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Discipline . . . and Punish? Deconstructing CUNY's Discipline Councils

posted Mar 6, 2017, 8:54 PM by Jay Weiser   [ updated Apr 2, 2017, 10:31 PM ]
By Jay Weiser 

Michel Foucault's classic Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison states: 

There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.

Was Foucault prophesying CUNY's Discipline Councils? They go back to the 1990s, as a forum for department chairs in a given discipline across the university. The Academic Program Planning policy (created by a 06/28/93 Board of Trustees resolution) contemplates Discipline Councils without expressly using the term, directing:

the faculties of the University to work together within disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and professional groupings to identify ways in which each field can be strengthened across the University in areas such as curriculum, program development, faculty hiring and mentoring, and faculty development.

While the Academic Program Planning policy does not expressly address the UFS role, the Board of Trustees' 11/25/96 minutes offer an early mention, with thanks to then-UFS Chair Sandi Cooper.  Former UFS Executive Director Bill Phipps reported that the Discipline Councils were jointly sponsored by the University Faculty Senate and the Office of Academic Affairs, adding

Chairpersons of the respective departments in a discipline serve as members of a Council or name a departmental colleague to serve in their place. Councils organize themselves [and] decide on suitable structures. . . .  Each Council formulates its own goals, organizes and plans its own activities and selects the issues it wishes to address.

Organic, but Not Always Natural

The Academic Program Planning policy provides little clarity on the Discipline Councils' powers.  Having evolved organically over the last quarter-century, they do not always match CUNY's current configuration.  With the Discipline Councils planning to meet with the University Faculty Senate Executive Committee this week, here are some observations based on recent UFS inquiries about facts on the ground:
  • Some Discipline Councils represent individual disciplines, while others represent groups of disciplines. 
  • Enrollments and majors in many fields have fluctuated over the last quarter-century.  In recent years, the Pathways common core affected how traditional disciplines addressed freshman and sophomore curriculum.  
  • Despite former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein's vaunted Decade of Science, CBBP (Chemistry, BioChem, Biology, Physics) is the sole science Discipline Council. 
  • There are few Discipline Councils in social sciences, with no representation of majors reportedly increasing in popularity nationally, such as Economics.
  • CUNY has huge health sciences programs.  But while there are Discipline Councils for Nursing and for Food and Nutrition, there are none for Dental Hygiene or medical technician fields.
  • Some Discipline Councils may overlap (Speech Communications, Media, Arts & Technology, and one proposed for Communications).
  • One large council has been proposed for Business, an increasingly popular major -- but business disciplines such as Accountancy, Finance, Marketing and Management are not necessarily closely related.
Coordinated Outfits

CUNY has lacked a consistent principle for choosing when to coordinate academic policies through ad hoc task forces versus Discipline Councils.  The latter may be better at providing consistency and institutional memory.  
As we move to a federal university with more shared courses across campuses, Discipline Councils are essential for shared governance in curriculum (including online courses), and can offer a forum for faculty development and instructional software evalution.  

The UFS and Discipline Council members should explore a model of fewer and broader Discipline Councils (like the current sciences one) that can be more engaged -- with the ability to farm out specific disciplinary issues to subcommittees with mandates.

#disciplinecouncils #interdisciplinaryeducation #curriculum #sharedgovernance #academicprogramplanning

These are my observations alone, and not those of either the Executive Committee or the Discipline Councils.  All errors are mine.

Jay Weiser is Associate Professor of Law at Baruch College, a member of the UFS Executive Committee and UFS Legal Affairs Chair.  Thanks to former Executive Director William Phipps and UFS staff member Stasia Pasela for research.  

The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view. Have a comment about this post? Send it to the editor at etai@qcc.cuny.edu 

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Photo credit: Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons