Despite Faculty Opposition, CUNY Board Votes to Standardize Some Requirements and Streamline Transfers

June 27, 2011

The Board of Trustees of the City University of New York voted unanimously Monday to simplify transfer requirements and standardize core curricula across the 23-campus system, a move that many faculty members say dilutes academic standards and undermines their role in shaping academic policy.

Under the new guidelines, all CUNY campuses are required to grant credit for any course completed at another CUNY institution, a change designed to ease students' transfer from the system's community colleges to bachelor's-degree programs. The resolution also streamlines and limits general-education requirements, dismantling the extensive core curricula in place on many campuses.

Several board members called the vote a historic moment for the CUNY system, which manages the transfer of approximately 10,000 students between its campuses each year.

"It is time for CUNY to break with its long history of putting up barriers between transfer students and their graduation goals," said Alexandra W. Logue, executive vice chancellor and university provost.

Officials proposed the new policy after the University's Office of Academic Affairs issued a report in October that said "excess credits" taken by transfer students to meet graduation requirements at their receiving campuses cost the system and its students $73-million each year. These students, the report says, often took far more courses than the 120 credits required for most bachelor's degrees because so many of their credits did not transfer.

The University Faculty Senate has issued several resolutions opposing the proposal, which it said would undermine its authority to determine the curriculum and maintain a unique academic identity on each CUNY campus. Since March the faculty group has collected more than 40 statements of opposition from faculty and student committees on 12 CUNY campuses.

"Yes, there is a transfer problem," said Sandi E. Cooper, chair of the faculty senate and a nonvoting faculty representative to the Board of Trustees, at the board meeting. "But it is not to be solved by eliminating the kind of education that prepares people to cope with a world where they are likely to be fired in two to four years from the job they have trained for. Nor is the outcome of a slippery transfer policy likely to help any student who does poorly after transfer because of lack of preparation."

Ms. Cooper added in an interview after the meeting that she does not object to some revisions in CUNY's transfer policies, but she said that faculty have not been given adequate power in overseeing those changes.

CUNY's new policy comes on the heels of a similar policy change made by the State University of New York system in 2009 and mirrors a wider national trend toward simplifying transfers between two- and four-year institutions. The CUNY case, however, has proven unusually complicated and divisive because of the wide variety of core academic requirements in place on its campuses.

After the vote, Benno C. Schmidt Jr., chair of the Board of Trustees, said he believed the resolution would help the university assert a common identity across its two dozen campuses.

"This sends a very strong message that there are no second-class students at CUNY and there are no second-class campuses," he told trustees and onlookers. "We are one university, and our students deserve to be able to attend one university."