Episode #33: A Once Great University with Martin Burke

Peter Wood

The City University of New York (CUNY) once had a reputation for providing high-quality education to the poor, working class, and immigrants of New York City. City College, in particular, has long been known as “the poor man’s Harvard.” But CUNY has fallen prey to political correctness, and its zeal to be accessible and affordable has led to a steep drop in academic standards.

This week I’m joined by Martin Burke, an associate professor of history at the CUNY Graduate Center and at Lehman College, chair of the University Faculty Senate, and ex-officio member of the CUNY Board of Trustees. Marty is an active member of NAS and its local chapters, the New York Association of Scholars and the CUNY Association of Scholars.

In this episode, we talk about CUNY’s history, and what it says about higher education at large.

Show Notes

0:00: Peter introduces Marty Burke, and Marty tells a little about his own history.

6:30: CUNY’s standards once matched Harvard’s--but the open admissions policy of the 1960s led to a steep decline.

13:08: CUNY started to institute higher standards in the late 1990s, but it still prides itself on “accessibility.” What does that mean for its academic quality?

19:18: Peter asks Marty about the state of higher education in the United States. Would open admissions be a good policy for the rest of the country?

23:42: Peter questions the value of college today, and Marty shares CUNY’s current perspective on the purpose of education.

28:58: Peter and Marty discuss changing demographics, and what’s in store for universities as the population ages.

31:10: Marty mentions CUNY’s move towards online education, and he and Peter discuss the advantages and disadvantages of education in a virtual classroom.

38:10: CUNY’s Pathways initiative created a new general education program--but it failed to give students common knowledge.

46:25: What is the purpose of general education? Pathways once included 4,200 options for general education courses. Is that really a common core?

56:29: How has CUNY handled Title IX, non-gendered pronouns, academic freedom? Marty shares a few anecdotes, including the story of Josh Blackman, a law professor shouted down.

1:06:03: Marty joined NAS because of its “vigilant commitment to academic freedom and free expression, wherever that leads.” He explains how and why he is involved with NAS, and why you should be too.


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