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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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