"Beyond 'An Institution Adrift': The Third Current of Writing at CUNY in the 21st Century"

deadline for submissions: 
August 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Todd Craig, Amy Wan, Neil Meyer (City University of New York)

Beyond “An Institution Adrift”: The Third Current of Writing at CUNY in the 21st Century

Eds. Todd Craig (Medgar Evers College), Neil Meyer (LaGuardia Community College), Amy J. Wan (Queens College)


The roots of the City University of New York (CUNY) extend back to 1847, when “The Free Academy” was established and later evolved into today’s City College. The city-wide system we know today--with its 26 campuses ranging from community colleges to post-graduate institutions--was put into place in 1961. Whether starting with its nineteenth-century pre-history or its formal 1961 establishment, CUNY has stood as a system devoted to public education that has been at the center of discussions and protests about who should have access to a college education, what that education is comprised of, and how that education should be funded. Beyond “An Institution Adrift”: The Third Current of Writing at CUNY in the 21st Century examines how writing instruction reflects and responds to the state of US public education through the realities of the “CUNY promise” in the 21st century.


The most fraught conflicts over CUNY emerged out of student activism of the late 1960s, where protests, culminating in the 1969 student-led takeover of City College, forced the system to speed-up its commitment to open admissions and create Black Studies programs, among other demands. Financial crises in the 1970s and again in the 1990s roiled CUNY and made city-wide and national headlines. For a long time, the Rudolph Giuliani era of CUNY, marked by the 1999 report, The City University of New York: An Institution Adrift, served as a kind of historical coda; the end of open admissions, the centralization of the CUNY administration, and an ebbing of CUNY’s most progressive political and social ambitions. That document led to many of the initiatives that have defined CUNY in the 21st century, such as the end of traditional remediation at four-year colleges and the emergence of Pathways. Central to many of these battles are what Mary Soliday describes as “literacy crises;” students being described as “unready” for college level reading and writing, faculty described as unprepared to educate such students, and institutions blamed for “lowering standards” in order to accommodate the diverse new student populations at CUNY.  


The 21st century at CUNY has seen the end of a years-long hiring freeze, the development of the ASAP program, the rise of “degree acceleration,” the city and state austerity response to the financial crisis of 2008, and the current end of both placement examinations at entrance and traditionally understood remediation. Now is the time to reflect on these changes and investigate how they and others have altered writing at CUNY in recent years and echo broader trends around public higher education in the United States. These investigations need to consider the CUNY goal of educating the city’s diverse residents and the ways CUNY has achieved, and failed to achieve, that goal. 


We are seeking scholarly contributions to a volume that would address these issues as they relate to CUNY’s recent history, with a particular focus on the role of literacy, language and writing. What changes have shaped and reshaped writing at CUNY? How in 2020 do we respond to the long narrative touting the CUNY “promise” for its students by looking at what is happening in writing programs and classrooms? What issues of access and equity continue to plague, and sometimes even paralyze, CUNY? How do the issues within CUNY engage with evolutions in writing programs and colleges across the nation?


We invite interested scholars (both within and outside of CUNY) to submit proposals up to 750 words that consider the recent history of composition at CUNY in the context of its legacy of access and equity and national conversations about writing. We are interested in proposals that address these these concerns within a number of possible issues:

  • State of the WPA role within CUNY 

  • Multilingualism and the emergent immigrant communities within CUNY

  • Historical case studies of foundational moments surrounding race, literacy, and access that provide insight into current developments

  • The various iterations of writing placement and “exit standards”

  • The race-based effects of post-Giuliani era reforms 

  • Examples of equity-oriented and anti-racist programs, policies, and processes

  • Various sequences of developmental reading and writing and the recent “end” of remediation

  • The effects of austerity funding of CUNY as well as how that connects to the austerity funding of public education across the country

  • The role of nonprofits, such as Strong Start to Finish, in the shaping of CUNY policy.

  • The rise (and perhaps fall) of Writing Across the Curriculum

  • Boundaries and points of connection across composition, ESL, and reading programs

  • The impact of labor and hiring such as the end of the CUNY hiring freeze and the extreme adjunctification of composition instruction

  • The shifting metrics of “success,” such as graduation rates, time-to-degree, and data collection and assessment

  • Shifting cost-burden from the state onto students and its repercussions in classrooms

  • Faculty governance and institution-wide policies (top-down vs. bottom-up initiatives)

  • The pre- and post-effect(s) of “the CUNY promise” for marginalized students and faculty, and how this concept reflects larger demographic shifts within the New York City area

  • Connecting issues at CUNY to national trends at other public and private institutions

  • How writing programs envision their digital selves, particularly in moments of crisis

For consideration, please submit proposals (up to 750 words) by August 1, 2020 to cunythirdcurrent@gmail.com. Our deadline will be flexible, given current conditions.