In light of the recent elections and debate over education, we revisit Mary Soliday‘s “How to Win Your Argument in Higher Ed Without Spending One Red Cent,” which first appeared in Issue 63/64 (Spring 2005) of the minnesota review. Soliday taught at the City College of New York, City University of New York for 17 years, where she directed the campus writing center and then the writing across the curriculum program. She now teaches writing and literature and directs a new writing across the curriculum / in the disciplines program at San Francisco State University. Soliday is the author of The Politics of Remediation: Institutional and Student Need in Higher Education (2002), which received the 2004 Outstanding Book Award from the College Conference on Composition & Communication; Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments Across the Disciplines (2011); and many articles in essay collections and journals such as College English and College Composition and Communication. She sits on the editorial board for Studies in Writing and Rhetoric, SIU Press, soon to be part of the National Council for Teachers of English.
MEMO TO: Conservative Critics of Standards in Public Higher Education
FROM: A Colleague
RE: How We Restratified a Municipal University in the 1990s (CUNY); OR, How to Win Your Argument in Higher Ed Without Spending One Red Cent
DATE: March 1, 2005
I have been examining the case of the City University ofNew York (CUNY), which has finally begun to restratify by putting into place reforms we and our neoliberal allies have advocated for so long. (See the list below of these specific reforms.) As of spring 2005, an 18-campus system which once refused to distinguish between tiers, needlessly duplicated programs, charged a sensible tuition, and let about anyone in its doors through remedial programs has radically increased its tuition and reasserted more selective boundaries within and between institutions. Indeed, even the hardy band of (mostly) tenured radicals who once opposed us must now accept that the 1960s are over. The largest public urban system in this great nation now also accepts that a university cannot right the wrongs of society and hope to move masses of the urban poor into the middle classes if they aren’t bright enough to get there by themselves in the first place. Giving them a helping hand by creating remedial courses or generous admission policies will not help these students, but, like affirmative action (of which remediation is just another version), will actually harm these young people by giving them false hope that they can succeed.
However, because states like California might balk (they vowed to end remediation at Cal State in 2007, but haven’t yet), I think it’s wise to revisit the past—to look at how we achieved victory and crushed our opposition so effectively that now, in the early years of the new century, CUNY is again garnering praise from the New York Times. And the best news is that we did it all without spending one red cent!
How did we do it?
First, after nearly a decade of our devoted lobbying, the CUNY Board of Trustees did the right thing: they voted in 1999 to phase out all remediation in the four-year schools in CUNY and thus to put the final nail into the coffin of open admissions.
To read the rest of “How to Win Your Argument in Higher Ed Without Spending One Red Cent,” please visit our online archive, available through Duke University Press.