|Badillo Sets His Sights On Change:
A New Course For CUNY Set Adrift
Even as a civil liberties law suit still cries out for the old concepts of remediation, the new Chairman of the Board of the City University of N.Y. was full of promise about raising education levels and a brilliant future for CUNY when he spoke to the Queens Tribune last week.
Herman Badillo, a man used to stepping beyond the minimum requirements in life, was excited about the challenge ahead. He said the changes he has planned for CUNY will bring it back to a level of excellence and out of the problems outlined in the recent Mayors Advisory Task Force report "The City University of New York: An Institution Adrift."
Badillos record in city government and his voice in city politics reaches back to 1962. A magna cum laude graduate from City College of New York in 1951 with a Bachelor of Business of Administration degree and a cum laude graduate of Brooklyn Law School in 1954, he was admitted to the New York Bar in 1955. In November 1962, he was appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Relocation making him the first full commissioner of Hispanic origin in the history of the city.
In November 1965 he was elected borough president of the Bronx, making him the first borough president of Hispanic origin in the city. Not satisfied, he became the first congressman of Puerto Rican origin in the history of the nation in 1970 when he was elected to the house of representatives to represent the Bronx, Queens and Manhattan.
After several re-elections, he resigned in 1978 to be deputy mayor of New York City under Mayor Edward Koch. He served as deputy mayor for management and deputy mayor for policy before resigning in 1979 to return to private practice and be a founding partner at Fischbein, Badillo, Wagner, and Harding in Manhattan.
In 1990, he returned to public service when Governor Mario Cuomo appointed him to the Board of Trustees at CUNY. In 1997, Governor George Pataki appointed him vice chairman of the Board and in June 1999 he was named chairman of the Board of Trustees.
During the interview at Tribune headquarters, Badillo outlined CUNYs main problems as caused by insufficient early education in the public school system and followed up by CUNYs lowered standards and inability to attract top-tier students.
Badillo said his first step is to re-structure remediation programs, and to effect as much as possible the high school level of learning through mergers between college faculty and 9th and 10th grade students. Remediation programs are designed to bring students math and English skills up to the level necessary for them to succeed in college courses.
Remediation: A New Attitude
As for CUNYs present state of affairs, Badillo offered the shocking figure that over 75 percent of CUNY college students at senior and community colleges require remediation. That means that over 75 percent of those students in the CUNY system arent really ready to be there, he explained. He added that over the last several years CUNY law students have had the lowest Bar Exam scores. All of this, he said, attacks the value of a CUNY diploma.
Badillo explained that CUNY will start to eliminate remediation classes during the regular school year from all ten senior colleges by the year 2001. Queens, Baruch, Brooklyn, and Hunter Colleges will be the first schools to be effected, with classes as they currently exist ending in January 2000. Remediation classes will continue to be held on these campuses, but will be structured differently.
Students entering the senior colleges will be required to take three Freshman Skill Assessment tests. If they fail one they will have to take a remediation class which will be held on the campuses during the summer. Upon completion they will face a final exam. If they pass they can continue onto regular classes. If they fail they will have to enroll at a community college, or take remediation classes during evenings and weekends until they receive a requisite score. No longer will students be taking remedial classes while they attempt to take their college classes at the same time, Badillo explained.
"The point here is that before they begin college they should be able to do that level work," added Vice Chancellor of University Relations Jay Hershenson, who was also present at the Tribune meeting.
Unlike remediation classes in the past, the summer classes will be free. However, community college classes held during the regular year, and adult education classes, will be charged.
Summer remediation classes began in 1986, with around 500 students enrolled. This summers classes have totaled 16,000 attendees.
Even as the new Chairman spoke hopefully about the turnaround this change will make in the system, a lawsuit filed by six civil liberties groups threatens to postpone the change. The suit claims that CUNY trustees did not submit their proposal to the board of Regents for review. Though the trustees have since done so, the groups have maintained the lawsuit, which was initiated in December, and as of July 8 CUNY has retained attorney Lawrence Mandelker as their defense.
How About Sleeping Over?
When asked about college dorms a long debated proposal often defined as a way to attract higher caliber students to CUNY Badillo said it is not a priority for him and not on his current agenda. He said he wants to increase the skills and standards of students within the city, rather than turning to imported intellect.
Social Promotion Is "Racist"
The Chairman returned many times to the concept of social promotion, defining it as "access to education without service," a "great disservice," and denouncing the policy as "racist."
Badillo, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York at age 11, was educated in both Puerto Rican and New York Public Schools.
He spoke of studying at a city high school and getting put on a vocational track rather than an academic one. He said he didnt know there was a difference he was never offered a choice until a fellow student he worked with on the school newspaper explained that he was on the wrong track. He had been put into a vocational program because he was Puerto Rican and had a thick accent, Badillo said, but this peer believed he should set different horizons.
With disappointment in the current educational system, he said the same out-of-date airplane engines that he worked on when he was in high school are still in the public school system, offering outdated lessons to the students preparing for the industries of tomorrow.
Badillo traced the problems of social promotion and the lack of enough educational gates for students to the time when the citys demographics changed and John Lindsay was mayor during the 1960s and early 1970s.
"When the Irish and Italians were [predominant] no one would have tolerated social promotion," said Badillo. "But when the city became [primarily] Puerto Rican and African American people became afraid, and said Lets just pass em all"
"Many parents dont speak English, and assume [when they see a passing report card] that their child is doing well. No one wants to be held accountable . . . no one wants to explain to black and Hispanic parents that their children are not learning," he continued.
He also blamed the citys drop out rates on social promotion standards. If a student is unprepared for ninth grade, they become frustrated and by tenth often drop out, he said.
The Answer For CUNY 2000
Though as chairman of the CUNY board Badillo cannot affect Board of Education policy, he said he believes that Chancellor Rudy Crews plans to eliminate forms of social promotion are essential to the re-birth of CUNY.
Badillo is also working to institute "College Now," a program which teams New York City high school students and college faculty to improve students knowledge and encourage them to pursue a college degree.
He added that his policies to end open admission at CUNY are nothing new and are not influenced by the proposals of the Mayor or the Governor.
"In 1969 I had never heard of Guiliani or Pataki, but I was opposed because I felt it was an outrage to immigrants. Open admission without standards will wipe out the significance of a city diploma," he said, emphasizing that standards must be set and raised to a level that makes a CUNY diploma a valuable one.
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