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From the Letters to the Editor column in the April 2013 issue of Perspectives on History

Letters to the Editor: On "The Value of the Humanities"

Sandi E. Cooper, April 2013

Editor's Note: Perspectives on Historywelcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should follow our guidelines. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

To the Editor:

While I appreciate James Grossman's "The Value of the Humanities" in the January 2013 issue, I remain deeply disappointed that the AHA failed to support the humanities when the faculty of the City University of New York so requested a year ago.

The reason for that request was a project invented by the CUNY central administration and authorized by a board of trustees which never examined its implications despite thousands of faculty and student protests—a project called Pathways. Both the content of this academic project and the means by which it was and is being implemented demean standards, trample academic freedom, and sneer at shared governance.

Pathways purports to offer a quick transfer system for students among the 18 undergraduate colleges—community and senior colleges. This presumed student boon potentially allows a student to obtain a baccalaureate without a course in literature, or history, or language or political science or anthropology or with only one of the above, supposedly fulfilling a category called "World Cultures." It authorizes only three credits for basic sciences omitting labs and three hours only for English composition which cuts the fourth hour that most colleges used for added instruction. For some senior colleges which had 50–55 required credits in general education, these have been sliced to 42. No exceptions.

The MLA has published criticisms and written private letters to the chancellery as have various national scholarly organizations. Several diplomats to the US commented that the essential omission of foreign languages hardly represented a step forward in a global age. Anyone who wants to see the range of negative responses—over 80 resolutions from faculties, over 6,000 signatures on petitions—can check the websites of the University Faculty Senate or the Professional Staff Congress. A national petition is currently circulating in opposition to this travesty.

CUNY, the third largest university system in the US and the largest urban system, attempts to educate one of the most economically and culturally deprived populations in the country. This population also includes an ever growing number of international students. This student body is largely minority, many with poor skills, first generation college attendees for whom college is a way up. But an education which trivializes the humanities and diminishes the disciplines is, in effect, a racist product—in outcome if not intent. Faculty who have tried to bring this to your attention have been disappointed by your silence.

When I wrote last year to ask the AHA to examine this travesty of general education, I received a polite letter of receipt and then silence.

At its last meeting, the Modern Language Association passed a resolution denouncing Pathways. The AAUP has done the same. Given the fact that history in CUNY curricula was a standard requirement across the two and four year colleges, its likely future evisceration ought to be of interest to the professional organization of historians.

—Sandi E. Cooper, College of Staten Island and the Graduate School, CUNY