Even with all the recent noise over vouchers, many of New York City’s teachers and education-watchers hear nothing but silence–punctuated with surreptitious whispers. Benno Schmidt, chair of the mayor’s ad hoc commission on the City University of New York, was supposed to lay out some of the panel’s big restructuring plans before the University Faculty Senate on Friday. Instead, the meeting was cancelled, and the commission’s report–originally slated for last November–now may not go public until the end of the month.
That has kept the CUNY community gossiping and fretting about what Schmidt & Co. might have in mind for the public university system, especially since the panel includes Manhattan Institute privatization henchpersons Heather MacDonald and Richard Schwartz. Schmidt has dropped broad hints about what the panel may recommend at two recent public speeches. Points will likely include:
“Mission differentiation” that focuses schools like York and City College away from liberal arts and toward more specific programs, like research or engineering.
More criticism of the public school system. Schmidt points out that CUNY’s remedial education problems stem from the failures of the public schools.
Governance changes that rearrange the way CUNY is organized.
A plan to handle remediation through vouchers so students can use private education providers like Stanley Kaplan–or, as some have mentioned, the Edison Project, where Schmidt is the chief education officer.
The recommendations aren’t binding, and reforms will depend on what the Board of Regents and the governor think of the report. “If [Schmidt] recommends things like closing colleges down, or basic and profound structural changes that require state legislation, it’s probably dead in the water,” said College of Staten Island history professor Sandi Cooper, a former chair of the Faculty Senate. “If he recommends things that trustees can do without interference, like rearranging educational priorities, that’s wide open.”
One current theory for the delay is that the Giuliani-Pataki feud has prevented the mayorally-appointed commission from getting a meeting with the governor’s people to okay the report. Others dismiss the political explanation: “It’s internal to the committee, not external,” said University Faculty Senate chair Bernie Sohmer. “It’s a committee of very strong people who do not always see eye to eye.”