In this week’s readings, austerity came up in several articles. During the COVID-19 crisis, the response was a reduction of funding for public services. For higher education, budget cuts included dismissing thousands of adjunct faculties. The consequences of these austerity measures are harming students and faculty. People of color and women are disproportionately affected as they make up a majority of those who were laid off, threatening gender and racial representation. Students also struggle with fewer course options, larger class sizes and limited schedule choices. This brings more challenges to graduating and professors are less able to offer support. Austerity makes it challenging for CUNY to support low income, BIPOC students who have historically been excluded from higher education.
Public institutions like CUNY need more funding during this crisis. Meanwhile, budgets for the police are increasing. The contrast between a police officer in expensive riot gear and a nurse wearing a trash bag as makeshift PPE is ridiculous. Many articles agree that funding has been distributed incorrectly; money going towards policing and incarceration should be redistributed to support education and healthcare instead. At the core of underfunding is the devaluing of people of color and people of the working class. There is somehow budget for surveillance and oppression but not for maintaining institutions and services that allows people to live.
The inequalities in education exacerbated by the pandemic are not only a K-12 issue but also an issue in higher education. The New York Times article “College Made Them Feel Equal” looks at how the inequalities surfaced within private colleges however, the sentiment is the same within CUNY. Ironically, more is revealed about a person when they are behind a screen than when in person. CUNY has taken some credible steps to address some of the inequalities from the onset of the pandemic. Keeping college pantries open, distributing laptops, grants for tuition and rent assistance, and flexible grading policy helped to address the challenge faced by many students throughout CUNY. It shows that although we are all receiving the same education, we do not all have the same opportunities. This leads us to question the notion of education as the “great equalizer” a belief the article made clear disappeared during the pandemic.
The quick outreach shows that CUNY is very much aware of the inequalities among its student population. It is counterproductive in my view that so many classes were cut during the 2020 fall semester. This delayed hopes for some students of graduating on time and created additional spending on tuition, especially for international students. A quick scan through the list of PSC-CUNY op-eds for 2020, and you see the topics quickly move from health, safety, and addressing students’ needs at the beginning of the pandemic to budget cuts and lay-offs. However, the op-eds give a good insight into the vital role CUNY has beyond education in shaping the community. A role that certainly deserves more investment.
Higher education has been impacted by COVID-19 in a multitude of aspects, which are still being identified and experienced by students across the United States. Social inequalities such as healthcare, and income were easily hidden while on-campus when learning within a traditional in-classroom environment. Online learning has opened the window into personal living spaces, household responsibilities and arrangements. Professors now must incorporate extraneous variables such as unreliable internet connectivity, learning devices, and sick relatives into their already difficult learning plans. Educational institutions must take the time to re-evaluate pre-pandemic policies that no longer support faculty and staff members in meaningful ways. It will be critical to formulate new updated policies that do not unintentionally impact groups in a negative manner. An example can be seen by Florida State University’s attempt at imposing a childcare policy that would have adversely impacted employee caregivers. The City University of New York demonstrated its own commitment to students when it refunded a portion of activity fee funds to all students regardless of finances during the Spring 20 term.
Furthermore, how do we address the public sentiment that online instruction isn’t as rigorous or credible as in-classroom learning? According to former President Trump, online learning is “not the same thing as being in a classroom in a great college or a college of any kind” furthering the devaluation of current academic degrees. The same sentiment has also been documented within academia by Brown University’s President stating “the fierce intellectual debates that just aren’t the same on Zoom” which demonstrates the pervasive valuing in-classroom over online learning. In order to combat this sentiment the CUNY system may raise public awareness as to how it’s colleges’ liberal arts degree develop critical thinkers that contribute to the New York City community regardless of modality.
Surprisingly, COVID-19 is not the first instance of higher education being shut down due to public health or national disaster. Numerous historical events such as the Spanish flu, WW II, hurricane Sandy, and 9-11 have all shut down campuses and entire cities in the past. Academic institutions and community members have been able to persevere in order to educate the next generation of learners and academic scholars. The Post World War II era created the GI-BILL which has paid for the education of millions of student veterans. We currently have an opportunity to create new innovative policies that ensure educational equity for all. Below are a few additional questions to keep in mind for the upcoming Fall 2021 campus re-openings:
• Are students entitled to tuition reductions for online learning?
• Should institutions begin thinking of merging with similar liberal arts colleges or research institutions?
• Will vaccinations be mandated to access the campuses?
• Should admission moratoriums be implemented due to the job market?
I read two PSC CUNY op-eds, both having to do with media & the arts. Through this extremely tumultuous year of painful learning, one of my emotional anchors has been watching tv and films and engrossing myself in music. I imagine that usually, watching tv and movies doesn’t take as much discipline as it takes me, someone who loves stories but whose diagnosed-awful attention span has made it challenging to listen to them. But then, abundant free time came along. One of the pieces I read was Racquel Gates’ “The Problem with ‘Anti-Racist’ Movie Lists.” Gates criticizes the propensity of White people to voice their opinions about racism first, often through lists of movies to watch to educate masses on anti-racism. She acknowledges that while these films may be worth viewing, they “reduce Black art to a hastily constructed manual to understanding oppression.” This argument is relevant in conversations about anti-racist education. While anti-racist knowledge and thought is absent from many American’s educations and values, the simplification of a complex social system and the use of art from artists of color as an allegory is unacceptable. In fact, it can often reproduce racist narratives and perpetuate racist stereotypes. I believe this is one of the reasons many critical academics and others are now emphasizing ideas such as Black joy, Black radical love, and other abundant realities that are empowering and anti-racist without reducing the importance of this kind of art. This reminds me of something I read years ago by a Palestinian who wrote that everyone in his family, regardless of whether their interest was engineering, literature, or political history, their selfhood and passions were always collapsed to their identities as Palestinian, a particularly “controversial” identity. Overall, Gates’ op-ed stuck with me and perfectly articulated the frustration of why historically, White artists have been able to so easily write about so-called universalities of life: love, family, and growing up, among others, whereas artists of color are always expected to produce art solely about their subordination. This issue clearly continues, but poc artists’ work is still used to cater to White people; regardless of the anti-racist motives, it is something that needs to be changed.
Reading this article specifically made me think of a related question (more about academia than higher education in general): what is the ethical line between researching/collecting data on the COVID-19 pandemic? As a horrific crisis and traumatic experiences still seizing the lives, anxieties, and mental stabilities of so many globally, especially the most dispossessed, is there a way to generate knowledge about the pandemic while it’s happening in a way that is not extractive?
Dr. Cottom makes a crucial point about people viewing education as inherently and exceptionally good, even when the education system has consistently failed them at every turn. I see this as being detrimental for two reasons. The first reason is that it renders the harms caused by education invisible, for example it can make it difficult to see CUNY (and “the university”—a term I hope we will grapple with this semester) as a Carceral space not an exceptional site located outside of antiblack policing. The second reason is that it makes education into a panacea which it is not—education should exist alongside housing, public health, the arts, etc. I worry that some of the positive framing of CUNY in relation to COVID, for example the superherofication of the frontline worker / CUNY student, or the longer standing focus on CUNY as an engine of social mobility hold the university to impossibly high (and perhaps not optimal) standards that can have adverse ramifications. Do CUNY students working in healthcare and food service need to die en masse so that the city’s wealthy residents can survive COVID in relative comfort for the university to warrant funding? Does CUNY need to be the horario Alger industrial complex to earn its keep in Albany?
In her talk at the Graduate Center a couple months back, Dr. Cottom expressed frustration with a common misreading of her book that saw it as solely focused on for-profit universities as unique spaces within higher ed, missing the larger claim she is making about the pervasiveness of lower ed across the higher education sector. I see this as connected to a larger critique of the classification systems of colleges and universities that often obscure significant differences, even when they are attempting to reveal differences themselves. For example, in response to an overwhelming focus on private institutions in the media (the NYT seems to think Harvard is the only university in the world) much of the CUNY narrative demands greater attention be paid to public universities. But there is enormous variance within public higher education, with Berkeley certainly failing to speak adequately to the realities of Grambling State. Community colleges, which educate around half of the nation’s students, are given little attention in the media and even less that takes into account difference within this enormous sector. CUNY, the largest urban public university in the nation with hundreds of thousands of students and dozens of colleges and schools, is similarly depicted as a monolith, even in the op-eds written by those affiliated with CUNY. This can make it difficult to see that while we certainly experience austerity at the Grad Center (as the recent cuts to graduate students funding make clear), it is not to the same degree as the organized abandonment of a college like Medgar Evers where students attend overenrolled courses in temporary trailers that have seemingly become permanent.
The readings all seem to land well for me, but this might be becasue I have been reading so many blogs, stories, articles, etcc.. on having to decide between people and money.
Some qoutes that stood out to me from the readings are
“College presidents and their boards have a seemingly impossible choice..” – College Choice
“At that moment, we hoped to complete our research projects, write our papers, and pass our last class before throwing our caps in the sky and celebrating with our class of 2020” – John Jay Project
“It seems likely that no other college has suffered any many deaths as CUNY” (Robin, 2020)
I am anchoring on a few ideas that are coming from the readings
- How capitalism is showing up in “Plans to re open”
- How money seems to be the motivating factor for a-lot of private/public institutions.
- Notions of academic mutual aid and what that might look like for CUNY.
- Are we prioritizing stopping death or keeping life?
I recently published an article this summer that I believe adds to this discourse of this weeks readings (see below)
A prompt or series of questions can help focus your responses to our weekly readings. We encourage you to craft your own prompts and write them at the top of your responses, but we will also suggest prompts to you, as below.
- What kind of texts did we read for today (Feb 9)? (note sources & their conventions)
- Why begin our course with these kinds of academic writings? (consider teaching/learning context)
- How are you located in relation to this mini-archive of readings? (name your perspective)
- What patterns (e.g., repeated terms, places, rhetorics) do you see across today’s readings? (analyze the data, i.e., remake the parts into a new whole)
- What key tensions mark/motivate these writings? (set the stakes)
- What critical frameworks help you engage with these writings, at least partially? (adopt/adapt a theory, methodology, or disciplinary viewpoint)
- THE REAL QUESTION: What do you most want to say to our class in response to today’s readings, given your considerations of the prompts above?