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Closing doors and scary thoughts – City University of New York

The City University of New York has had a historical mission to
provide higher education to immigrants, the poor, and minority
Students. Its alumni include a distinguished roster of intellectuals
like polio vaccine inventor Jonas Salk, who might not have had an
accessible and affordable college education were it not for CUNY.

Currently, the eleven colleges of the city university system enroll
more than 200,000 students, about two-thirds minority. Many of the
students are older; many have English-language challenges. Most of them
see higher education as a step out of poverty and toward opportunity.

Thanks to a new policy that was clearly endorsed by Republican
Governor George Pataki, thousands of students may not have the same
opportunity that has been offered since the college instituted its
“open enrollment” policies in 1970. Eventually, all students entering
the senior, four-year colleges — except recent immigrants who need
only language remediation — will have to pass three admissions tests
before matriculating. Those who do not pass will have only one
opportunity to master the material — during the summer. Otherwise,
they will be diverted to one of CUNY’s six community colleges — which
are already bursting at the seams.

Who will be excluded because of the Policy? Would you be surprised
to learn that two-thirds would be Asian American, African American, or
Latino? This represents nearly 8,000 Students a year who would be
diverted to “remedial programs” for deficiencies in even one of the
areas, of math, reading, and writing.

Meanwhile, 80 percent Of Our nation’s universities offer’ remedial
courses because students who have strengths in some areas may have
weaknesses in another — and 29 pet-cent of all college freshmen
nationwide are enrolled in at least one remedial course.

There is nothing wrong with remediation being offered in the
context of higher education, especially when students do not get
college credit for their remedial classes and when they can take some
college-level classes while they are simultaneously taking remedial

Because remediation has been part of higher education for quite
some time, those trustees of CUNY who say they are simply trying to
impose “educational standards at the university sound disingenuous. It
is clear that both Governor George Pataki (who seems to have lobbied
hard for the decision) and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (whose implicit
hostility to people of color was revealed in his comments about CUNY
students) had political axes to grind in their advocacy of the new

The policy needed nine votes to pass, and it got just the votes it
needed, with all five of Giuliani’s appointees to the board supporting
the plan. An appointee of former Democratic governor Mario Cuomo who
opposed the plan said it was the first step in a plan to downsize the
university, and indeed, the Mayor talked about relocating education to
Community colleges and “private providers” of remedial education.

But since city and state tax dollars go to support the University,
it is an act of hostility to promote a policy that will exclude so many
people of color from enrollment. And at a time when welfare reform
demands that women who receive aid prepare themselves for alternate
careers, it is a travesty to close the doors of higher education in
their faces.

The CUNY plan will be phased in over a three-year period, first
taking effect in academic year 1999-2000 at four of the system’s eleven
four-year colleges. African American enrollments are projected to drop
by 48 percent at Brooklyn College, 42 percent at Queens College, and 36
percent at Hunter College. In the second phase, in academic year
2000-01, African American enrollments will drop by as much as 70
percent at some of the colleges.

What will happen to those students who seek admission to CUNY’s
four-year colleges but are denied it? The trustees would either shunt
them off to the system’s community colleges or completely ignore them.
No wonder the meeting where the decision was made was disrupted by
protests, a vocal audience, and even arrests.

Yet the protests were too little and too late. The initial protests
should have happened at the ballot box when Pataki and Giuliani ran for
election. We know what these men stand for, and part of what they stand
for is the slamming of doors to opportunities.

Further protests should have taken place when these men appointed
trustees who were likely to carry out the Republicans’ policies. And
when Pataki and Giuliani interfered with the process of setting policy
by lobbying their trustees, there also ought to have been protests. The
CUNY trustees felt free to exclude because those who need access to
public higher education have encouraged that feeling.

There are lots of projections about the workforce of the future, a
workforce that has a need for well-educated scientists and computer
technicians. But we will also need hundreds of thousands of cashiers,
home health aides, and other low-wage workers. Those who have access to
higher education can escape the low-wage option. This is not the time,
it seems, to he slamming doors and snatching opportunities away from
those who need them most.

But perhaps it is the time for those who don’t want to see people
of color matriculating, They are, perhaps, wondering who will take care
of their elderly, who will empty the bedpans, who will slide fast food
dinners across a counter for them. And perhaps they are ensuring that
those who have the lowest wage jobs will be the Black and Brown people
they would exclude from higher education. It’s a scary — but not an
outlandish — thought.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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