CUNY embraces mediocrity in the name of equity


Equity, to paraphrase Kris Kristofferson, is just another word for fooling the foolish. Take New York City University.

CUNY, once America’s premier urban public university, all but disappeared into the equity abyss four decades ago; it was saved after a mighty battle and returned to a reasonable degree of its former respectability.

Now things are going downhill at an accelerating pace – ostensibly in the name of equality of outcome – and no one seems to notice, much less care.

The university’s latest surrender to mediocrity came in mid-January, when Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez made a grand announcement that it will no longer be necessary to do academic work at the university level to receive graduate credit at CUNY’s seven community colleges.

How long it will take for that policy to migrate to the institution’s 11 senior colleges is anyone’s guess; entropy is what it is, but it will happen soon enough – if it hasn’t already.

Here’s a summary of the sad facts.

CUNY’s student body is overwhelmingly drawn from the New York City public school system. Long ago, when city schools were more or less working, CUNY freshmen arrived more or less prepared for college-level education.

CUNY’s seven community colleges no longer require college-level academic work to receive graduate credit.
Christopher Sadowski

This began to change as Gotham’s public schools gradually fell victim to cultural change, a greedy teachers’ union, and deep political neglect.

Social promotion became the rule and CUNY classrooms began to fill with extremely unprepared students. At the time, just about anyone could walk through the door and take a seat, regardless of qualifications.

The results were predictable: highly racialized political unrest and a sharp decline in the university’s already deteriorating academic standards and reputation.

Then, in the late 1990s, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, the late Herman Badillo, former CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, and a brave group of others teamed up on reforms to ensure college-level freshman work before graduating.

The doors were still open, but the unqualified were led to mandatory, non-credit-repairing classes to prepare for the main event. And the colleges moved on to educating bona fide students.

Aside from charter schools, this was arguably the most significant win for quality public education in New York in decades.

Mathematics, Engineering and Science Academy Charter High School
CUNY’s student body is drawn from the New York City public school system.
Stephen Yang

And it was this restoration that Rodriguez blatantly “reformed” last month.

“Replacing the outdated remedial approach with a more effective, equitable and fact-based system is an important step forward in our ongoing mission to provide educational opportunities for our students,” he proclaimed.

“A large majority of the students assigned to further education courses were low-income students of color,” he continued, “who were unable to take credits and progress toward their degrees.”

Students were excluded from credits because of color? This is pernicious nonsense.

They couldn’t do the job, and — individual efforts aside — the structural blame goes to the $31 billion-a-year shipwreck now masquerading as a New York City public school system.

Manhattan Charter School
Unqualified students were directed to mandatory, non-credit-repairing classes to prepare for the main event.
JC Rice

(These days, kids don’t even have to come to school to graduate, let alone pass tests, and far too many do neither.)

Race plays its usual role here – as a haven for villains. Rodriguez has to explain how awarding credit for learning skills that should have been mastered by ninth grade helps everyone, especially “students of color.”

But this would expose his fraud for what it is, so don’t hold your breath.

Nevertheless, his children will one day enter the workplace – largely unprepared – and while the equity scam is making dubious headway there too, most of them will be in for a rude shock.

Yes, the chancellor is playing an embarrassingly cynical game here, but there’s probably more to it than race-baiting: recruiting more marginalized kids means more tuition and scholarship income for a financially strapped institution suffering from a 9% drop in enrollment after the pandemic. Follow the money, as they say.

Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez
Dr. Felix V. Matos Rodriguez became the chancellor of the City University of New York in 2019.
Paul Martinka

But while Rodriguez’s guilt is real, he is just the latest in a long line of “educators” who have shaken the integrity of what was once a partnership between K-16 and world-class public education.

In the late 1990s, then-State Commissioner of Education, Richard Mills, began devaluing New York’s gold-standard regent exam accountability system. Today, Albany is on the verge of giving it up altogether: The decline is real, ongoing — and perhaps even terminal.

And at every step along the way, this slow-motion disintegration is justified, at least inferentially, as necessary for “students of color” to fit in.

That is, if you can’t teach them, blame them.

It’s a pathetic, patronizing approach to public education – and yet Rodriguez seems proud of what he’s done.

For shame.


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