need to keep these strands separate and yet also see how they are related if we are going to understand, truly, cost and benefit in terms of social goods.   We are trying to use the language of futures (going all the way back to Aristotle) to talk about a civil society's collective investment in higher education--not just for simple profit but for the possibilities of a more, just equitable society for those most excluded from that promise.   That includes adjuncts, some of whom are graduate students, many of whom are not.   The adjunct crisis is, to my mind, one of the biggest problems in higher education today.   The cost of higher education is another of the biggest problems in higher education today.   We are all hurt by both of these problems.

 

Where you and I have a different approach is that I believe focusing specifically and only on the adjunct crisis obscures the larger social predicament of what happens when a society turns its back on collective goods.  That 85% of full-time CUNY undergraduates are able to graduate without tuition debt is a tremendous social good.  Period.  It is good for those students, including the very poorest by any demographic.   It is good for the city.  It is good for the society.

 

That the 85% is achieved partly by continuing support for higher education relative to other states (per capita) is good.  That it is also achieved partly by underpaid and overworked faculty (full time as well as adjunct, professors as well as graduate students) and staff is not a social good.   If the Futures Initiative is successful it is not just to "lament" the problem but to work to address it, to fix it, to help to change a social attitude.  I do not wish to change the 85% figure for undergraduates in a negative way.  I wish to change the possibilities for more equitable teaching profession in a positive way.   We need, together, to be linking the need for social goods, the needs of a civil society, the collective goods of all students and all professors, and all of this with what a society receives in return for increased support for its investment in the education of youth.  Hence futures.

 

We need to think systemically and systematically about the best ways of addressing and redressing the fifty-year downward support of public education by considering all its negative consequences and addressing those together. 

 

 

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Dear Cathy,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.  I agree wholeheartedly that this is an important matter of discussion, and so I think we should continue to discuss the issues you’ve so appropriately described until ethical actions are taken to eliminate obstacles standing in the way of #futuresed.  

While I can offer a more complete consideration of your response, I’d like to first highlight crucial parts of it for immediate discussion:

“Where you and I have a different approach is that I believe focusing specifically and only on the adjunct crisis obscures the larger social predicament of what happens when a society turns its back on collective goods.  That 85% of full-time CUNY undergraduates are able to graduate without tuition debt is a tremendous social good.  Period.  It is good for those students, including the very poorest by any demographic.   It is good for the city.  It is good for the society.”

I haven’t mentioned an adjunct crisis, and so it’s not possible that I’ve focused on it.  I think that you and I would agree that Teaching Faculty are exploited.  But I also think we’d agree that undergraduate students are exploited, graduate students are exploited, non-academic personnel are exploited, etc.  Our futures hang in the balance as we try as best we can to cope with various forms of exploitation.  

Also, I don’t think that the 85% is good in itself… period.  For instance, if we achieve the present 85% only to neglect the future 85%, the percentages cancel out.  If we achieve the 85% through immoral means, the present isn’t responsibly sanctioned.  If we’re investing in exploitative labor practices to make the present real and those exploitative labor practices aren’t sustainable, then responsible futures aren’t even possible.  

Finally, I think your comment misses the point of what I tried to say.  You state that the Futures Initiative isn’t meant to "lament the problem but to work to address it.”  My point is that we haven’t properly understood lamentation, and we haven’t provided a space for its expression.  If lamentation is a condition for the possibility of progress, and if we haven’t understood or provided the appropriate space for lamentation, then progress or addressing ‘the problem’ also isn’t possible.

The extent to which you miss my point is the extent to which you speak about matters that so many others cry about, lament about, and actually suffer from.  Right now, we need to make sure that the requisite lamentations are heard before we can even possibly make meaningful, long-term, sustainable progress toward #futuresed.

I keep a signed copy of your work Closing on my nightstand to remind me of the role that lamentation plays in social change.  In your words, you remind me to stay optimistic.  I say that there is a role for lamentation that precedes and even prefigures optimism!  Lamentation isn’t pessimistic because it transforms us into beings that are capable of social change, and it prepares us for the most radical act possible… the act of listening.

Once again, here are the voices that we need to listen to.  Here are the voices that need to be heard:

Sean M. Kennedy, Graduate Center, CUNY

Elizabeth Sibilia, Graduate Center, CUNY

Wendy Tronrud, Graduate Center, CUNY

Dadland Maye, Graduate Center, CUNY

Öykü Tekten, Graduate Center, CUNY

Erica Kaufman, Institute for Writing & Thinking, Bard College

R. Josh Scannell, Graduate Center, CUNY

Preeti Sampat, Graduate Center, CUNY

Peter Matt, Brooklyn College, CUNY

Margaret Hanzimanolis, City College of San Francisco, De Anza College, Cañada College, California Part-Time Faculty Association

Debangshu Roychoudhury, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jack Longmate, Olympic College

Monique Whitaker, Hunter College, CUNY

Anna Spiro, retired CUNY adjunct

Rafael A. Mutis, Hostos Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Jennifer Prince, Graduate Center, CUNY

Esther Bernstein, Graduate Center, CUNY

Héctor Agredano, City College, Bronx Community College, and Graduate Center, CUNY

Collette Sosnowy, Graduate Center, CUNY

Megan Paslawski, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kristen Hackett, Graduate Center, CUNY

Fang Xu, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Christina Nadler, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kristin Moriah, Graduate Center, CUNY

James Anthony Phillips, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice

Tristan K. Husby, City College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Erin Michaels, Graduate Center, CUNY

Cameron Pearson, Queens College, CUNY

David Tillyer, City College, CUNY

Amy Martin, Graduate Center, CUNY

Colin P. Ashley, Doctoral Students’ Council Co-Chair for Business, Graduate Center, CUNY

Ian Foster, Graduate Center, CUNY

Derrick Gentry, alumnus, Graduate Center, CUNY

Melissa Phruksachart, Graduate Center, CUNY

Maureen E. Fadem, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY

Alec Magnet, Graduate Center, CUNY

Erin M. Andersen, Graduate Center, CUNY

Ashna Ali, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jerry Levinsky, Member UALE, COCAL Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor

Michael A. Rumore, Graduate Center, CUNY

Makeba Lavan, Graduate Center, CUNY

Conor Tomás Reed, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY; Free University-NYC

Kathryn Moss, Graduate Center, CUNY

David Spataro, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kenneth H. Ryesky, Queens College, CUNY

Betsy Smith, Cape Cod Community College; member of MCCC, MTA, and NEA

Isabel Cuervo, alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jennifer Chancellor, Graduate Center, CUNY

Luke Elliott, Graduate Center, CUNY

CUNY Adjunct Project

Alan Trevithick, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY

Ann Kottner, York College, CUNY

Vanessa Vaile, Precarious Faculty Network

Mary Carroll, Lehman College, CUNY

Linda Neiberg, Baruch College, CUNY

Brian Unger, Graduate Center, CUNY

Ian Green, Graduate Center, CUNY

Eric Lott, Graduate Center, CUNY

John Sorrentino, John Jay College, CUNY

Hulya Sakarya, Mercy College

Allison E. Brown, Graduate Center, CUNY

Rayya El Zein, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Melissa K. Marturano, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Ross Borden, SUNY–Cortland

Frank Reiser, Nassau Community College

Dominique Nisperos, Graduate Center, CUNY

Amanda Matles, Graduate Center, CUNY

Lavelle Porter, City Tech and Graduate Center, CUNY

Lauren Tenley, College of Staten Island and alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY

Mary N. Taylor, Graduate Center, CUNY

Edwin Mayorga, Graduate Center, CUNY

Charlotte Thurston, Graduate Center, CUNY

Robin Hizme, Queens College, CUNY

Sue Clark-Wittenberg, Director, International Campaign to Ban Electroshock

Wilson Sherwin, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY

James D. Hoff, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Mark Drury, Graduate Center, CUNY

Anton Borst, Hunter College, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jason Schulman, Lehman College, CUNY

Wilma Borelli, Lehman College, CUNY

Daniel Nieves, City College and Lehman College, CUNY

Elizabeth Bidwell Goetz, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Maria L. Plochocki, Baruch and College Now, CUNY

Sara Jane Stoner, Graduate Center, CUNY

Anna Gjika, Graduate Center, CUNY

Alicia Andrzejewski, Graduate Center, CUNY

Paul Hebert, Queens College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Patrick Reilly, Baruch College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Kara Van Cleaf, Graduate Center, CUNY

Harry T. Cason, College of Staten Island, CUNY

Kylah Torre, Graduate Center, CUNY

Kate O’Donoghue, Queens College, CUNY

Keith Hoeller, editor, Equality for Contingent Faculty; co-founder, Washington Part-Time Faculty Association

Karen Gregory, City College and Center for Worker Education, CUNY

Michael Friedman, Queens College, CUNY

Heather Heim, Lehman College, CUNY

Marnie Weigle, San Diego City College

Austin Bailey, Hunter College, CUNY

Leigh Somerville, Queens College, CUNY

Lindsey Freer, Macaulay Honors College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Graduate Center, CUNY

Nathaniel Sheets, CUNY Graduate Center, Hunter College

Brianne Bolin, Columbia College Chicago

Sean Collins, trustee, Troy Area Labor Council

Meyer A. Rothberg, alumnus (1958), City College, CUNY

John Martin, chair, California Part-time Faculty Association

Jonathan R. Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Marga Ryersbach, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

Andrew Akinmoladun, Bronx Community College, CUNY

Thomas Smith, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Tyler T. Schmidt, Lehman College, CUNY

Sarah Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Reid Friedson, Adjunct Faculty Union

Emily Nell, Graduate Center, CUNY

Jack Henning

Vakhtang Gomelauri, Global Center for Advanced Studies

Brenden Beck, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Brandon Kreitler, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Alex Kudera, author, Fight for Your Long Day, Clemson University

Aysenur Ataman, College of Staten Island and Graduate Center, CUNY

Anthony Galluzzo, Queens College, CUNY

Jenna Gibbs, Florida International University

Ryan Daley, former NYCCT adjunct; Red Hook Initiative

David Parsons, Baruch College

Rebecca Schuman, all-purpose higher-ed loudmouth

Daniel Levine, alumnus (2013), Baruch College; writer

Stanley W. Rogouski

Kelly Eckenrode, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Danny Sanchez, Queens College, CUNY; member, Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee

Michelle Chen, Graduate Center, CUNY

Carol Lipton

Michael Pollak

Aaron Botwick, Graduate Center, CUNY

Naja Berg Hougaard, Graduate Center, CUNY

Gerhard Joseph, Lehman College, CUNY

Catherine Liu, alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY; University of California–Irvine

Emma Myers, Borough of Manhattan Community College and City Tech, CUNY

Marimer Berberena, Hostos Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY

Seth Sanders, Trinity College

Evgeniya Koroleva, Graduate Center, CUNY

Johannes Burgers, Queensborough Community College, CUNY

Angelina Tallaj-Garcia, Graduate Center, CUNY

Alexander Chee

Sansanee Sermprungsuk

Lisa Regula Meyer, Kent State University

Sonia Maldonado, Hostos Community College, CUNY

Natalie Yasmin Soto, alumna (‘09) Hunter College, former adjunct, Medgar Evers College, CUNY; NYC public high school teacher

Matthew H. Clark, Duke University, former Teaching Faculty at Coastal Carolina University  

We need to make sure we’ve listened to and thought hard about the open letter to Barbara Bowen, and if it's at all possible, I think we should focus on answers to the list of questions I've provided in my previous post.  

I support $7k/course for CUNY Teaching Faculty, and I believe that doing so represents part of a set of conditions for the possibility of the success of CUNYGC’s Futures Initiative.  Therefore, supporting the Futures Initiative means supporting CUNY Teaching Faculty.

All the best in life and labor,
Matthew - @mhced

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Hi again, Matthew, Of course we must learn to listen, Matthew.  And one has to understand the position one is in and the realm in which one can enact change--to me, that is the goal of an activist.  Within X institution, at this moment, I have the power, capacity, drive, and goal to enact change in Y way.  I have the power to focus on pedagogical change now as part of the peer-driven learning of the Futures Initiative.  We hope by this dramatic teaching and learning of how to learn and teach we can inspire and influence institutional change.  I do not have a magic wand to make that level of institutional change happen.  Would that I did, would that I could!  7K per course sounds wonderful and I wish I could make it happen.  Unfortunately, I do not have that power. 

 

I am also cautious as someone coming from Duke about lamenting what is wrong with a system I'm brand new to, one that has the audacity to still, in an America that has abandoned the poor and the middle class in so many ways, to ofter low cost quality higher education to half a million full, part, and unregistered students.  Amazing.  Audacious.  Beyond what other cities are doing.  Beyond is the trend in America.  THAT is the model. Is it perfect?  Far from it.  Is it a worthy ambition? Yes.  I am humbled by it.  In awe of the ambition and not about to "lament" when the rest of the country needs to aspire to this.  Does it need to be improved?  Of course. Of course.  Of course.  

******

In order to learn the most effective way to enact change. This is such an important issue that I plan to really pay attention to it and learn more once my boxes are unpacked, team is hired, and so many other "to dos" of changing jobs, cities, houses, etc, are more in order.   By no means do I mean to say I'm not listening.  As you know from the project you are doing and the feedback I've been giving you, this is an issue of great importance to me--not only at CUNY but throughout higher education. 

We've also talked about how one goes about getting data.  I'm amazed at how hard it is to obtain comparative data in our data-intensive way.

The first project of "Mapping the Futures of Higher Education," the first course offered as part of the Futures Initiative, is a crowdsourced data and fact finding public mission where we create--through a crowdsourced public listening and display of information project-- the CUNY Map of New York to find out who contributes what, where, and how.   Believe me, the letter you refer to will be part of that mapping project. 

As you and I have discussed before, there is remarkably little stable data on these kinds of figures and we hope to contribute by engaging students, faculty, and community in a collaborative and collective effort. Is 7K a course the right amount?   Too little?  What are the comparables, what are the variables, what other things will have to change  when we change that figure, what has to change in terms of level of support from the state and city in order to meet that goal?  Those kinds of questions are all crucial for real change.  The Futures Initiative will be about learning to understand how to change and to listen to all shareholders in order to make effective change.

Questions include:

--how much do tax dollars contribute to the cost of education in the system?

--how much do student's tuition dollars contribute?  (Please note the 85% is not total student debt--but only tuition debt; most CUNY students work at outside jobs to pay their tuitions and they support themselves even as they take classes; a large percentage of CUNY students are part-time and work two and three jobs, sometimes full-time; an unknown percent are "non-registered" learners who pay tution, take courses, never graduate---it's a complex public, urban system that serves some half a million people in many different ways, including the city's most disadvantaged.  We need to listen there too, to them, to their needs. Low tuition allows greater access to higher education. Matthew, please heed the extensive research on how tuition debt contributes to drop out rates--no one wants to raise tuition for the most disadvantaged since it greatly jeopardizes success.  Data exist on this.  Tuition is a small part of "paying for college," especially in a city as expensive as New York.  You need to listen to that lament too, of those who have no change of any college education at all without low tuition costs.  The 85% should be a point of huge pride because it is what allows access to those who have no other resources.  So here is the issue, so far as I'm concerned:  How do we achieve equitable pay for faculty, full and part time, and keep tuitions low?  What other means might there be to achieve the goal of fair treatment and compensation for all and access to higher education for the largest number of people? And how do we do this while maintaining high quality while still working to rethink the forms, structures, methods of higher education, including many outmoded, traditional structures? I must admit I prefer strategizing change to lamenting the status quo--which is certainly lamentable on many levels. You know me so you know I've spent my entire career challenging the status quo.)

We need to listen to many voices, many factors in order to make change

--how much does outside labor contribute to costs?  how much does 'inside' labor contribute (work study, staff jobs, etc)

--how much do faculty at all ranks contribute?

--how much do adjunct faculty contribute?

--how much do graduate students contribute? (until recently, GC students taught two classes a term, not one.  In my opinion that is way too much; this is a very positive and impressive step).

 

Thanks for this, Matthew.  I don't want us to hijack this conversation in only one direction nor do I want the two of us to be the dominant voices. You and I have so many chances to talk.  There are so many others who need to be in this conversation and in so many directions, not only this one.  Listening to the whole story is hugely important.  It is systemic change that we must strive for.  The persons you list by name are extremely important.  Of course we must listen.  There are many voices to listen to.  Carefully.  All of us. Not just at CUNY but everywhere. Even at elite schools such as the one where I taught for many years and where you are now a graduate student, Duke, where the material conditions, student body, and resources are so different from CUNY's colleges and community colleges.  Learning to listen, learning to change.   I've only been there at CUNY for seven weeks.  I've never lived in NYC before.  I have so much to listen to, so much to learn! I am humble about what I do not know, how many people I can listen to and learn from.  Today at Laguardia Community College was my first CUNY talk about the Futures Initiative.  It is not mine.  It is a collaborative, communal, peer-led project with many facets and, once we get going, it will have so many more.  This blog was a start.  Thanks for listening!

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Hi Cathy, 

Thanks so much for this!  I think this is a great conversation, and I'm proud to be a part of your Futures Initiative.  I agree that we need to make room for other voices, so I'll keep this comment short.  

I support what CUNY Teaching Faculty want for CUNY.  I think they know what's best for their institution.  If 7K/course is the amount they're bargaining for, then I want to do everything I can to hear that call and to make sure others hear it.

I also agree with you that it may not be a good idea for those who have been so fortunate to engage in the process of lament.  Instead, we need to make room for those that are already lamenting.  I think this is exactly what you intend to do with the Futures Initiative, and I'm excited to see how the process of listening unfolds!  Listening to lamenting voices is the first step in a successful process of social change.  No other winning strategy is possible until we've crossed that necessary threshold.  And I don't think we have yet.

Always the best in life and labor, 
Matthew

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Elizabeth Warren and Paul Krugman are at the Graduate Center CUNY talking about crushing student loan debt and its relationship to career choices, buying houses, and other economic indicators.  They are also talking about the importance of education to finding jobs.   A penetrating and excellent interview---except why are they not mentioning the low rate of debt of CUNY students?  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/09/04/watch-live-elizabeth-warren-and-pa...

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