Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York

Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York

by Alexandra W. Logue
Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York

Pathways to Reform: Credits and Conflict at The City University of New York

by Alexandra W. Logue


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A personal account of the implementation of a controversial credit transfer program at the nation's third-largest university

Change is notoriously difficult in any large organization. Institutions of higher education are no exception. From 2010 to 2013, Alexandra Logue, then chief academic officer of The City University of New York, led a controversial reform initiative known as Pathways. The program aimed to facilitate the transfer of credits among the university’s nineteen constituent colleges in order to improve graduation rates—a long-recognized problem for public universities such as CUNY. Hotly debated, Pathways met with vociferous resistance from many faculty members, drew the attention of local and national media, and resulted in lengthy legal action. In Pathways to Reform, Logue, the figure at the center of the maelstrom, blends vivid personal narrative with an objective perspective to tell how this hard-fought plan was successfully implemented at the third-largest university in the United States.

Logue vividly illustrates why change does or does not take place in higher education, and the professional and personal tolls exacted. Looking through the lens of the Pathways program and factoring in key players, she analyzes how governance structures and conflicting interests, along with other institutional factors, impede change—which, Logue shows, is all too rare, slow, and costly. In this environment, she argues, it is shared governance, combined with a strong, central decision-making authority, that best facilitates necessary reform. Logue presents a compelling investigation of not only transfer policy but also power dynamics and university leadership.

Shedding light on the inner workings of one of the most important public institutions in the nation, Pathways to Reform provides the first full account of how, despite opposition, a complex higher education initiative was realized.

All net royalties received by the author from sales of this book will be donated to The City University of New York to support undergraduate student financial aid.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691169941
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/19/2017
Series: The William G. Bowen Series , #106
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Alexandra W. Logue is a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the Graduate Center, CUNY. From 2008 to 2014, she served as executive vice chancellor and university provost of the CUNY system. She is the author of The Psychology of Eating and Drinking and Self-Control: Waiting Until Tomorrow for What You Want Today. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt


Passing the Pathways Resolution

JUNE 27, 2011


A regular meeting of the Board of Trustees shall take place on MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2011 AT 4:30 P.M., IN ROOM 14-220, BARUCH COLLEGE VERTICAL CAMPUS, at 55 Lexington Avenue (corner of 24th Street), New York, New York. ... The proceedings will be telecast live on CUNY-TV, cable Channel 75, and online

Room 14-220 at Baruch College is one of the largest rooms for meetings at The City University of New York. When you sit at one end of the room, as I always did, the faces of the people at the other end are smudges. This room was chosen for meetings of CUNY's Board of Trustees because it was so big — not in order to hold large audiences, but to make sure there was a large gap between the people in the audience at one end of the room and the people participating in the meeting at the other end: no-man's-land. Some time in the memories of veterans of the CUNY central office, when the board meetings were held at what was then CUNY headquarters on East Eightieth Street, someone in the audience had leapt up and stood on the meeting table until a trustee grabbed the leaper's leg and pulled him down. And on another occasion, when the board was meeting at CUNY's LaGuardia Community College, an audience member had thrown a stink bomb, hitting a vice chancellor. Thus the necessity of no-man's-land.

Now, for every board meeting, the official participants — CUNY board members, chancellor, vice chancellors, and college presidents — sat at a huge square made of tables. Given that CUNY has twenty-four college presidents and deans of freestanding professional schools, as well as a couple dozen board members and vice chancellors, the square needed to be very big indeed. As executive vice chancellor and university provost, I sat on the farthest edge of that square, along what might be called the top of the room, to the right of the chancellor, Matthew Goldstein. The chancellor is the CEO of the CUNY system of colleges, and I was its chief academic officer.

The room's layout meant that people sitting on the side of the square opposite me and Matt had their backs to no-man's-land and the audience. These seats were always occupied by college presidents.

On one side of the room was a low platform for the technicians doing the recording and broadcasting of the meeting, and there were also multiple technicians around the room operating large standing video cameras. By law, CUNY board meetings are public — they are broadcast live on CUNY TV and the web, and a video recording is available online afterward, in addition to the fact that members of the public may attend in person.

On June 27, 2011, the audience consisted of the usual staff members from the CUNY central office and colleges, and a few interested faculty members. But on this day there were also a lot of additional staff from my section of the CUNY central office (the Office of Academic Affairs), plus around twenty students. All these people were there because a vote on Pathways — CUNY's controversial proposed new policy for fixing CUNY students' decades-long problems in transferring credits — was on the board agenda. I couldn't see the students well from where I was sitting, but I knew they were there because many were wearing the blue sports shirts of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD), a group that had been strongly supporting Pathways due to the particular challenges facing disabled students when their credits didn't transfer. I also couldn't see well the plainclothes peace officers who were always scattered through the audience in case of trouble (to prevent a dash through no-man's-land or the throwing of noxious substances). On this day, given the controversy about Pathways, there was a greater-than-zero probability that someone would do something that would interfere with the meeting's proceedings.

One person whom I could see well was sitting directly behind me and the chancellor, in the small space between us and the shaded windows at the top of the room. This person was Dave Fields, senior university dean and special counsel to the chancellor. Dave's job at board meetings was to watch the whole room while staying close to the chancellor. For these meetings he put on a jacket and tie, rare for him, and his long gray hair was pulled back in a neat ponytail.

Dave and Jay Hershenson, senior vice chancellor for university relations, had been student protest leaders at Queens College in their distant youth, and both had a long history of supporting students. In fact, Dave, who is a few years older than Jay, had once been Jay's instructor for a college course. As part of that course, Dave, a lawyer, gave Jay the assignment to change a law. Through some hard work in Albany, Jay managed to change the law specifying the composition of the CUNY board so that, ever since, the board had included a voting student representative (Jay, at the time), but a nonvoting faculty representative, in addition to the many voting members appointed by the governor and the mayor. For the several decades leading up to June 2011, Jay, consistent with his substantial physique, had been a formidable, unstoppable force in the CUNY central administration, and with Dave and others he had worked tirelessly to preserve and enhance CUNY's reputation, some might say at no matter what the cost. At board meetings Jay sat at the top of the room, where he no longer had a vote but could survey everything going on and give directions to staff around the room as needed.

A protest leader of a different sort was seated on the edge of the square to my right: Professor Sandi Cooper, chair of the University Faculty Senate (UFS) and the sole faculty member participant in board meetings. The UFS consists of faculty representatives elected from each CUNY college. This was Sandi's third stint as the chair of this group. Her previous two chairships, which lasted from 1994 to 1998, were marked by greater-than-usual acrimony between the UFS and the CUNY central administration, including multiple lawsuits filed by Sandi and the UFS.

On June 27, 2011, I knew this about her, and I also knew that she was a historian (though I had little awareness of her scholarship). Consistent with her academic specialty, I knew that she frequently made references to CUNY events that she had witnessed many decades in the past, including when she was emitting her frequent critiques of current administrative efforts. Most notably on this day, I knew her as the leader of the faculty opposition to Pathways. Had I also known at that time that her scholarly specialty involved the history of peace movements (or one might say protest movements) — and that, prior to the Pathways controversy, she had published close to twenty letters/op-eds in the New York Times and engaged in anti-CUNY-administration activities for many decades — I might have thought a little longer about opposing her on Pathways. Her New York University doctoral dissertation, which she conceived in a 1958–1959 NYU class following her undergraduate work at CUNY's City College, contained a section on modern European peace movements. Her New York Times pieces were on topics ranging from the deteriorating New York subways (1977) to reform in Russia (1987) to the particular difficulties that women have in reaching career heights (2000) to the Nobel Peace Prize (2006). I also didn't know that just two years before this board meeting she had won the Peace History Society Lifetime Achievement Award. Nor that she had been the subject of more than one news article describing allegations that she was racist and a Communist. She was a public, controversial figure.

Instead, at that time, what I saw was a professor near the end of a long career at CUNY. With gray hair gathered loosely in back of her head, she had a habit of pursing her lips, down turned at the corners, when she finished a statement. I had been told that she had recently lost her husband. I believed that she cared deeply about her family and junior colleagues. In fact, it was just half an hour before the meeting started that Sandi told us she would attend — she had originally said she had to care for a sick relative at the time of the meeting, but then she had found someone else to provide that care in her stead.

Though many of my interactions with Sandi had been difficult, some had not. For example, a few months earlier, when she and I and others were being instructed on how to use iPads to access board committee meeting materials, she asked our instructor whether she would get cancer of the fingers from using the iPad. I thought that comment clever and laughed. Then I realized that no one else in the room was laughing.

But on this day amusing incidents involving Sandi were far from my mind. As usual, I entered room 14-220 the back way, escorted by peace officers, thus avoiding having to pass through the metal detectors required for anyone seeking to sit in the audience. As soon as I entered the room, I scanned it for any possible trouble. My colleagues and I had tried to anticipate everything that could interfere with passing the Pathways resolution, but I had learned only too well in the past few months that I could not predict what form trouble might take. Just a few weeks earlier Sandi had advised faculty to protest Pathways by attending a public meeting in their academic regalia and passing out leaflets. What had she told them to do at this board meeting? I couldn't see many faculty in the audience, but maybe that was just because the audience was so far away.

Soon after we entered the room, Benno Schmidt — board chair and former president of Yale and dean of Columbia's Law School — sitting between Matt and Jay, called the meeting to order. With his wire-rim glasses, round face, dark suit, light shirt, and striped tie, he had a scholarly as well as authoritative appearance. As at every board meeting, on this day he first read aloud the rules of conduct: "The Board must carry out the functions assigned to it by law and therefore cannot tolerate conduct that disrupts its meetings. In the event of disruptions, including noise, which interferes with Board discussion, after appropriate warning I will ask the security staff to remove persons engaging in disruptive conduct. The University may seek disciplinary and/or criminal sanctions against persons who engage in conduct that violates the University's rules or State laws, which prohibit interference with the work of public bodies."

I sat in my place, trying not to move, and especially not to activate any of my facial muscles in ways that would indicate any emotions. Seated next to Matt, I could be on camera at any time, and I had had much experience with people telling me that they could see exactly how I felt. I couldn't show how anxious I was about the Pathways resolution, and there would be close to an hour before we got to that part of the agenda.

I was wearing a new yellow suit, bought for the occasion. I knew it would be visible in the sea of dark jackets all around me (including the one Sandi wore), and yellow had special significance for me. It had been my mother's favorite color; she said it was associated with intelligence, and — without consulting me or my soon-to-be husband — she had announced it as the color theme for my wedding almost forty years previously. To me yellow heralded the beginning of summer, a special time for academics, who use that season for scholarly productivity and rejuvenation. Then, too, the suit and the white shell I was wearing underneath it provided coverage for the heart rate monitor I was wearing for a week to check on my occasional heart arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation), which had been flaring up in recent months. Large patches of my skin underneath the suit were raw from repeatedly using tape to hold the many pieces of the monitor close to my body so that no one could detect that I was wearing it.

Benno then made his opening remarks. Much of what he said concerned CUNY's now having a "rational tuition policy." After years of effort by CUNY, New York State had finally approved CUNY's raising full-time annual tuition for New York State residents by up to three hundred dollars in each of the next five years, and there was a commitment that CUNY could keep the additional funds. Benno thanked Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for this, and pointed out that this new policy would allow CUNY to have long-term financial stability and the ability to do long-term planning, rare in American public higher education. Given the research I had done since graduate school on the maximization of long-term rewards, I agreed with Benno that this new policy would be highly instrumental in enabling a better future for CUNY. Later in the meeting, Benno said that the rational tuition policy "deserves to be seen ... as the Chancellor's greatest achievement to date." Nowhere in his remarks did Benno mention Pathways.

Matt's report followed Benno's. On this day, as usual, he wore an expensive dark suit and an expensive watch. To me his suits, wire-rim glasses, fascination with watches, and large, pale, oval head, with a little bit of gray hair remaining on the sides, projected wisdom. Other people did not react so positively.

Matt's report, also as usual, lasted about thirty minutes. He read from his notes slowly, covering many topics. As chancellor since 1999, widely credited with reversing CUNY's decline, he always presented reports that contained much good news. Similar to Benno, Matt talked about the rational tuition policy. Students would know how much money they would have to pay years in advance, and CUNY would know how much money it had to spend years in advance. It took ten years to establish this policy, with CUNY "working so hard on something, not giving up, and finally seeing the light of day." He praised Governor Cuomo for "taking on something that others either never thought about doing or dismissed from doing, but he really made it happen." This sounded to me like what we (the CUNY administration) had been doing with the Pathways Project, but Matt never mentioned Pathways.

In addition to the rational tuition policy, Matt reported on two nascent CUNY entities: the new CUNY School of Public Health (a complex, collaborative SPH involving four CUNY colleges, which had recently been granted full, five-year accreditation), and Guttman Community College (CUNY's first new college in over forty years, which had just been approved by the Higher Education Committee of the New York State Board of Regents). I had been the central office lead person for the School of Public Health initiative since its inception in 2008, and had also played a critical role in the establishment of Guttman, so Matt's report on these two entities was very gratifying to hear.

Many chancellors would never have taken on even one of these projects — the rational tuition policy, the collaborative School of Public Health, and Guttman Community College — each of which involved huge amounts of work and also huge amounts of political controversy.

Toward the end of his report Matt always mentioned honors won by people participating in the meeting, and on that day, for the first time, I was one of them. I had been given the Distinguished Alumna Award by Springside School in Philadelphia, the independent school for girls that I attended from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The award recognized my successful academic career, which had relied heavily on collecting and analyzing data, both in the context of basic research and, more recently, as an administrator. But as he spoke about the award, I was unable to think about my past accomplishments. All I could think about was what would or would not be accomplished during this board meeting — would the Pathways resolution pass or would there be some sort of debacle resulting in tragic defeat? Though board meetings were completely scripted because of their public nature, and though all of us in the CUNY central administration had done everything we could think of to prepare for this vote on the Pathways resolution, all it took was one person going off script in order for unpredictable things to happen. Such was the case when, just a month earlier, with no apparent warning, a trustee criticized the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Tony Kushner during a board meeting, and the board then voted to deny Kushner an honorary degree (a decision that was reversed one week later). Given that recent incident, for this meeting's Pathways vote we had taken the precaution of warning some trustees not to even second any amendments that Sandi might propose for the Pathways resolution. We told them that, were they to second an amendment, they could then be drawn into the litigation that we thought would surely follow passage of the Pathways resolution.


Excerpted from "Pathways to Reform"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Alexandra W. Logue.
Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Publisher’s Note xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Abbreviations xix

Chronology xxi

Introduction Starting the Journey 1

1 Passing the Pathways Resolution: June 27, 2011 9

2 Antecedents: 1961 to Summer 2010 31

3 Formulating the Resolution: October 2010 through January 2011 55

4 The True Colors of Spring 2011: Shaping the Final Resolution 83

5 Models of Governance in June 2011: Rwanda, a CAPPR Meeting, and a Public Hearing 115

6 A Core Foundation: July 2011 through December 2011 151

7 The Devil Is in the Details: January 2012 through August 2012 179

8 English Studies: September 2012 through December 2012 217

9 Sprinting and Stretching for the Finish Line: January 2013 through June 2013 246

10 Transitions: July 2013 through December 2013 275

11 Legal Matters: June 2011 through June 2015 295

12 What Does It All Mean? Changing Course with Pathways 318

Epilogue Reaching the End of the Path 356

Notes 377

Names Index 415

Subject Index 421

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"This intense, personal memoir of a contentious episode in The City University of New York's recent history painstakingly recounts the complicated events surrounding a set of policies designed to help students transfer credits, with the goal of improving graduation rates and educational attainment. A riveting account of power and authority, Pathways to Reform demonstrates how difficult it is to achieve change when vested interests are at stake and compromise is viewed as surrender."—Eugene M. Tobin, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

"Pathways to Reform provides a guide to colleges on how to avoid the pitfalls and survive the minefields at every stage of creating a core curriculum, from planning to implementation. With the narrative flow of a novel, and carefully presenting all views while objectively arguing her position, Logue puts readers firmly in the places—onstage and backstage—where arguments, counterarguments, and negotiations occurred at The City University of New York."—Elizabeth Nunez, Hunter College, CUNY

"This interesting and engaging book looks at the history and controversy related to The City University of New York's Pathways program. Telling a good story, it describes the background that led to the need for Pathways, the features of the reform program, the steps for developing and approving the reform, and the controversies and conflict surrounding this process."—Thomas Bailey, Teachers College, Columbia University

"An insider's story of a major reform and curricular effort at a huge public university, Pathways to Reform simultaneously reflects upon the implications of the author's experiences for undertaking change in higher education. Giving a scrupulously fair description of a contentious endeavor to effect change at CUNY, Logue has written an important book."—Paul Attewell, Graduate Center, City University of New York

"Examining transfer policies at The City University of New York, Pathways to Reform contains many insights into university governance and the trials and tribulations of change in higher education. Well-documented and exceptionally well-written, the book's accounts of the interplay between the central administration and the faculty and unions are revealing. There is no other book like this one."—William G. Bowen, author of Lesson Plan: An Agenda for Change in American Higher Education

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