While other CSUs trim ethnic studies, CSUF does things differently

In Campus News, Local News, News

In August, the California Faculty Association’s (CFA) Council for Affirmative Action and Board of Directors sent out a letter to all California State University presidents urging them to support ethnic studies in the CSU.

This letter was in response to the increasing concern across some CSU campuses and their attempts in becoming a more “efficient” campus budget-wise by consolidating or cutting ethnic studies programs or departments.

At San Jose State, Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Long Beach, initiatives of dismantling or merging of ethnic studies programs and departments into larger ones have either started or are being considered.

In an interview with President Mildred García in October, her reaction to the letter was one of surprise.

“I was surprised by the letter, quite frankly, because we are supporting our ethnic studies programs here,” García said. “We’re very strong supporters; there’s no discussion at all regarding anything that was mentioned in the letter.”

“I was surprised by the letter, quite frankly, because we are supporting our ethnic studies programs here,” García said. “We’re very strong supporters; there’s no discussion at all regarding anything that was mentioned in the letter.”

While García is a strong supporter of ethnic studies, she champions being all-around culturally competent.

“(What is) important for me is that we are culturally competent across … ethnic studies is very important for those people that come for those groups, because you learn your history and you learn your culture, but it’s also extremely important that you learn about others,” García said. “And so ethnic studies is important for all students to learn across all cultures.”

Unlike CSULB, where the Department of Africana Studies is in danger, CSUF has hired two African-American faculty members to ensure CSUF’s cultural centers receive proper attention.

CSULB asked Chancellor Timothy P. White for a two-year moratorium—delaying further action until an assessment can be done.

Students and staff statewide have staged protests, talks and even mock funerals mourning the loss of these studies.

According to the Spartan Daily, San Jose State’s student newspaper, students set up a coffin with tombstones to represent the lack of ethnic studies courses at San Jose State during an event celebration.

“Everything is fine over here (CSUF), not a problem at the moment,” said Mahamood Hassan, president of CSUF’s CFA chapter.

Eliza Noh, Ph.D., associate professor of Asian American studies, disagrees with cutting ethnic studies in the CSU.

“I think it is a very bad idea. We are (a) state school and state schools should serve the student population,” she said. “The state is racially and ethnically diverse. We are moving into a more globalized society. It is a very short sighted move in the way of saving money or cutting the budget. (It is) not going to save (money) in the long term.”

CFA also said ethnic departments supplement academic support services in the CSU by providing models, advisers and also fulfilling the general educational requirements.

CFA said these departments provide vital links to the diverse communities the CSU serves.

In accordance to the university’s strategic plan, Noh said ethnic studies help attain those high-impact practice goals.

High-impact practices is student engagement, where student learning goes beyond the classroom, applying to their personal, work and academic lives.

“One of the strategic goals of the university is to incorporate high impact practices into student learning. That is exactly what ethnic studies does,” Noh said. “Things like experiential learning, student research, collaborative work, and community engagement have always been part of the ethnic studies curriculum.”

But due to budget cuts from 2008, ethnic studies departments have faced many obstacles.

“2008 has been very difficult. It has taken quite a toll on our program in terms of the pressure to cutback. Also, we have to reach target in terms of enrollment,” Noh said. “So, because of the pressure to reach (the) target we have to offer courses that enroll high.”

She said it is difficult to develop new types of courses because when a program or department first offers a new course, enrollment tends to be low.

“So it is difficult during that period to offer new classes because the pressure is to offer courses that enroll high so that we can reach target,” Noh said.

Retention among students and staff is also another issue ethnic studies faces.

“In ethnic studies we do have problems with retention. In terms of retaining high quality faculty, I think one of … the consequences of the budgetary issues was people would go to other campuses which would offer them more resources,” Noh said.

But García remains positive.

“There are no conversations at all. First of all, let me begin by saying a president does not get involved in those conversations. Those are faculty issues. But there are no discussions at all that I know of, because we see our ethnic studies departments as very critical to the learning of all students, and I think we have to underscore all students.”

Noh said she thinks García understands the value of study in multiculturalism, race, and ethnicity to a global society.

“The president has been vocal about her support for ethnic studies. So, I assume that because she is vocal and that she is committed to supporting ethnic studies on campus—I think she does understand the value of the study of multiculturalism, race and ethnicity to a global society. I’m optimistic,” Noh said.

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