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CUNY Closed versus Academic Continuity: An Institutional Choice– republished from 10/2012

Note: This post, published about 7.5 years ago, followed- up on my Academic Continuity post earlier that year. It reflects on a major snow event which crippled learning at CUNY for several days. I proposed that online learning could prove effective in this and other emergencies, and that the chief mission of CUNY, academics, could continue despite such challenges.

The post below is unedited from the original version.

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The current weather-related closing of all CUNY campuses for several days this week offers a case study in emergency preparedness or lack thereof. In bold red letters, many campus websites proclaim:

All (CUNY College of choice) Classes and Activities Cancelled Monday, Oct. 29, Tuesday, Oct. 30, Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1

Such emergency notifications on college websites represent a significant improvement over the previous policy of recorded telephone messages.  However, the message is clear; the storm has hit, so the college is closed.  Everyone can rejoice in a job well done; clear communication and a few days off from school or work. However, I’m not everyone.  I believe this crisis could have been better addressed if the university had a clear vision, policy, and procedures for ongoing teaching/learning during this storm and other emergencies.

Imagine, if you would, this message on campus websites . . .

Teaching and Learning Continue at all CUNY Campuses.

Despite College Facilities being Closed from Monday, Oct. 29, through Thursday, Nov. 1, Classes will Continue to be Held Online.
See link for more details . . .

The link would provide information on how students can continue their studies via Blackboard and/or other tools used to deliver course content, submit assignments and interact with the class. An instructor may even schedule an ad-hoc webinar during hours normally reserved for that class or in the evening. In other words, the primary purpose of the college — teaching and learning — will continue despite the crisis at hand. This concept is called “academic continuity” and has been included as part of emergency planning in those higher education institutions with vision and leadership in this area.

In my blog post earlier this year entitled, ” Online and Emergency Planing,” I discuss an important article (see reference below) that explores the need to include academic continuity in an emergency plan. It is ironic that the emergency preparedness policies that colleges typically promulgate consider every contingency except the one that is most important, namely, how teaching and learning will continue to be conducted despite the emergency at hand. In my estimation, this shows a significant lack of imagination and understanding of how to manage such events by CUNY.  Does teaching and learning stop dead in its tracks because a storm blows through, or can we plan for these eventualities and make faculty responsible for the maintenance of teaching in such circumstances? I believe we can establish reasonable academic continuity policies, especially considering that all CUNY matriculated courses automatically have a Blackboard course shell assigned. Professors can be apprised of this fact, and be given succinct instructions on how to access the class, post materials, send emails and conduct the class using several fairly basic technologies.

In my previous blog post I offered several recommendations for creating a worthwhile emergency plan within CUNY – or any university – that addresses the issue of academic continuity by:

  1. An accessible website about emergency planning and preparedness.
  2. A clear statement that after concerns of safety have been addressed, the University affirms that academic continuity is a second priority in times of crisis.
  3. A clear explanation to the CUNY community how faculty, staff and students can restore academic continuity.
  4. A new training program to be initiated for all CUNY faculty which shows how online learning might be utilized to restore academics in case of an emergency.
  5. A recommended “in case of emergency” section in syllabi for all CUNY courses.
  6. A plan and procedure for staff/administrators/faculty to meet and collaborate during the period that campuses are closed (e.g., administrative continuity plan).

These procedures will require planning, program design and implementation, publicity and a modicum of resources to implement. If CUNY administrators, faculty and other stakeholders are serious about the mission of this institution, I believe it is imperative to include a well-designed section on academic continuity in our emergency plans. In light of the cost and disruption of this emergency — essentially suspending classes for the duration of a week — there is an opportunity for some reflection and possibly action —  taken to ensure such plans in the future. With such planning in place, it is possible that the next emergency may again close our campuses,  yet keep open the educational process for our students.

References:

Benton, T. H. (2009, November 30). “Teaching in the Plague Year,” The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-in-the-Plague-Year/49275.  (An excellent article about  the H1N1 epidemic and higher education’s disaster preparedness.)

Meyer, Katrina & Wilson, Jeffery (2011). “The Role of Online Learning In the Emergency Plans of Flagship Institutions,” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume IV, Number I, Spring 2011, University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center. Retrieved from: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring141/meyer_wilson141.html
(A paper exploring the need for an academic continuity policy in emergency planning)

Rosenbloom, Bruce (February 16, 2012), “Online and Emergency Planning,” CUNY Academic Commons. Retrieved from:  https://onlinelearning.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2012/02/28/online-and-emergency-planning

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Online and Emergency Planning (republished, 2/2012)

Note: This post was published over 8 years ago (Feb, 28th, 2012). It was followed -up by a presentation at the 2013 CUNY Technology Conference, and the creation of an Emergency Bb site for CCNY faculty created by Natalia Kapli and myself.  Alas, CUNY management and campus management did not take this issue seriously then.  Now, the COVID 19 crisis is here, creating a flurry of activity and the real possibility of “the lost semester of spring 2020.”

The post below is presented in its original form with no changes.
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I came across a wonderful study published in the Journal of Distance Learning Administration (Volume IV, Number 1, Spring 2011) entitled, “The Role of Online Learning in the Emergency Plans of Flagship Institutions.” Authors Katrina Mayer and Jeffrey Wilson had a simple but elegant idea to research the websites of “50 state flagship higher education institutions to investigate whether and how online or distance learning were included in the institution’s emergency plans as solutions to emergencies like H1N1.” (Mayer and Wilson, 2011).  This study, conducted several years after the Hurricane Katrina crisis, is significant since it is the first to connect the potential role for online learning to keep academic programs functioning in times of emergencies (they used the term “academic continuity”). They were disappointed to find that most college websites lacked any reference to how academic programs would continue to function, and if they did, provided no specific methods for faculty to make that a reality.

Discussion

Most large institutions have emergency plans in place if a crisis occurs—a major weather event, a natural disaster, a terrorist incident, or a disease outbreak. For colleges, it is essential that their major mission—educating students—be fully restored as quickly as possible after a disaster or crisis. Increasingly, online learning (and instructional technology generally) is seen as a cornerstone of a college’s disaster preparation plans. However, even if these plans have been formulated, are they being communicated to key stakeholders within the academic community? Alas, in most cases, not well, if at all.

Mayer and Wilson’s research shows that many institutions had “remarkable plans or guides on their websites” which often lacked any reference to academic continuity using online resources. Even those institutional websites that mentioned academic continuity, “most were non-directive, such as stressing ‘alternative ways’ of delivering instructions without mentioning how to make this happen…” Only a handful of institutions (links provided below) backed up their directive for academic continuity with actual plans for faculty to follow. Some of the standouts include:

University of Washington: Academic Continuity Toolkit

University of Alabama: Emergency Planning Website

University of Oregon: Academic and Research Continuity Planning Initiative

Personal Story

I have taught an online class for the CUNY Online BA Program for several years.  During a winter storm last year, CUNY campuses had to be closed for 2-3 days for safety reasons. Academic work stopped during that period, and the semester’s schedule was thrown off track for many professors. Online courses, however, were not impacted. In other emergencies of a longer duration, like a SARS virus outbreak, the option of online can be a lifeline to the university.

Caveat: Any crisis that would impact the electrical or communications grid (e.g. severe solar storm or nuclear attack) would make the online option moot, as well as most routine aspects of our existence.

Implications for CUNY

While it is true that CUNY has much company in this regard, a search for “emergency plans” (or synonymous phrases on the CUNY website) would produce nothing of value in terms of a plan. The CUNY Alert function, while useful in an emergency for notification, would not be the means of providing detailed instructions on academic continuity in the scenarios I have cited.

Certain colleges do have a plan on their website. One of the best is the College of Staten Island Emergency Management page that, although extensive, does not cite anything substantive about academic continuity or even mentions online courses. This is unfortunate since all CUNY matriculated courses in a college’s schedule of classes have a Blackboard course shell created for it. Professors can be apprised of this fact, and be given minimal instruction on how to access the class—even to send out emails.

John Jay College was recently awarded a major grant on assessing emergency planning within the entire CUNY system (announcement). Ironically, their emergency plan (PDF link) has nothing about academic continuity or how online classes could be an option for instructors. Even a cursory review of CUNY websites points to a large gap in our emergency planning as an institution of learning, namely, how to continuing learning in times of real emergency.

A Modest Proposal

Any worthwhile emergency plan within CUNY – or any university – needs to include:

  1. An accessible website about emergency planning and preparedness.
  2. A clear statement that after concerns of safety have been addresses, the University affirms that academic continuity is the number two priority in times of crisis.
  3. A clear explanation to the CUNY community how faculty, staff and students can restore academic continuity.
  4. To publicize the procedures, website and training opportunities to the greater CUNY community regarding how online learning might be utilized to restore academics in case of an emergency.
  5. A recommended “in case of emergency” section in syllabi for all CUNY courses.
  6. A plan and procedure for staff/administrators/faculty to meet and collaborate during the period that campuses are closed (e.g. administrative continuity plan).

A first step in this process (that may take several years) is to have the School of Professional Studies (which incorporates all of CUNY’s online programs) create and disseminate a procedure such as the one described above.

References:

Meyer, Katrina & Wilson, Jeffery (2011). The Role of Online Learning In the Emergency Plans of Flagship Institutions, Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume IV, Number I, Spring 2011, University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center. Retrieved from: http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring141/meyer_wilson141.html

Benton, T. H. (2009, November 30). Teaching in the plague year. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-in-the-Plague-Year/49275.  (An excellent article about  the H1N1 epidemic and higher education’s disaster preparedness.)

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Online Policy for CUNY: Some Important Points

Note: This document was written prior to my letter to the Chancellor (the previous post) and was created on January 24, 2019. It summarizes some of my thinking over many years of following online learning, and CUNY’s rather inept response to this major trend. I wrote it in one sitting, in list format, rather than using paragraphs. I apologize, but at the time I did not have the energy to convert it into expository. Nonetheless, I believe you can follow the dots…..

  • Online and hybrid courses and programs an increasing percentage of US colleges’ teaching modality
  • CUNY has lagged well behind other universities in this regard and needs to directly address online learning throughout the university
  • CUNY colleges largely operate independently, rarely coordinating the resources, strategies, marketing, purchasing, programmatic and numerous other aspects of online teaching and learning
  • There is a need for a central Office of Online Learning within CUNY that can help coordinate, set policy, advocate for resources, and strategize CUNY’s online offerings (link).
  • There is very uneven implementation for online at various CUNY colleges ranging from campuses with over 20% hybrid/online courses, to campuses with under 3% of hybrid/online courses. At campuses in the lower range, there is a dearth of resources allocated to online, with some campuses not even having a director for online, or even one instructional technologist serving this function.
  • Throughout CUNY, staffing for online programs is insufficient, and some campus administrators neither have the knowledge to lead such an effort, or the will to do so.
  • Compensating faculty to convert their courses to online within CUNY is spotty at best, as is faculty development on many campuses.
  • There is a no strategic plan for implementing online programs throughout CUNY, a shocking state of affairs considering its increasing importance in the pedagogical mix of universities these days.
  • Online programs, rather than merely taking an online or hybrid course, is what has a significant impact for students in terms of access and time to degree completion. In this area, CUNY has been lagging. For example. Whereas SUNY as over 600 fully online programs, CUNY has about 25 (check #). Many other online programs continue to enroll NYC students, reducing a potential income source for the university.
  • Brick and mortar campuses are very expensive to build, particularly in NYC. Online programs, requiring no physical campus, has the potential for delivering programs without the additional overhead of classrooms and buildings.
  • CUNY Chancellors and administrators have not articulated any coherent direction or policies regarding online learning CUNY-wide, thereby contributing to a lack of direction and confusion regarding the role online learning has at the university.
  • At many campuses, staff who have online responsibilities report a lack of administration support and resources for their efforts, as well as lack of direction and making online a priority at their respective campuses.
  • Reporting and listing online and hybrid courses within CUNYfirst is still confusing and ambiguous, casting doubt on the numbers campuses report for their hybrid/online efforts.
  • Tenured faculty have often been quite resistant or dismissive of online learning, hampering implementation within departments and programs. Neither CUNY nor campus leaders have done much to oppose this, and have often held those same attitudes toward online, which includes college presidents and provosts.
  • The PSC-CUNY union representing faculty and staff at CUNY has seen online learning as an area for negotiating rather than one to work with management on setting effective policies. For the most part, the union has been absent in this area, or take an adversarial approach to those advocating online within the university.
  • Online courses are mostly taught by adjuncts within CUNY, reflecting a lack of buy-in from tenured faculty, and a lack of online integration into teaching with the university.
  • New technology tools and approaches for online learning have been slow to get support university-wide, leaving CUNY’s online efforts not as technologically robust as competitors offerings.
  • The School of Professional Studies (SPS) has done excellent work creating online programs, and in fact offers more than half of CUNY’s online programs. This school cannot carry the weight of online learning for the entire university, although this has been the de-facto position for Chancellors over the past decade.
  • There has been a dearth of clearly stated and vetted policies, procedures and strategic plans for online learning on respective campuses and university wide. Issues like maximum course size for online classes, and student preparation for online courses (among many other issues) have seen little research, discussion, or creation of actual policy. Essentially, each campus must re-invent these, creating wasted effort and differing policies throughout CUNY.
  • College presidents have gone largely unaccountable for their lack of progress implementing online programs on their respective campuses. Although some measures for online and included in the PMP stats, college presidents have been given a pass on having little hybrid/online implementation. This lack of accountability has resulted in years of “institutional drift” concerning developing online programs at respective campuses. In addition, the PMP measures the percentage of hybrid/online courses, not programs, which for the most part is less significant measure of online implementation.
  • What is the vision for online teaching and learning throughout the university? Without a clear and compelling vision to motivate and inspire, we have more institutional drift and lack of progress. In sharp contrast, SUNY has had chancellors that have articulated real goals (like Chancellor Nancy Zimpher speaking of a 100K increase in online enrollments in one year, or current Chancellor Kristina M Johnson, who at an 2018 conference stated, “I want SUNY to be the largest online university system in the country….” (link to Chancellor Johnson’s speech). CUNY has totally lacked this type of visionary leader needed for substantial change in online learning.
  • Closely related to vision, a recent Online Learning Consortium surveyindicates that 80% of 4 year public colleges view online learning as strategic to their efforts.  Does CUNY? If so, this needs to be stated, and moreover, planned for at the highest levels within CUNY. Do we have a CUNY strategic plan for online learning or, jettisoning “strategic,” any university-wide plan for online within CUNY? The answer is clearly “no”.
  • The tenure and promotion process often minimizes the importance of digital scholarship and work with technology. This creates a dilemma for tech-savvy faculty that might wish to spend time more time writing about technology and experimenting with tools in their classes. Along with this is the lack of recognition for online teaching given to faculty who are innovative in their courses.
  • Staff involved with online learning at CUNY campuses have significant morale issues after years of mismanagement, neglect, marginalization, under-funding, and “making do.” Many talented professionals have left, while others are in the trenches doing what they can without the benefit of competent management for online learning.
  • For successful implementation of online programs throughout CUNY, a combination of top-down and bottom-up strategies need to be employed. Up to now, much of the advocacy for online learning has been bottom-up at individual campuses and at CUNY central. Over the span of many decades of online learning, CUNY hasn’t had even one Chancellor who was a strong and dynamic advocate for online learning. Will the new Chancellor, when appointed, be such a leader?
  • There are many talented, smart and tech-savvy persons working within CUNY who are waiting for online learning to become a priority. It is important to inspire them with a real vision of online, engage them with planning for online programs throughout CUNY, and lead them to carry out a viable strategic plan for online implementation at this university. Anything short of that would be short-changing CUNY faculty and staff, and CUNY students.
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A Letter to New Chancellor Rodriquez

Dear Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriquez,

Congratulations on attaining your new position!

I am writing this in the hopes that you take a risk, one much needed with CUNY.  The risk involves empowering some dedicated and knowledgeable staff and faculty persons within the university who have long advocated for online learning and teaching, but whose voices have not been heard or recognized. I am one such voice, working at CCNY for nearly a dozen years in the position of Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, but there are dozens of others, equally passionate about the potential for online learning within CUNY, and with excellent credentials.

Simply stated, CUNY is a laggard institution when it comes to its implementation for online. While many universities have embraced this mode of teaching for several decades, CUNY has been reluctant to properly plan, fund, staff and implement online university-wide.  The result is that our current students, and many potential students of CUNY, are not benefitting from the access, convenience and flexibility that this learning modality offers. While SUNY has over 600 fully online programs, for example, CUNY barely has 20. That gross discrepancy has a lot to do with the OPEN SUNY initiative, a strategic plan rolled out a few years ago to implement online throughout that university system. With the full support of several SUNY Chancellors, proper funding and planning, SUNY has forged ahead of us in the intervening years, as have many other local, regional and national colleges. In essence, our competition has implemented their strategic plans in the online arena, and consequently, is capturing many students who might otherwise have gone to CUNY. We face continuing enrollment declines and lost finances as long as we do not address online in any concerted manner.

A more lengthy report would list many areas where online teaching and learning at CUNY is lacking, but for now, the top concerns are:

  • There is no person or entity within the university coordinating/supporting or overseeing the implementation of online learning on all CUNY campuses. This has lead to widespread disparities in implementing online at various campuses, and has hampered a university-wide approach to online learning.
  • PMP and other management tools have not adequately measured online implementation as it has focused on hybrid and online courses rather than programs. Online programs, the literature shows, is where you get the most impact in regards to student progress toward degree completion, rather than a student taking an occasional online course or two. In addition, CUNYfirst categories of online/hybrid courses are not clear and bring into question the accuracy of the online statistics that are generated per campus.
  • Staff who are tasked with supporting online within the university, often are not adequately supported by their respective campus administrations in terms of budgets, personnel, policies and procedures, faculty-buy in, and a myriad of other issues. Good people who are not supported will either leave the employ of CUNY or have low morale—neither positive developments.
  • Inadequate research into the potential for new online programs at CUNY, and the market for such programs is the rule. Although SPS has done some good work in developing their online programs, they are not sufficient to carry the online mantle for the entire university. There are many disciplines on CUNY campuses that, given the right support and direction, could compete with other colleges outside CUNY in terms of affordability and quality. Which programs and which campuses should be allowed to proceed?
  • CUNY has not had a Chancellor who is willing to articulate and communicate a coherent, compelling strategic plan for CUNY online and then advocate for its adoption. Without such support form the top, CUNY’s online efforts will continue to languish.

This list is far from exhaustive.

How could we address these and other online deficits at CUNY? I all humility, I would offer just one suggestion.  That suggestion is to empower the internal experts and advocates for online teaching and learning at all levels within the university, for example, starting with the Committee on Academic Technology chaired by Dr George Otte. Have them examine these challenges and come up with practical, constructive, and achievable recommendations. As a starting point, bring these people into the conversation and engage them in this critical mission. I assure you, CUNY will be better off for such a process and the potential for online at CUNY, may take a significant step forward.

Respectfully,

Bruce Rosenbloom
CCNY CETL Director

 

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Strategic Planning for the Apocalypse

“More than any other time in history mankind faces a crossroad.  One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other, to total extinction.  Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

—–Woody Allen

There have been many “doom and gloomsters” forecasting the “end of the world” as we know it; nothing new with that. Except, this time it seems different, with more credibility, more urgency, more evidence (link).

Is there a new wind blowing or maybe an unanticipated hurricane? Are the foundations of our culture shaking, or maybe it’s an earthquake? Is the water rising above our collective heads or is it a tsunami? Are those Northern Lights we’re seeing in the sky, or a precursor of powerful solar flares (capable of knocking out our electrical grid)? Are we recovering from a “double-dip” recession or entering into an economic abyss? Am I feeling a bit dizzy or is it the tipping of yet another  “tipping point”  (with cataclysmic environmental consequences to come)? These are real and valid concerns offered reputable people providing these warnings.

I’m in a strange place these days—seeing life as we’re come to expect it—potentially hanging by threads. Institutions that seemed to function well in the past, have betrayed us. A medical system that often harms as much as it heals (video); and education system that teaches but fails students with real learning (book); a press that seem less and less inclined to do real investigative reporting on issues critical to our survival; a financial system that rewards speculation and Ponzi schemes while it creates disincentives for savings; a food production system that turns food into a commodity to manipulate via genetic engineering, irradiation, pesticides, additives etc…. Few institutions have escaped the greed, dodged the expedient, or avoided the compromises, and as a society, we are worse off for it.

Can we, should we, plan intelligently for a catastrophe? Do we have contingency plans in place both individually and collectively or will we be “watching Katrina” as disaster approaches? I can’t say with any certainly that such calamities will come to fruition, but I am starting to think more seriously about having a backup plan. For some such planning may mean having silver and gold coins or storing extra cash, for others it might mean being self-sufficient regarding food or going off the grid; selling property and heading for the hills or remote areas. As troubling as this sounds, many conscientious people are starting to think in these terms. As the saying goes, “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.” So, let’s all wish each other luck, as we do some strategic planning for the apocalypse.

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Lessons Learned: Departure of a CUNY President

Note: The contents of this post is solely my views for which I take responsibility. Although I am far from objective on this matter, I do share a viewpoint, not often expressed, that needs to be heard.

After over 6 years of her tenure as President of City College, Lisa Coico has resigned after a series of NY Times articles –the last two cited here.

October 10, 2016  and October 7, 2016.

What follows is some reflections/observations on her tenure and circumstances surrounding her resignation.

CUNY Central Does Nothing

More than any takeaway from this sorry affair, has been the lax, negligent “oversight” by the Chancellor and the CUNY Board of Trustees in handling President Lisa’s tenure at CCNY. Literally from the first month of coming to CCNY, she summarily fired a dozen workers in the Financial Aid Office because she found the lines too long, the Central office was on notice that something was not right with this President. Apparently this initial incident, neither her excessive hiring of cronies and consultants she had associations with, nor her arbitrary and capricious decisions, nor her inability to bring in monies from donors had any impact on her 5-year review.  Instead, it took seven articles in the NY Times (references below)–an unprecedented amount of negative publicity for any university–and an ongoing investigation from several federal and state bodies, to finally do what needed doing many years ago. CUNY management was informed numerous times through informal channels prior to any articles hitting the press, yet chose to do nothing. This is a black eye for CUNY management, Chancellor Milliken, and the CUNY Board of Trustees.  Shame on all of you.

Tenured Faculty Do Nothing

City College has approximately 700 tenured faculty and double that for adjunct faculty. With a few exceptions they did nothing tangible to oppose this administration. At a most recent Faculty Senate meeting (before the latest 2 articles, but after 2 initial articles) most faculty attending were mute in the presence of President Coico.

I have lost any hope that tenured faculty can play any balancing role in situations like these.  In the many years of mismanagement and malfeasance from this administration, never once did faculty governance step in with a vote of no confidence for Lisa’s administration. Instead, they were bought off by various perks and incentives that most administrations have the discretion over doling out to their political favorites. Faculty governance is suppose to act in the best interests of the institution, hence one of the main rationales for tenure. Instead, faculty governance is truly a toothless watchdog in these situations. Tenured faculty clearly know which side their bread is buttered on, and despite protestations to the contrary, once tenured, most faculty will adapt to any administration, no matter have bad as long as they can continue their cushy positions.  Shame on all of you.

Union: Not Part of Oversight Process

I generally admire Barbara Bowen, the President of PSC-CUNY, the faculty/staff union for all of CUNY.  After 7 years of not having a contract, this past summer a contract was signed whereby members received a 10% raise over that period.  Given the sad state of affairs for most public employees these days, this was seen as a successful outcome to a very difficult process. After the contract was settled, Barbara made an appearance at a September union meeting held at City College.  While most of the questions dealt with the specifics of the new contract, I asked a question about whether there was a role for PSC-CUNY in opposing and scrutinizing the administrative appointments and administrative bloat on campuses.

My thinking is that given a zero-sum scenario, political appointments and cronyism deprive institutions of needed staff and faculty appointments and incentives.  She admitted the union currently does not play such an oversight role, although it might file a Freedom Of Information request to obtain records of upper management appointments at the college. In my estimation, the excesses and Coico’s administration and it’s impact on all those who work at City College were equally important as “bread and butter” issues to the well-being of employees.  If unions cannot have a seat at the management table in a meaningful way, it increases the lack of accountability that this and other CUNY administrations can get away with, and the amount of time that any meaningful push-back can happen,

Staff Push-back Gets it Done

In my almost 40 years working for various private and public institutions, I have not witnessed staff morale to be as bad as it is at CCNY. Many of the most senior staff, myself included, have been marginalized, de-funded, de-staffed and either ignored or treated with general contempt by the Coico administration.  Not surprisingly, some of the best staffers have left CCNY for other CUNY colleges, while others suffer in silence, waiting in vain for CUNY to come to its senses.

Instead, a myriad of bad management practices and decisions, (including political appointees and cronyism) in the past years have alienated some of the best people working at City College. More than any other factor, it was a group of those alienated staff persons that finally said “enough is enough” and went to the press for addressing this gross incompetence and illegality. Kudos for those courageous staffers that did successfully push-back– albeit too late in the game to salvage CCNY’s reputation or prevent many good people from leaving City College.

Closing Thoughts

What happened at City is merely a microcosm of what happens in any organization with little accountability and oversight. There will always be bad actors in high places, but how are their excesses checked? Let CCNY be Exhibit A in this regard.  As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that has.”

It will take several years to get new leadership installed and running at CCNY, and even more time to remove the vestiges of Coico’s mismanagement team.  Changing the gestalt of this institution will be like turning around an ocean liner–a slow and deliberate process at best–even assuming that good management will be appointed to replace this regime. What CUNY Central, CCNY faculty and staff might reflect upon is what has been lost by this 6-year fiasco? Those resources and time wasted and employees alienated, will never be able to be productively utilized. Ultimately the students suffer. Shame on all those who let this sorry state of affairs continue as long as it did.

Sources:

Chen, D. (2016), “Dreams Stall at CUNY, New York City’s Engine of Mobility, Sputters,” (May 28, 2016), Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/nyregion/dreams-stall-as-cuny-citys-engine-of-mobility-sputters.html?_r=0

Chen, D. (2016), “Finances of City College’s President Under Federal Investigation,” July 14, 2016, Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/nyregion/finances-of-city-colleges-president-are-under-federal-investigation.html?_r=0

Chen, D. (2016), “$76 Where There Should be $600,00: Missing City College Donation Prompts Inquiry,” August 30, 2016, Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/31/nyregion/76-where-there-should-be-600000-missing-city-college-donation-prompts-inquiry.html

Chen, D. (2016), “City Colege Leader Didn’t Misuse Donation Study Finds,” September 15, 2016, Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/16/nyregion/city-college-leader-didnt-misuse-donation-review-finds.html?emc=edit_tnt_20160915&nlid=67777128&tntemail0=y

Chen, D. (2016), “President of City College Quits Abruptly After Scrutiny of Her Finances,” (October 7, 2016), Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/nyregion/president-city-college-quits.html?action=click&contentCollection=N.Y.%20%2F%20Region&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Chen, D. (2016), “A Divisive President of City College, and a Long List of Personal Expenses,” October 10, 2016, Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/10/nyregion/a-divisive-president-at-city-college-and-a-long-list-of-personal-expenses.html?_r=0

Chen, D. (2016), “City College Gets Interim Leader After President’s Sudden Exit,” November 2, 2016, Retrieved at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/nyregion/city-college-gets-interim-leader-after-presidents-sudden-exit.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fnyregion&action=click&contentCollection=nyregion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

 

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Winner Take All @ CUNY

The City University of New York has a long and noteworthy history of providing excellent education to children of New York’s working and middle class.  Founded over 100 years ago (1847) as the Free Academy, its mission, as stated by its founder–

“Open the doors to all. Let the children of the rich and poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct, and intellect.”  Townsend Harris (citation in References)

That sentiment was confirmed by the Free Academy’s first president–

“The experiment is to be tried, whether the children of the people, the children of the whole people, can be educated; and whether an institution of the highest grade, can be successfully controlled by the popular will, not by the privileged few.”
Dr. Horace Webster  (citation in References)

In many public speeches. Chancellor Milliken, and most CUNY campus presidents acknowledge that history and the special role this university has as the largest urban public university in the country. We have a diverse student body from countries throughout the world, and a tuition structure that is still highly affordable even with recent increases in tuition. Undoubtedly, a student from a low-income family can receive an excellent education at CUNY, and not incur much debt in comparison to alternative institutions. To a large extent, Townsend Harris’ vision has been largely preserved for over a century, a significant accomplishment for this university.

CUNY Academic Robber Barons

Although many of the top CUNY administrators and presidents give lip service to CUNY’s historic mission, increasingly they are acting like academic robber barons. Despite being employed at a public university, with most students receiving tuition assistance to make ends meet, more than a handful of these executives live like a conquering army, richly rewarding themselves, consultants and cronies with very little oversight from CUNY Central or the CUNY Board of Trustees. In addition to executive pay packages that are regularly abused, many receive chauffeurs, expensive townhouses, expense accounts, personal assistants and numerous other perks befitting a corporate executive.

To make matters worse, CUNY management may increase their compensation by using the following tactics:

  • Steering grants designated for other purposes to fund their own projects, people, and/or take a cut by becoming a PI on the grant (that they did not write)
  • Creating dual appointments e.g., a Provost also being a college dean, or acting dean
  • Hiring their friends/associates for staff positions or consultant gigs
  • Billing personal items/services under existing programs
  • Securing large raises for dubious performance
  • Exploiting travel and conference privileges ….

These are just some of the methods,  too numerous to mention. In some cases, the abuse is so outlandish and endemic, that a college president must be removed (link) but this is a rarity for the most part. Instead, it is typical for top CUNY management not to be held accountable despite years of mismanagement, malfeasance, and cronyism, and only be checked after the situation reaches scandalous proportions or is reported in the media.

The Academic Divide

It is a sad reflection on top CUNY management that this “winner take all” attitude on the part of many of its top people is not addressed.  As disturbing is the academic stratification taking between the “in versus out” groups within CUNY itself. In his brilliant blog post entitled, “How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang,” Alexander Alfonso argues that in a manner similar to the disparity of the top drug lords getting most of the economic pie, increasingly academic markets are reflecting this societal trend.

With a constant supply of new low-level drug sellers entering the market and ready to be exploited, drug lords can become increasingly rich without needing to distribute their wealth towards the bottom. You have an expanding mass of rank-and-file “outsiders” ready to forgo income for future wealth, and a small core of “insiders”  securing incomes largely at the expense of the mass. We can call it a winner-take-all market…

The academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core  of insiders. Even if the probability that you might get shot in academia is relatively small, one can observe similar dynamics. Academia is only a somewhat extreme example of this trend, but it affects labour markets virtually everywhere. One of the hot topics in labour market research at the moment is what we call “dualisation”[3]. Dualisation is the strengthening of this divide between insiders in secure, stable employment and outsiders in fixed-term, precarious employment. Academic systems more or less everywhere rely at least to some extent on the existence of a supply of “outsiders” ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of uncertain security, prestige, freedom and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail[4]. (see reference below)

Contingent labor is reflected in the plight of adjunct faculty who typically make $3000 per course they teach. If they teach several courses for two or more semesters, they are entitled to basic health insurance.  However, given budgetary shortfalls at City College, for example, many adjuncts had their courses dropped and, with it, their health benefits. With hundreds of adjuncts teaching per campus, they may teach up to 40% or more of all courses.  Yet, their benefits, respect and perks are minimal.  Such inequities subsidize the largess of CUNY’s top administrators. A quick calculation of the annual compensation for a top CUNY administrator versus an adjunct professor would easily come up with a 400:1 ratio (or more). This is truly a Tale of Two Cities; the best of times for CUNY royalty, the worst of times and for CUNY’s contingent workforce.  Is this what Townsend had in mind when he founded this great institution? A day of reckoning needs to happen regarding these gross inequities.

In Part 2 of Winner Take All @ CUNY, I will delve into this issue of how students are impacted by such trends.

References:

Afonso, A. (n.d.) “How Academia Resembles a Drug Gang.” Blog post retrieved at: http://alexandreafonso.me/2013/11/21/how-academia-resembles-a-drug-gang/

“Our History,” City College, CUNY website. Retrieved Feb 29th, 2016 at: https://www.ccny.cuny.edu/about/history

Fenwick, B., (2011)  “Eye on America: Working with and within a winner-take-all competitive system.”  Retrieved from: COLLABORATION | VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1 – 2011

Williams, J. (2013), “The Great Stratification,” The Chronicle Review, December, 2013, Retrieved at: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Great-Stratification/143285/

Woolston, C., (2014), “Winner takes all in science.” Nature, 510,11, (05 June 2014), retrieved from: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v510/n7503/full/510011e.html

Note: The NY Times published two articles several months after this post came out which touched on some of these themes.

Chen, D. (2016), “Dreams Stall at CUNY, New York City’s Engine of Mobility, Sputters,” (May 28, 2016), Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/nyregion/dreams-stall-as-cuny-citys-engine-of-mobility-sputters.html?_r=0

Chen, D. (2016), “Finances of City College’s President Under Federal Investigation,” July 14, 2016, Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/15/nyregion/finances-of-city-colleges-president-are-under-federal-investigation.html?_r=0

 

 

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Technologically Adrift?

In many posts I have criticized what I would characterize as CUNY’s “institutional drift.” Departing chancellors take several years to leave, followed by an interim administration of a year or more, followed by a new administration taking many years to come up with any real vision for CUNY. The area of technology, and specifically, online learning (the focus of this blog)  has been Exhibit A in terms of this “drift”.  This is not to say there aren’t excellent technologists at CUNY–there are many, and most are dedicated to this institution.  However, there has been an overall management void that, in my estimation, borders on gross neglect and mismanagement. What follows is a list of several areas CUNY is found wanting.

A. Central Online Vision

Simply stated, there is no vision for online learning within CUNY.  While Chancellor Milliken might provide sound-bites in speeches, there has been no real vision for all of CUNY regarding online learning despite his record of success with online at his previous institution. In essence then, 23 campuses are allowed to pursue their own path with a minimum of oversight from CUNY Central. In a previous blog, I used the sports metaphor of a football lining up on one side of the ball, while the other team’s players scattered all over, without anyone organizing the players.  In an online competitive environment, which team will likely win?

B. Online Policies, Procedures, Systems

Although some campuses have an online policy manual, many don’t. Those who do not, often have administrations lacking any real understanding of online learning. I often get asked if there are any limits on the number of students in online classes, or the minimum number of times that a hybrid class must meet to be considered hybrid.  My response is that there are no policies, procedures or systems that are currently in place regarding online learning, therefore, if your department chair approves, it’s OK for now.  Many administrators don’t realize the need for such policies, and lacking any guidance from CUNY Central, there are none. In a previous post, I have posed 20+ policy concerns or questions that need to be addressed prior to offering hybrid/online courses. A CUNY campus that proceeds down the online trail without such policies, is starting the journey without a map.

C. The Sea of Instructional Technologies

An institution the size of CUNY needs to have paid staff whose responsibility it is to convene  a team of evaluators to make recommendations regarding software for use on the campuses.  Failing such a team, and the resources to make it successful, this task often falls on the Centers for Teaching and Learning, or IT offices– each not up to properly doing the job. I believe that such teams–like Penn State “hot teams”— can be very useful in guiding purchasing decisions at campuses, or at worst, helping to whittle down the deluge of choices that confronts front-line managers. Instead, often salespersons at conferences or making sales calls, get to pitch their products to those who don’t have the context or authority with which to make a legitimate choice regarding allocation of limited resources. Although the CUNY Committee on Academic Technology has tried to play a role with reviewing some technologies, there is no budgetary support, and so these ad-hoc efforts have been sporadic, if non-existent for new instructional technologies.

D. Strategic Planning

Although a recurring theme over many years in this blog, I now understand that such planning concerning online learning will probably never happen at CUNY. It won’t happen for a myriad of reasons including lack of understanding the need, lack of understanding the means, lack of institutional support and lack of a clear vision to which such a strategic plan might be applied. Instead, CUNY will drift from academic year to academic year, making pronouncements about “Digital CUNY” without any substance or commitment to achieve it. This is in sharp contrast to SUNY, our sister institution, that has a clear system-wide online policy and implementation plan which I discussed in several posts (post 1) (post 2) (post 3)

E. Faculty Buy-In

Early articles in journals about online learning clearly pointed out that faculty resistance was the number one impediment to the adoption of online at many institutions. For the most part, the Sloan-C reports showed that administrators were a lot more enthusiastic about the potential for online than their respective faculty members. As online has gradually become increasingly accepted across academia, faculty resistance has lessened, although online is still far from being embraced.

At CUNY, faculty resistance was, and still continues to be, an issue impeding online implementation. Whether grudging acceptance, or outright resistance, CUNY full-time faculty by and large have not “gotten with the program” for online teaching. Both CUNY Central and many campuses refuse to directly address the critical issue of faculty buy-in needed for online to be successful. As a result, the heavy lifting needed for a successful online implementation falls to IT or CTL staff, who do not have the clout to make things happen.

Even in the best of circumstances, with the full support of the Provost, full-time faculty may chose to balk at any initiative that smacks of a administrative directive. I saw first-hand at an open Faculty Senate meeting, CCNY faculty pass a resolution about 5 years ago, labeling courses taught in hybrid mode as “experimental” and requiring a Senate review after 2 years. A mere two years later, with CCNY hovering at at the basement of senior colleges in this area with 1% of courses in hybrid/online mode, and likely feeling the Performance Management heat from those dismal numbers, the college president decides to create a “faculty-driven” online program. Of the approximately 45 instructors enrolled in that program, maybe a handful ever realized a hybrid or online course. Followed by that success, the college’s only real instructional technologist with expertise in hybrid/online, is terminated from a grant. That same administration recently receives a new $700K grant from CUNY Central to begin planning two new online programs….

——–   ———    ——–

In the next post, I will explore the relationship between top administrators salaries versus those of adjunct instructors employed at CUNY, and the “winner take all” atmosphere prevalent in today’s society.

 

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CUNY Managerial Scorecard: Best Practices or Best Practiced Again?

There has been a great deal of heated debated over Amazon’s management practices as reported in the August 15, 2015 New York Times (link here). The Gallop organization reviewed the article and followed it up with an intriguing analysis (link here). Both pieces go to the heart of issues around motivating employees, promoting organization excellence and good management practice.

The NY Times article chronicles Amazon’s very strict measurement of any and all performance indicators on the part of employees and management alike. Everything is subject to being questioned, tested, and improved including practices, policies and systems essential to making the company run better and more efficiently. The question I have is, “What can CUNY learn from these and other management practice?” I believe there are many potential lessons to be learned; some of these are outlined below.

Accountability

In the NY Times article paints a picture of “extreme accountability” for each and every Amazon employee. Invariably, as the writers imply, this practice, taken to an extreme, can cause much stress in the workforce, and significant turnover. It remains a question as to whether those who leave the hothouse competitive atmosphere at Amazon could have been valued contributors over the long run. However, the Times article does point out those ex-Amazon staffers are highly regarded and often quickly hired by other companies in the tech field.

In my estimation (and from an admittedly biased perspective) I would contend that at CUNY is severely lacking in this area. I do not qualify that statement. I have seen institutional drift and ineptitude both university-wide and at specific campuses. This mismanagement is allowed to go on for years, seemingly without any checks or balances being exerted from faculty governance, CUNY Central and Chancellor, PSC-CUNY or any other body. Instead, despite many occasions of demonstrated incompetence and malfeasance, the status quo is allowed to fester, leaving staff, faculty and students the worse off for it. In all my years working at about a dozen different work settings (both private and public) I have never seen staff a so completely disillusioned and demoralize as currently exists.   This symptom is largely attributable to a management accountability vacuum at many campuses.

Communication of Mission

The Gallop article clearly lays out the importance of communication of mission in any organization.

Our research indicates that an organization’s mission or purpose must be communicated from the top down — and that when leaders prioritize ongoing communication, the outcomes are powerful. The way a company’s leaders define, display and disseminate an organization’s purpose and brand influences whether employees embody those values, especially with customers. Great leaders clearly and consistently communicate where the organization has been and where it is going, helping employees to know what’s expected of them and to see their role as more than just a job.” (Gallop report, par. 8, reference below).

A close second to lack of accountability at CUNY is the lack of communicating the mission clearly and effectively to all stakeholders. While management is good at occasional PR announcements that so –and- so won a grant or such college was ranked well etc., what is missing is a compelling vision of where we are going as an institution and as a campus. As indicated in the quote above, such communication is essential for providing guidance and context to employees, and enabling them to see their roles in a larger context. This is a dereliction of managerial responsibility that is quite shocking to me. I should note that the School of Professional Studies, the exception to the rule, does have very positive, proactive, and context-providing communications from their Dean John Mogulescu (CUNY Senior Dean of Academic Affairs) and others in that organization. Their example needs to be studied by other campuses, and learned from.

In a future post, I will address strategic planning for instructional technologies and online learning.

References:

Rigoni, B., & Nelson, B., (2015) “What Amazon Gets Right,” Gallop Topics, Retrieved on October 15, 2015, from http://www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/185990/amazon-gets-right.aspx?utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_content=heading&utm_campaign=syndication

Kantor, J., Streitfeld, D., (2015) “ Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace,” NY Times, August 15, 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-wrestling-big-ideas-in-a-bruising-workplace.html?_r=0

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CUNY Libraries: Old Paradigms or a Digital Future?

It is not saying much to state that libraries currently are going through major challenges in the digital age.  Library attendance has been trending down for over a decade as users abandon the stuffy recesses of the stacks for the flash and utility of their digital devices. How can libraries stay relevant given the onslaught of digital media, social networks, and ubiquitous access to information? In a word, many are not.

When a library refuses to embrace the digital challenge, students vote with their feet and stop visiting and using the libraries.  Increasingly, the primary usage for many libraries within CUNY and elsewhere is mainly students using the computers for non-library, non-research work. The library as a “glorified computer lab” trend is virtually epidemic in most colleges as these static institutions become increasingly irrelevant in the minds of students and even faculty.

Let’s be honest here– libraries are the last office on most campuses where one would expect real innovation. Library personnel often have positions that are secure, regardless of whether they keep current with digital trends or not.  With librarians at CUNY getting tenure after publishing a few peer-reviewed articles, many chose to coast the rest of their careers since accountability in these positions is virtually non- existent. I’ve heard many reports of search committees hiring a candidate that “would not rock the boat” while rejecting a more qualified and digitally knowledgeable person.  If the norm is mediocrity, then can such behavior be expected?

Yet, libraries vigorously fight to fend off efforts to use their space for more productive purposes. It is comical, if not tragic, to see rows and rows of dusty stacks being defended as critical to library operations when there is no student or faculty who would reasonably peruse the contents of any volume on those shelves.  But instead of re-envisioning what a new library might look like, these rear-guard turf-wars become commonplace at many CUNY libraries.

But the tide is turning, if not merely for the fact that space is at a premium at campuses.  So under-utilized space now gets more scrutiny, albeit after decades of neglect. For the most part, change will not come from current library personnel themselves whom hold tenaciously to old paradigms and procedures. No, change will by necessity come from the administrations of respective campuses, assuming there is a real vision for change.  To date, many campus administrators have not measured up in this respect.

A Digital Future

What would change look like for college libraries?  While there are articles about new campus libraries without any books, this is an extreme scenario.  More likely, college libraries are transforming themselves by:

  • Hiring chief librarians with bona fide digital credentials and a new vision for what those libraries can become
  • Gathering campus stakeholders for sessions to re-envision campus libraries
  • Funding training to upgrade the skills of existing staff to function in the digital age
  • Collaborating with IT service desk operations to offer a one-stop desk for any problems relating to student technology or information needs
  • Training students in new digital and information technologies as part of their new mission
  • Expanding the standard “information literacy” sessions for students to include a broader “digital literacy,” covering items like portable devices, social networking, phone apps for students, etc.

This list is merely a starting point. Given the balkanized, unionized, tenure-ized, and dysfunctional structures that exist within CUNY, nothing short of a real mandate from the Chancellor will address this issue.  As with most paradigm shifts, the entrenched actors will need to “leave the stage” before a new paradigm becomes the norm. In regards to many CUNY libraries, we are looking at a minimum of another decade before we see the long-touted “libraries for the digital age” we need now.

References:

Blumenthal, R., (2005)  “College Libraries Set Aside Books in the Digital Age,” New York Times, May 14, 2005.  Retrieved at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/14/education/college-libraries-set-aside-books-in-a-digital-age.html?_r=0

Lenkie, A.,(2015) “Libraries in the Digital Age,” NEA Blog post. Retrieved at: http://arts.gov/art-works/2015/libraries-digital-age

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