Trying to demonstrate that the City University of New York was upholding high graduation standards, CUNY trustees voted last night to require that all students — including those at the bilingual Hostos Community College who are scheduled to graduate on Sunday — pass a university-wide writing examination before they can graduate.
Because Hostos had removed that requirement this year in favor of its own writing test, students there will have be called back to school this week for the 50-minute test, which is in English. Hostos, which is in the Bronx, was created to allow bilingual students to take some classes in Spanish, and about 80 percent of its 5,000 students are Hispanic.
Pressed repeatedly by the trustees for an estimate of how many students would be affected by the new requirement, Hostos’s president, Dr. Isaura Santiago Santiago, said that more than 400 students were set to graduate on Sunday, and that “many hundred” had not yet passed the examination. But university officials said later that Ms. Santiago had reduced that figure after the meeting ended, and that perhaps as few as 75 students would be affected.
Ms. Santiago was not available late last night to comment on the lower figure.
CUNY’s community colleges have been attacked recently by both Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gov. George E. Pataki, as well as by some trustees, for setting standards too low and for low graduation rates.
CUNY’s trustees have said they will scrutinize standards and the university’s remedial programs, which many students must take because they failed placement exams in reading, writing and mathematics.
The Hostos English requirement became an issue last week after Hostos students protested that the college’s writing exam they were being asked to take was too difficult. Hostos officials said they would make the exam less important and count their coursework, too, to demonstrate their English proficiency.
Mayor Giuliani and Herman Badillo, a CUNY trustee and close ally of the Mayor, quickly attacked that policy as inadequate, and Chancellor Reynolds said that students would have to take the CUNY exam for graduation in the future. But it was unclear whether students would be allowed to graduate this month without taking that exam.
Led by Mr. Badillo, the trustees voted last night that all students graduating from the university — specifically including students scheduled to graduate in the coming week — pass the university-wide writing examination.
“My heart goes out to the students,” Anne A. Paolucci, the chairwoman of the university, said after the vote. Twelve trustees voted for the measure, and one, Isfeachor Potts, the student trustee, abstained.
Ms. Paolucci said the requirement was necessary “for the sake of consistency and the integrity of the board.”
Mr. Badillo said, “We have to have standards that apply throughout the university, and proficiency in English is one of them.”
After a presentation about her college, Ms. Santiago faced adversarial questioning by the trustees, who were angered by her repeated focus on the Hostos test when they asked her to address the CUNY test.
One trustee, George Rios, said that he did not trust the data she was presenting. The trustees also chided her for not telling them that Hostos had dropped the CUNY writing test, and for not seeking their permission.
The CUNY writing examination that the trustees said all students must pass for graduation is a short, persuasive essay that is part of the placement test that all students must take when they enter CUNY. Those who fail any part of the placement exam, including reading and mathematics as well as writing, must take remedial courses and pass the exam before they are allowed to take more advanced courses in that subject.
Hostos dispensed with the university-wide writing test this year in favor of its own exam and a variety of other assessment criteria, saying that they were a better measure of a student’s command of English than the CUNY Writing Assessment Test.
CUNY’s Chancellor, W. Ann Reynolds. said she and her staff would work closely with Hostos in the next few days to notify students, test them and grade the exams immediately.
“We can get it done if the students come back in,” she said, adding that she is optimistic that many will pass because they have passed other English tests, including Hostos’s version.
“I’m really floored,” said Diana Diaz, a professor of English at Hostos, when told about the board’s action last night. “I thought we would have at least one semester to prepare students to succeed on the exam. I’m sure that with the proper preparation, most of them would have passed it. This is really tough.”
University officials said they did not expect the resolution to affect any other CUNY colleges, since all of them require that students pass the writing exam before graduation.
On another issue, the trustees were told last night by the Vice Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, Louise P. Matteoni, that many of their teacher-training programs could be threatened under a proposal being considered by the regents. The proposal would cancel programs whose students did not have high passing rates on the state’s teaching certification exams.