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“Show Me the Urgency”

We all know it takes time to turn an ocean liner around. But at a large institution like CUNY, the question really is, “Why turn the ocean liner around?”  Or maybe next academic year, “we’ll look into turning the ship around.” On all levels of this institution, there seems little urgency to get things done today if they can reasonably be postponed for tomorrow (which stretches into the distant horizon). But what’s the urgency?

So, we had the long-expected departure of a long-standing, previous chancellor who was rumored to be on the way out for several years due to health issues, the appointment of an interim chancellor taking over a year while the search for the new chancellor was conducted, and the much-heralded appointment of a new chancellor last year. Of course, the new chancellor will take a year or so to acclimate to CUNY before he boldly acts on his agenda, and now we are in yet another year of “transition” until the university appoints a new vice chancellor for academic affairs, who will likely need yet another year to get acclimated.  In essence, we are speaking of a four year transition period for key positions within the university, for the persons filling those positions to establish and create their vision for CUNY’s future and to start implementing their plan. But what’s the urgency?

As crazy as the above scenario seems, that is what passes for “business as usual” at CUNY. The end result is institutional drift, poor employee moral, and program paralysis. The “let’s wait for the next academic year since we’re in a transition” refrain invariably impacts all campuses and programs within the university. If this were a business with actual accountability to investors, the new CEO would be expected to “hit the ground running” and, at most, have a few months to get oriented. We are reminded constantly that academia is not a business and shouldn’t be run as such. OK, but realistically how long should we wait until the university gets a new, effective team on the field ? But what’s the urgency?

Regarding programs of online learning, however, we are talking about a competitive marketplace where there certainly needs to be a sense of urgency. A student considering an online degree may choose a program tailored to their needs from an array of colleges in their region or even nationally. Many institutions are working hard to make sure they have enticing programs, effective marketing, student support structures and qualified instructors to meet student needs and get them to enroll. These institutions might be first to market with new programs, and with years in the marketplace gain experience with strategies that work for growing their online efforts. But, what’s the urgency?

CUNY’s UFS (University Faculty Senate) recently held a conference (link here) weighing the efficacy of this mode of teaching, a mere 30 years after the University of Wisconsin held its first conference on distance learning (link here). After decades of “deliberation,” faculty governance finally got around to addressing the issue of online learning. Admittedly, the new chancellor seems very interested in online learning and has started to hold campus presidents more accountable for hybrid/online implementation. This is a positive step considering that for many years, besides recalcitrant faculty and their respective governance bodies being opposed to online, many presidents were also of similar mind and actively spoke against online learning. Such opposition, in my estimation, has left CUNY about a decade behind SUNY in online implementation (see previous posts 1, 2, 3) and over two decades behind lead universities in this field. I would wish the new chancellor success in changing CUNY’s institutional climate toward being more positive for online learning. Until then, show me the urgency.

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