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Although many of the top CUNY administrators and presidents give lip service to CUNY’s historic mission, increasingly they are acting like academic robber barons. With a constant supply of new low-level drug sellers entering the market and ready to be exploited, drug lords can become increasingly rich without needing to distribute their wealth towards the bottom.
The academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core  of insiders. Contingent labor is reflected in the plight of adjunct faculty who typically make $3000 per course they teach.
An institution the size of CUNY needs to have paid staff whose responsibility it is to convene  a team of evaluators to make recommendations regarding software for use on the campuses. Although a recurring theme over many years in this blog, I now understand that such planning concerning online learning will probably never happen at CUNY. Early articles in journals about online learning clearly pointed out that faculty resistance was the number one impediment to the adoption of online at many institutions. At CUNY, faculty resistance was, and still continues to be, an issue impeding online implementation.
Even in the best of circumstances, with the full support of the Provost, full-time faculty may chose to balk at any initiative that smacks of a administrative directive.
There has been a great deal of heated debated over Amazon’s management practices as reported in the August 15, 2015 New York Times (link here). The NY Times article chronicles Amazon’s very strict measurement of any and all performance indicators on the part of employees and management alike. In the NY Times article paints a picture of “extreme accountability” for each and every Amazon employee. In my estimation (and from an admittedly biased perspective) I would contend that at CUNY is severely lacking in this area. The Gallop article clearly lays out the importance of communication of mission in any organization. A close second to lack of accountability at CUNY is the lack of communicating the mission clearly and effectively to all stakeholders. In a future post, I will address strategic planning for instructional technologies and online learning. It is not saying much to state that libraries currently are going through major challenges in the digital age. When a library refuses to embrace the digital challenge, students vote with their feet and stop visiting and using the libraries. Yet, libraries vigorously fight to fend off efforts to use their space for more productive purposes. But the tide is turning, if not merely for the fact that space is at a premium at campuses.
If I ever had the chance to meet CUNY’s new Chancellor Millikan, I would love to talk about a topic of mutual interest, namely, Online Learning. Imagine a student taking several hybrid or fully online courses as they pursue their degree. Closely related to vision, the latest Online Learning Consortium survey indicates that 80% of 4 year public colleges view online learning as strategic to their efforts. If online learning is important for the future of this university, then some central office needs to be guiding and supporting implementation of online at all CUNY campuses. Plan for and create an empowered Office for Online Learning within CUNY Central to assist campuses with all aspects of rolling out online programs.
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.
Regarding programs of online learning, however, we are talking about a competitive marketplace where there certainly needs to be a sense of 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). Note: Please refer to my original post (link) to provide a fuller context for the ensuing discussion. One of the key points that both Adam and Feng made was the need to empower the persons making change, in this case, those implementing a new online learning program. It seems curious that in this digital age, with the rapid growth of social media, online learning  and digital publications, that rewards for most digital activities are completely absent from the formal avenues leading to tenure and promotion within CUNY.
If this is the case, what is the motivation for junior faculty to create or teach an online course — especially if doing so might alienate senior faculty within the department? John Jay Online not only impacted teaching and learning at that college, but there also needed to be significant changes in policies, practices and procedures for that program to succeed. There are more lessons from John Jay’s online experience that are of value to other CUNY campuses.
Some of the barriers to entry into the arena of online learning have been greatly diminished in recent years, namely both the cost and scalability of the learning management system. Now, however, there are viable options for smaller entities wishing to conduct cost-effective online learning using a simple LMS. This company is a harbinger of what I would characterize as just-in-time LMS services, which may allow an institution, small company, or not-for-profit the flexibility of gradually building an online learning program without incurring significant start-up costs for the technology infrastructure. In summary, SchoolKeep and similar new options allow a smaller entity to pilot or prototype their online courses and programs without major financial risks. Slightly departing from my usual topic of online learning, I’m devoting this post or two to the topic of Faculty Centers within CUNY. These programs represent the first fully online programs at a CUNY college outside of CUNY’s School of Professional Studies online programs.
Acting as a moderator for the panel, I asked Adam and Feng to reflect on their experiences creating these programs from inception to program delivery. Having the college president of John Jay supporting the creation of these online programs was an essential part of seeing this project to fruition. Starting online programs with institutional support is a difficult path, without it is a fool’s errand.
Chancellor Milliken, and most CUNY campus presidents acknowledge that history and the special role this university has as the largest urban public university in the country. Despite being employed at a public university, with most students receiving tuition assistance to make ends meet, more than a handful of these executives live like a conquering army, richly rewarding themselves, consultants and cronies with very little oversight from CUNY Central or the CUNY Board of Trustees. In some cases, the abuse is so outlandish and endemic, that a college president must be removed (link) but this is a rarity for the most part.
You have an expanding mass of rank-and-file “outsiders” ready to forgo income for future wealth, and a small core of “insiders”  securing incomes largely at the expense of the mass.
Even if the probability that you might get shot in academia is relatively small, one can observe similar dynamics. If they teach several courses for two or more semesters, they are entitled to basic health insurance.  However, given budgetary shortfalls at City College, for example, many adjuncts had their courses dropped and, with it, their health benefits. Those who do not, often have administrations lacking any real understanding of online learning. It won’t happen for a myriad of reasons including lack of understanding the need, lack of understanding the means, lack of institutional support and lack of a clear vision to which such a strategic plan might be applied.


For the most part, the Sloan-C reports showed that administrators were a lot more enthusiastic about the potential for online than their respective faculty members.
The Gallop organization reviewed the article and followed it up with an intriguing analysis (link here).
Everything is subject to being questioned, tested, and improved including practices, policies and systems essential to making the company run better and more efficiently.
Invariably, as the writers imply, this practice, taken to an extreme, can cause much stress in the workforce, and significant turnover. While management is good at occasional PR announcements that so –and- so won a grant or such college was ranked well etc., what is missing is a compelling vision of where we are going as an institution and as a campus. Library personnel often have positions that are secure, regardless of whether they keep current with digital trends or not.  With librarians at CUNY getting tenure after publishing a few peer-reviewed articles, many chose to coast the rest of their careers since accountability in these positions is virtually non- existent. It is comical, if not tragic, to see rows and rows of dusty stacks being defended as critical to library operations when there is no student or faculty who would reasonably peruse the contents of any volume on those shelves.
Given the balkanized, unionized, tenure-ized, and dysfunctional structures that exist within CUNY, nothing short of a real mandate from the Chancellor will address this issue. If online teaching is important to you, as the leader of this university it is worthwhile formulating and promoting what that vision is. 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). 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. 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.
After decades of “deliberation,” faculty governance finally got around to addressing the issue of online learning.
Each campus, a reflection of CUNY as an institution, has a plethora of potential stakeholders who want nothing more than to slow down, if not kill outright, any real change on their campuses. It is even more curious that critical legal documents in the tenure and promotion process are governed by letters of agreement dating back over 40 years (see link 1 and link 2). However, only those who are fully knowledgeable and experts, going through this 4+ year process,  can really speak to these lessons.
An LMS is where most of online teaching happens — the virtual bridge between teacher and student. Companies like SchoolKeep, provide a customizable, affordable, easy-to-use LMS-lite for newbies in the online domain. Often LMS contracts locked in an institution to a specific vendor for a long period of time, or the vendor might require a significant percentage of the online revenues from the new venture.
As current Director of City College’s CETL (Center for Teaching and Learning), and having held several positions in faculty development over a dozen years at four institutions, I have given substantial thought to the topic. Karrin Wilks, (then) University Dean for Undergraduate Studies, surveyed all CTL Directors within CUNY to get a better understanding of what these Centers were doing, their staff and funding levels, their respective missions and impact and finally, make appropriate recommendations for action. This perspective comes from many years of teaching, research, publications, conference presentations and attendance, and thinking about their respective Centers. Topics discussed ranged from the initial vision to market research, from stakeholder buy-in to overcoming obstacles, from marketing to faculty development, from policies and procedures to takeaway lessons for other campuses. Yet, from inception to program rollout, it took about five years to fully implement these online programs. At several CUNY schools that I know of, mid-level administrators and some forward-looking faculty have attempted to pilot online offerings without the full buy-in from their respective administrations.
We have a diverse student body from countries throughout the world, and a tuition structure that is still highly affordable even with recent increases in tuition.
In addition to executive pay packages that are regularly abused, many receive chauffeurs, expensive townhouses, expense accounts, personal assistants and numerous other perks befitting a corporate executive. Instead, it is typical for top CUNY management not to be held accountable despite years of mismanagement, malfeasance, and cronyism, and only be checked after the situation reaches scandalous proportions or is reported in the media. Academia is only a somewhat extreme example of this trend, but it affects labour markets virtually everywhere. In essence then, 23 campuses are allowed to pursue their own path with a minimum of oversight from CUNY Central.
I often get asked if there are any limits on the number of students in online classes, or the minimum number of times that a hybrid class must meet to be considered hybrid.
As online has gradually become increasingly accepted across academia, faculty resistance has lessened, although online is still far from being embraced. Both CUNY Central and many campuses refuse to directly address the critical issue of faculty buy-in needed for online to be successful. Both pieces go to the heart of issues around motivating employees, promoting organization excellence and good management practice.
The question I have is, “What can CUNY learn from these and other management practice?” I believe there are many potential lessons to be learned; some of these are outlined below. It remains a question as to whether those who leave the hothouse competitive atmosphere at Amazon could have been valued contributors over the long run. I have seen institutional drift and ineptitude both university-wide and at specific campuses. As indicated in the quote above, such communication is essential for providing guidance and context to employees, and enabling them to see their roles in a larger context. How can libraries stay relevant given the onslaught of digital media, social networks, and ubiquitous access to information?
For the most part, change will not come from current library personnel themselves whom hold tenaciously to old paradigms and procedures. Millikan has been an advocate for online learning and, I feel, genuinely wants to move online teaching and learning forward within CUNY.
Only fully online programs, or those programs specifically designed with sufficient hybrid and online offerings  for students, will have the impact we seek. I believe such a   vision needs to be a bold statement of what is possible, and not a milk toast recitation of what is. If so, this needs to be stated, and moreover, planned for at the highest levels within CUNY. I’ve written a blog post (link here)  as to why such an office is needed and what aspects of online learning they might be helpful with.
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. 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. The only antidote to this scenario is for the president of a college to forcefully and unequivocally support those mandated to  make such change happen — as in the case of John Jay.
These documents pre-date even word processing and were obviously copied from old paper forms, yet have the force of law.
So younger faculty, who might gravitate to teaching online, need to think again, while older tenured faculty who can risk such behavior are not particularly inclined to do so since they may not be as fluent with technology or are happy with the status quo.
Hartman (see bio) has won just about every significant award in online learning that there is. After our panel discussion, I briefly proposed an idea to have such experts like Adam and Feng (and others from SPS) act as internal consultants for other CUNY campuses leaning toward starting fully online programs.
This scenario is not the case for these new vendors who are increasingly more friendly to novices in the online learning segment.


Thus, SchoolKeep might provide a good fit for those smaller learning enterprises making their initial foray into the arena of online learning. Admittedly, this observation is subjective, and though there is significant variation from Center to Center, I would stand by that view. This view is frequently heard and written about in SoTL  (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) circles. In terms of being agents for change, their unique talents and ideas can greatly assist a college in the throes of institutional change. Invariably, such well-meaning efforts lead to frustration and accusations from faculty governance and few sustainable initiatives. Undoubtedly, a student from a low-income family can receive an excellent education at CUNY, and not incur much debt in comparison to alternative institutions.
One of the hot topics in labour market research at the moment is what we call “dualisation”[3].
A quick calculation of the annual compensation for a top CUNY administrator versus an adjunct professor would easily come up with a 400:1 ratio (or more). In a previous blog, I used the sports metaphor of a football lining up on one side of the ball, while the other team’s players scattered all over, without anyone organizing the players.
Instead, often salespersons at conferences or making sales calls, get to pitch their products to those who don’t have the context or authority with which to make a legitimate choice regarding allocation of limited resources.
As a result, the heavy lifting needed for a successful online implementation falls to IT or CTL staff, who do not have the clout to make things happen. Of the approximately 45 instructors enrolled in that program, maybe a handful ever realized a hybrid or online course.
However, the Times article does point out those ex-Amazon staffers are highly regarded and often quickly hired by other companies in the tech field. This mismanagement is allowed to go on for years, seemingly without any checks or balances being exerted from faculty governance, CUNY Central and Chancellor, PSC-CUNY or any other body. No, change will by necessity come from the administrations of respective campuses, assuming there is a real vision for change. Without such information, we are steering the online ship without knowing our current bearings. Need we have a CUNY strategic plan for online learning or, jettisoning “strategic,” any university-wide plan for online within CUNY?
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. 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. 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.
Regardless, those seeking real change will inevitably encounter them in the sinecures of their faculty governance structures, administrative offices, departmental chairs, and often in the upper echelons of their respective campuses.
In the context of online learning, it means that all the difficult, good work of an untenured faculty (like Adam Wandt) in seeing two online programs to fruition, is completely ignored in terms of tenure and promotion.
It is (and was) of critical importance to change many college practices and procedures and have the needed systems in place for this (or any) online program to succeed.
By heeding their guidance, we can build institutional capacity while avoiding some of the pitfalls in developing online programs. Fundamentally, it is the center for online learning created from the toolkit provided by the LMS vendor.
Free LMS’s like Sakai and Moodle, could provide an affordable option to small entities only if you overlook the back-end technical know-how to successfully implement these systems. Moreover, SchoolKeep offers cost-added services like marketing, branding, registration, and student support depending on client requirements.
Although several years old, and since publication, several new Centers have cropped up on CUNY campuses, it remains the only authoritative document that I’m aware of that addresses this subject. I believe this session provided an all-too- rare dialogue concerning the trials and tribulations of starting fully online programs within CUNY.
Unlike the SPS online programs, which created alternative structures around faculty governance issues, John Jay did not have that luxury.
Without enthusiastic support of a college President and Provost, there is little hope for any semblance of an online strategy, vision or effective implementation.
To a large extent, Townsend Harris’ vision has been largely preserved for over a century, a significant accomplishment for this university. Dualisation is the strengthening of this divide between insiders in secure, stable employment and outsiders in fixed-term, precarious employment. Although the CUNY Committee on Academic Technology has tried to play a role with reviewing some technologies, there is no budgetary support, and so these ad-hoc efforts have been sporadic, if non-existent for new instructional technologies. Instead, despite many occasions of demonstrated incompetence and malfeasance, the status quo is allowed to fester, leaving staff, faculty and students the worse off for it. I should note that the School of Professional Studies, the exception to the rule, does have very positive, proactive, and context-providing communications from their Dean John Mogulescu (CUNY Senior Dean of Academic Affairs) and others in that organization. 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.
What follows below (and subsequent blog post) are the salient points these two experts made, and an expanded discussion of each point.
For all practical purposes, each campus stakeholders must be on board and pulling in the same direction for new online programs to have a fighting chance.
Academic systems more or less everywhere rely at least to some extent on the existence of a supply of “outsiders” ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of uncertain security, prestige, freedom and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail[4].
That same administration recently receives a new $700K grant from CUNY Central to begin planning two new online programs…. In all my years working at about a dozen different work settings (both private and public) I have never seen staff a so completely disillusioned and demoralize as currently exists.   This symptom is largely attributable to a management accountability vacuum at many campuses. OK, but realistically how long should we wait until the university gets a new, effective team on the field ?
I would wish the new chancellor success in changing CUNY’s institutional climate toward being more positive for online learning.
Such a project would be a fitting and useful outcome from our excellent panel discussion and assist many CUNY campuses in implementing online learning. As I’ve written in previous posts, throughout academia generally, and CUNY and its respective colleges specifically, there is a need for a serious overhaul in the approach to teaching, technology and learning. In addition, new policies and procedures had to be developed and approved, and numerous bureaucratic approvals needed to be obtained in terms of NYS Department of Education. A CUNY campus that proceeds down the online trail without such policies, is starting the journey without a map. Considering these and other unforeseen issues, it would be a good idea for all CUNY campuses interested in online programs to plan for a lengthy process.



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