CUNY Board Votes Again to End Remedial Classes at Senior Colleges
The Board of Trustees once again votes out remedial classes at senior colleges despite CUNY's own studies showing some 50% of Blacks, Latinos, and Asians applying are to be blocked from entering into the senior colleges. Students and faculty see the Board's cowardly actions, snuck in during the winter break, as another attack on New York's working class.
By Brad Sigal, Alex Hogan, and Rob Wallace
Remedial classes are now slated to end at CCNY next year. While we were on vacation, CUNY's Board of Trustees snuck in a vote to end remedial classes at all four-year CUNY colleges. The decision will continue to be challenged by students and faculty, as well as by civil rights and human rights organizations in the courts and by the New York State Board of Regents.
Even though the Board of Trustees called the vote while students were on break in order to avoid protests and publicity, hundreds of students and faculty found out about it and showed up to disrupt the historic vote that could end the era of 'open admissions' at CUNY.
STUDENTS HUMILIATE THE BOARD
In the face of chanting from students and faculty in the audience, the Board of Trustees voted 10 to 5 to eliminate all remedial education at all senior colleges by the year 2001 at their January 25 meeting. The plan stipulates the phasing out of remedial instruction. Remediation will end in January 2000 at Baruch, Brooklyn, Queens and Hunter; in September 2000 at Lehman, City College, John Jay, College of Staten Island, New York City Technical and in September 2001 at Medgar Evers and York. After that date any student failing any one of the three assessment tests in reading, writing and math will not be allowed to enroll at any CUNY senior colleges. In effect, the assessment or SKAT tests become entrance exams.
The vote to end remediation was originally held in May but the Board was forced to revote because of a ruling by the State Supreme Court which blocked its implementation. The Court found a suit filed by City College psychology professor William Crain and graduate student David Suker had merit and that the Board was guilty of violating New York's open meeting law by expelling the public audience after some in attendance heckled the Trustees and holding the meeting in a too-small room.
Over 400 students, professors and community members packed into the Mainstage Theatre at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens to witness the vote. It was held there instead of the regular Board meeting place at East 80th Street in order to accommodate the expected large turnout and to get around the court's ruling that the Board had violated the open meetings law in the May 1998 vote.
The auditorium was peppered with pro-remediation and pro-CUNY signs with a variety of slogans including City College for City People and Save Open Admissions among others. From the opening of the meeting, members of the audience began to loudly chant Keep Admissions Open! and Keep the door open!
Chairwoman Anne A. Paolucci looked visibly shaken as the crescendo of voices began to rise as she attempted to give the University report.
Paolucci also periodically warned the audience that if they continued, they would be removed. However only one protester, William Crain, professor of psychology at City College, was removed. He was dressed in graduation robes and was wearing a sign saying "Save CUNY" and was arrested as he attempted to move near the stage where the Trustees were seated. Crain called his academic garb, his "battle uniform". Crain told the Messenger the garb was "symbolic of an academy getting destroyed."
Trustee James P. Murphy opposed the resolution and attempted to tack on an amendment which would have substantially altered the original resolution. His amendment called for excluding only those students who failed the assessment tests in math and reading and allowing those students who failed the writing test one semester of remediation at the senior colleges. The majority of students with English as a second language fail the writing test. Asking the audience to quiet down, Murphy said that under this amendment we won't be driving out our most qualified students. The amendment only drew support from five other Board members and was voted down.
Many in the audience chanted "No compromise! No compromise!", feeling Murphy's alternative was hardly any better.
Trustee Edith Everett, who in the past has defended remediation, was particularly critical of the resolution. More than 75% of American colleges have remediation she said. She went on to attack those members of the Board who supported the plan. "They repeat these false numbers and then they are reprinted in the tabloids," she said.
Also critical of the resolution was Richard Stone, who despite voting for it last spring said "I and other trustees who voted, expressed concern about the motion." Despite this, Stone who supported Murphy's amendment, eventually voted for the original resolution, as he had done in May.
Speaking in favor of the resolution was Trustee George Rios. Echoing President Clinton's State of the Union address which denounced social promotion in the schools, Rios, barely audible above audience booing, declared, "By supporting social promotion, we are supporting failure."
In an unsuccessful last ditch effort to prevent the resolution from being voted in untouched, Everett moved to have an amendment attached to it which would have prevented it from being implemented without it first being examined by the State Board of Regents. Her effort failed and the vote was taken on the original resolution.
Along with Paolucci, Rios, and Stone, the trustees in favor of the original resolution were Herman Badillo, who for years has attacked remediation, John Calandra, Alfred. Curtis, Kenneth. Cook, Ronald Marino, Satish Babbar, and Kathleen Pesile. Voting against it were, along with Murphy and Everett, were John Morning, Mizanoor Biswas (the student trustee), and Nilda Soto Ruiz. Trustee Michael Crimmins was absent.
Professor Crain told the Messenger that during the meeting he had "a feeling of horror".
"We're moving back into an age long-past, into days of slavery. 81% of U.S. colleges offer remediation. Now the poor and people of color won't have that help. It's just disgraceful," Crain said.
Despite the loss today, defenders of remediation are arguing that all is not lost. The most likely option that was floated was some sort of lawsuit. "I want to assure all that this not the end game, we will continue to fight...There is the courts, the Board of Regents, the court of public opinion and the ballot box," said Trustee Murphy.
EFFECT ON CITY COLLEGE
Of incoming City College freshmen in 1997, 51.8% had to take at least one remedial class, while 78.9% of incoming SEEK students had to take at least one remedial class. If this new policy is implemented it will force current remedial students back to a community college, and will bar incoming students who don't pass the three placement exams. Going by CCNY's 1997 data (the most recent available), this would mean a drop in freshman enrollment by 51.8% and a drop in SEEK enrollment of 78.9% at City College. December 1998 SKAT test data show 62% of this year's freshman class will require remedial classes. Proposals to further downsize CCNY by closing entire departments and firing faculty and staff are sure to come. SEEK would be in serious danger after losing almost 80% of its students.
Kenyi Ogando, a psychology major at City College who is also in the SEEK program and a member of Students for Educational Rights, told the Messenger, "[The Board's decision] is completely wrong. They should allow minority students to go to college. We should go to the high schools and let the students know what's going on. I took the math remediation class and it helped me pass the SKAT test. Why can't students that follow me have that opportunity?"
In the face of this obvious assault on CCNY, President Moses has remained conspicuously silent. Her only statement to the campus was a June 10 "presidential communique" in which she declared she was working to prepare City College for a post-remediation future. But Moses wrote nothing in defense of remediation and the policy of Open Admissions.
In fact, last semester Moses forwarded a collaborator's agenda, submitting a plan to reduce remediation at City. The plan, City College for the Twenty-First Century, called for stopping remediation after one semester, denying students who fail all three SKAT tests entrance into CCNY, requiring SAT test scores and Regents credits.The plan was voted down in a resolution by CCNY's Faculty Senate in December.