As Cal State University administration continues to find ways to implement Assembly Bill 1460, an ethnic studies requirement, much of the public seems to be in disagreement with the system's decisions.
Students and faculty took to the CSU board of trustees’ virtual meeting on Tuesday for over an hour to express their opposition to making the ethnic studies requirement a lower-division requirement.
Many of those opposed to the plan refer back to the bill’s text in which the pathways to implementation do not specify that the requirement must be a part of general education or as a lower-division course.
“I support the creation of a free-standing ethnic studies graduation requirement, as this will allow students to fulfill the requirement in a straightforward and timely manner,” said Audrey Chong, a business major minoring in Asian American studies at San Jose State. “This flexibility will not only uphold the spirit and letter of the law but also offer the respect that faculty and students deserve in fighting for racial justice.”
Manmit Singh, a student studying comparative ethnic studies at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, emphasized their desire for the requirement to have a wide range of course options while echoing the argument of flexibility and to center the conversation around ethnic studies scholars.
“Your move to implement ethnic studies as a lower division GE requirement is a direct attack on ethnic studies and a cop-out, throwing ethnic studies on the community colleges instead of investing in ethnic studies departments on Cal State campuses as you should be doing,” Singh said.
In late July, the board approved to amend the CSU general education requirements to include a course about ethnic studies and social justice when the bill had just passed in the California Senate.
Around the same time as the amendment, Charles Toombs, president of California Faculty Association, previously called the CSU’s approach diluted and oppressive.
“No one will be surprised to hear that the CSU refused to consult with the CSU Council of Ethnic Studies, the faculty of experts in Ethnic Studies, or the CSU Academic Senate,” Toombs said in a statement opposing the board’s decision and in support of AB 1460.
The purpose of such wording was to be able to include a broad array of courses in the three-unit requirement that could focus on the intersection of race, class, gender, religion and immigration status, among other studies.
CSU’s plan was overridden in early August after Gov. Gavin Newson approved the bill, officially making it so that students entering the system in 2021-22 will have to fulfill a course exploring the experiences of Black Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latinx Americans living in the United States.
In a presentation to the committee on educational policy, Alison Wrynn, an associate vice chancellor, offered clarification on the requirement’s placement. She said that unlike campus requirements, system requirements must be consistent throughout the 23 campuses.
She also said that during a conversation with the leadership and Academic Senate of the California community colleges, they affirmed that the proposed plan would lay down a clear pathway for students that transfer from a junior college to a CSU.
“This allows all students who are exposed to these disciplines early in their educational journey, the opportunity to enroll in subsequent ethnic studies courses, should they so choose,” Wrynn said.
Loren Blanchard, executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, clarified that campuses may offer upper-division courses in addition to lower division to satisfy this requirement, as well as allowing for the course to be used to fulfill major or minor requirements.
Blanchard added that the faculty will have full autonomy and flexibility to determine which courses will be approved to meet the requirement. The requirement is not for existing students at a CSU but for new students that will arrive starting fall 2021.
“We strongly believe that these clarifications as a result of feedback from CSU faculty and from our educational partners provide a path forward for the implementation of the new requirement,” Blanchard said.
Silas Abrego, a CSU trustee, voiced his concern on the proposal not reflecting the letter of AB 1460, echoing the arguments presented by the public commentators.
He said that 19 out of the 23 CSU campuses had not supported the proposal, in which he proposed that the board take the proposition submitted by faculty and endorse that as the implementation plan.
Wrynn responded to Abrego and agreed that while faculty from each CSU campus has autonomy over the course work that will meet the requirement, AB 1460 names the CSUs as the entity that must implement it, leaving the system to come up with a plan.
“When you come back to the conversations in the new year, I submit to you as trustees have the solemn responsibility here to take actions and enable all students to benefit by this requirement,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy White.