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Yesterday I reported on an attempt by CUNY administrators to dismantle the English department at the system’s Queensborough Community College in retaliation for the department’s refusal to approve a restructuring of its composition program.

That reporting was based on a public excerpt from a letter sent by QCC Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Steele to Linda Reesman, chair of the QCC English department, on Thursday evening. I have since received a full copy of that letter, and I am reproducing it in its entirety below. (For reference, Diane Call is the president of Queensborough CC.)

From: Steele, Karen B.

Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2012 18:17:39 -0400

To: Linda Reesman

Cc: Call, Diane B.

Subject: EN-101, 102 and 103

Dear Linda,

First let me thank you and the department for your gracious reception and serious discussion at yesterday’s department meeting. I am glad we had a chance to address some of the issues that the College and the department have been grappling with since the beginning of the calendar year. However, I may not have conveyed sufficiently the urgency of the issues for the department.

I understand the Department voted against the new English composition courses. While I appreciate the difficult choices before the department, that decision has serious repercussions for the College and the department. As I mentioned at the meeting, we will no longer be able to offer EN-101, 102, or 103 in their current configuration ( i.e., four contact hours) as of Fall 2013. Since we don’t have in place courses that will meet the Pathways requirements for the Common Core, we can’t put forward a Fall 2013 schedule of classes that includes English Composition courses. Given that fact, and the resultant dramatic drop in enrollment, we will have to take the following actions:

    • All searches for full time faculty in the English Department will be cancelled immediately
    • The existing EN 101, 102, and 103 will not be included in the common core, and therefore will not be offered in Fall 13
    • Beginning March 2013 (our Fall 13 advisement cycle), continuing and new students will be advised to take the common core requirement for I A at another CUNY institution, since the courses will not be available at Queensborough
    • Neither EN 101 or 103, nor EN 102 will be submitted to the University in the QCC list of ‘gateway’ courses for the English Major (we must submit the list of gateway major courses by October 1, 2012)
    • Of necessity, all adjunct faculty in the English department will be sent letters of non-reappointment for Fall 2013
    • The reappointment of full time faculty in the English Department will be subject to ability to pay and Fall 13 enrollment in department courses

Regretfully,

Karen

URGENT UPDATE, September 16:

I’ve spoken with a QCC faculty member who has confirmed the report below and added important new details on crucial elements of the story, including the vote count from the faculty meeting, the nature of the administration’s threats, and the department’s plans for the future.

Please read and distribute today’s post before continuing.

•          •          •

This is an astounding story.

On Wednesday the English department at Queensborough Community College voted not to adopt a policy of the City University of New York to reduce composition course credits from four to three. In so doing, they rejected the CUNY Pathways initiative, a proposal for streamlining and centralizing CUNY curricula which many faculty regard as antithetical to students’ needs.

Administrators didn’t like this. And in fact they disliked it so much that Queensborough announced two days later that they’re dismantling the QCC English department in retaliation.

In an email sent to the department chair yesterday QCC Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Steele announced that because the English department insists on granting four credits for composition courses, those courses will no longer be offered by the college and QCC students will be sent to other CUNY campuses to fulfill their composition requirements. Since composition represents such a significant portion of the department’s offerings, moreover,

  • All searches to fill full-time positions in the department will be cancelled.
  • All English department adjuncts at Queensborough will be fired.
  • And the appointments of all current full-time faculty in the department will be “subject to ability to pay and Fall ’13 enrollment in department courses.”

When I first read this, I assumed that there must be some spin involved — surely the administration wouldn’t be so brazen as to explicitly state that they were prepared to essentially eliminate a college’s English department over a credit-hour dispute.

But they are. It’s all there in black and white. (PSC, the CUNY faculty union, is filing a labor grievance, threatening a federal lawsuit, and urging the department to stand strong.)

Horrifying.

•          •          •

Update: It’s worth underscoring one element of this that I mentioned only in passing in the original post.

CUNY community college students are pretty much the definition of “at risk.” They’re disproportionately returning students, first-generation students, the working poor, English language learners, recent immigrants, parents, caregivers. If you make them leave their home campus for one of their foundational courses, a significant proportion just won’t make it through that hoop. And when you knock a CUNY student out of college, there’s a good chance they’re never coming back.

So what’s happening here is that the QCC administration is announcing a plan of action — and again, this isn’t phrased as a threat, it’s presented as a done deal — which will have the effect of dumping some of the college’s most endangered students out of CUNY as collateral damage in a curricular turf war. It’s truly reprehensible.

Second Update: I’ve just been over to the Queensborough website for a little digging.

From what I can see, 175 of the English department’s 206 sections this semester are in composition, which means that the administration is planning to eliminate nearly 85% of the of the department’s current offerings. Given that English has a total of 26 full-time faculty listed on its departmental page, and given that the full-time CUNY community college courseload for three-credit courses is 4/5, the elimination of composition would mean the firing of nearly three-quarters of the department’s full-time faculty even after the termination of all part-timers.

Third Update: Earlier this evening, in response to some skepticism about this post, I put together an update going through the email message posted at the PSC website and explaining how it backs up what I reported above. In it, I addressed the possibility that the QCC email was fraudulent.

I’ve taken that update down and replaced it with this one because I’ve just had communication with a QCC faculty member confirming the validity of the email posted at the PSC website and the accuracy of my description of its contents. This is real, and if anything the full story is even worse than what’s been reported so far.

I’m going to bed now, but I’ll have much more in the morning.

Fourth Update: I’ve obtained a complete copy of the Queensborough letter, and have posted it here. More soon.

Fifth Update, September 16: Again, there’s much more information at this new post, including inside news from last week’s faculty meeting and more on the department’s plans for the future.

This is really cool.

The Student Labor Action Project, a group that works with students across the US on economic justice organizing, has just completed a year-by-year history of its work. Here’s a sample, chosen pretty much at random:

2006

SLAP students at Temple University and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia waged a campaign against security guard firm, AlliedBarton. Philly SLAP and the city’s Jobs with Justice coalition held numerous marches and protests to try and secure a living wage and benefits for security officers working on campuses and throughout the city. In Vermont, SLAP students also ran a living wage campaign for campuses workers. The National Student Labor Week of Action featured 250 actions on campuses. In addition to living wage campaigns going on throughout the nation, SLAP students also held actions against American Eagle and in solidarity with the Justice at Smithfield campaign.

In 2006, the Living Wage Action Coalition was founded to coordinate living wage campaigns taking place across the country. LWAC grew out of a living wage campaign at Georgetown University, and the students who ran that campaign hoped to create a larger network that could provide trainings, resources, and supports for struggles across the country. SLAP was a major partner with LWAC and provided its expertise to the assist the movement for a living wage.

Carlos Jimenez was hired as the fifth SLAP Coordinator.

This kind of narrative history is crucial to any movement, and student activists may be less likely to produce it than any other group. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to mention something about an organization or movement in a larger work, but had to drop it or cut it down because I couldn’t find a solid overview source and didn’t have time to build one from scratch.

My dissertation was intended to fill one such gap, but there are a ridiculous number of others, many of them huge. Here’s to filling gaps.

December’s unemployment rate, announced this morning, was 7.9% for women, 8.0% for men. But it was 8.5% overall. Who’s missing?

Teenagers.

The unemployment rate for Americans aged 16 to 19 was a staggering 23.1%. For black teens it was nearly double that — 42.3%. If you were a black teenager in the US last month, and you were actively trying to work — not just hoping to work, not just willing to work, but actively searching for a job — the chances were almost 50/50 that you weren’t able to find even a part-time gig.

And you want to hear the really scary part? These numbers are an improvement. Teen unemployment has dropped almost ten percent (from 25.3% to 23.1%) since August, and black teen unemployment has fallen from 46.3% to 42.3% in the same stretch.

The Student Labor Action Project, a joint effort of the United States Student Association and Jobs With Justice, has posted a set of OWS reports from student activists at U Mass Amherst, George Washington University, the University of Oregon, the University of Central Florida, and Brandeis.

From the introduction by SLAP coordinator Chris Hicks:

“What the mainstream media has failed to understand is that what the youth, the workers, and the unemployed want is justice. This is a justice that has been denied to many of us in our lifetimes – an idea that we once heard of but have never known. The issues that so many of us fight for can all be traced back to the same small group of people: it’s the corporate lobbyists that have prevented any meaningful change to immigration laws; it has been the corporations that have scaled back workers rights; it has been the corporations that have drowned college graduates in debt. For the first time in my life, we have been able to step back from our single issues and collectively look at who is responsible for the injustice we face daily and say, ‘It’s time to make Wall Street pay.’

“We are not demanding reform. We are not demanding that the current system left to us be improved. We are demanding transformative and fundamental change. We are acknowledging that the current system has not worked for us, and that we need something new if we are to going to create a sustainable future.

“When we look back a year from now and ask, ‘What happened at Wall Street?’ it’ll be very clear. We stood against those that oppress and said ‘Enough.'”

Go read the whole thing.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall
StudentActivism.net is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

To contact Angus, click here. For more about him, check out AngusJohnston.com.

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