Cal State Fullerton’s last Academic Senate meeting of the semester adjourned with mixed pleas when voting on a resolution that would reduce units in the social sciences category to implement the new ethnic studies requirement.
The changes, which came from the chancellor’s office, would remove three units from general education area D, in order to create a three-unit requirement under a new area F, labeled as ethnic studies. Courses would be offered exclusively from the departments of African American, Asian American and/or Chicana and Chicano studies. Currently, the three units are used as part of the American Institutions requirement.
The Academic Senate devised two options for the reduction of units from social sciences, which came after the State Assembly passed a law earlier this year that requires all Cal State Universities to include an ethnic studies requirement for all campuses.
One proposal would create a separate section for the requirement in general education. The other option is to leave the system as is and remove three units from social sciences and not include it in the general education courses, forcing major programs to accommodate the change in units.
Greg Childers, associate professor of physics who led the presentation of the proposal, said that students would still have to take both requirements and that this would only be a change in the Titan Degree Audit for incoming classes.
“What the two options really are about are: whether to increase the total GE, plus the American Institutions requirement, by three units to a total of 51 or 52 (units), once you count the lab requirement in area B.3, or to keep the GE plus (American Institutions) requirement at 49 units, as it is now,” Childers said.
Childers said that the first proposal would introduce a general education waiver which is “controversial,” among the senate, and which could be denied by the chancellor’s office. He said that the second proposal utilizes more courses that are sufficient to fulfill multiple requirements which is currently unrestricted.
After Childers explained the proposals, members of the Academic Senate were asked to speak about them.
Jenny Zhang, an associate dean for the College of Business and Economics, said that the second proposal would create problems for students with high-unit majors and add more requirements for incoming transfer students. Zhang said she preferred the original proposal that would change the base requirements for general education courses.
Pradeep Nair, a coordinator for the computer engineering program, echoed Zhang’s support of the first proposal and said that implementing the second proposal could force students to remove one of their major classes and lower their competency for when they graduate.
“Different courses fit with each other like in a puzzle,” Nair said. “If one of them goes away, then it affects other courses. Therefore, it’s important that it’s not just viewed in isolation as just removing three units. It’s important that the big picture is always kept in mind.”
Robert McLain, a history professor, was passionate in his support of the second proposal. He said that the chancellor’s office was undermining the work of the Academic Senate.
“If you look at the members of the board of trustees who approve these things, maybe two of them have set foot in a classroom as tenure-track people,” McLain said. “The rest of them come from different backgrounds. They’re well-intentioned, but to me, they’re no different than somebody chained to the wall in Plato’s cave looking at shadows, they really don’t know what they’re doing.”
He added that while he understands the concerns from departments that have students with high-unit majors, the university can find a compromise to alleviate a cut in courses, and that knowledge of ethnic studies, humanities and American institutions is critical to students in any job.
Kristi Kanel, professor of human services, also supported the second proposal, echoing Mclain’s sentiment that having a humanities background makes students better trained to join the workforce, and that the university should focus on student job training. She added that either proposal can be seen as unfair to both sides of the issue, and departments with high-unit majors are not the only ones that CSUF should be concerned about.
“My question is, why do we have to accommodate two departments when there are many, many other departments? But it seems like we’re always accommodating to just simply two areas: engineering and business, who happen to be, probably upon graduation, making more money than any other department,” Kanel said.
No votes were cast for either proposal and the Academic Senate will continue discussion in January.