SF State regularly cites the College of Ethnic Studies (COES) as a signpost for the University’s activist and progressive roots, but despite ads on buses and billboards it’s one of the most consistently underfunded colleges on campus.
Born out of the five-month Third World Liberation strike of 1968-69, the COES includes scholarship in the areas of Africana, Asian American, American Indian, Latino/Latina and Race and Resistance studies, but its 50-year lifespan has been fraught with conflict, and many say student protest has been the biggest factor in keeping the college alive.
“We’re historically underfunded because we’re the smallest college on campus,” race and resistance professor Larry Salomon said. “In 2016 it was argued that our cuts were disproportionate to other colleges.”
The COES has received many budget cuts over the years despite being the first and only college of its kind.
The College of Education (COE) has 11 departments to COES’ five, but according to budget reports from 2014-19, the COE received an average of $7,327,409 in funding — $1,198,804 more than the COES averaged in that time.
The overall budget has risen over the years, but funding for COES is still fundamentally lower than SF State’s other five colleges.
“There are some cuts that are targeted towards [specific] departments,” said Interim Dean of the COES Amy Sueyoshi. “During the 2016 hunger strike, the provost at the time approved two faculty replacement hires in Africana Studies, but later revoked her approval and didn’t allow them to hire new replacements.”
In fall 2015, faculty told students the University planned to defund the COES even further.
“They were going to cut the budget and hire more administration and give them big salaries,” said Arab and Muslim Ethnicities Diaspora (AMED) Director and Founder, Rabab Abdulhadi. “This was not in the interest of the academic institution.”
President Wong offered a one-time installment of $250,000 to assuage faculty concerns and students but members of the college determined it wouldn’t be enough to make ends meet on a day-to-day basis.
This prompted protests around campus and in the spring of 2016 four students participated in a hunger strike to demand adequate funding for the college.
SF State student Julia Retzlaff was invited to take part in the strike by her peers, Ahkeel Mestayer and Sachiel Rose but Retzlaff was hesitant at first. The knowledge that the strike was potentially the only thing between the COES and extinction drove her to join though.
“There was a pressure of wanting to do something,” Retzlaff said.
Ultimately, 10 of the protestors’ 26 demands were met and the University made a $482,806 investment on top of the $250,000 initially granted by Wong.
Among the strikers’ other demands were the allocation of funds to support two additional Africana Studies professors, the maintenance of administrative transparency in future budgets and funding and immunity from disciplinary action against students and faculty involved in the strike.
Over its 50-year history the COES has consistently found strength in its students, who California Faculty Chapter President James Martel said have had to defend the college from the administration nearly perpetually.
“It’s a continuous loop [and] there are many protests on campus that the administration does not want to support,” Martel said. “Protests keep the College of Ethnic Studies alive when the administration tries to underfund it at marginal levels.”
Martel noted that the University often trots the COES out as an advertisement for its history of activismt to donors, students and parents, but one wouldn’t know it from the way it’s funded.
“The university loves to brag about the College of Ethnic Studies,” he said. “But [they] deal with it like it’s the unloved stepchild.”
Despite the many budget cuts and instability faced by the college in its half-century, it has persevered.
“I’m super hopeful about the college’s financial future,” Interim Dean of the COES Amy Sueyoshi said. “We’ve been doing pretty well for the past year [and]. I’m really excited about the role we’ll continue to play for the University.”
The COES is currently searching for a new dean as former-dean Kenneth P. Monteiro resigned from the position last spring in the wake of litigation against the University charging discrimination.
Kennesaw State University English department chair Sheila Smith McKoy, CSU Los Angeles Asian and Asian American Studies chair Jun Xing and interim chair of COES Sueyoshi are all candidates to fill the position.