Graduate and undergraduate students in the College of Ethnic Studies met Tuesday to discuss and finalize their demands in the face of financial difficulty for the college.
Students and faculty learned last week that the College of Ethnic Studies is facing financial difficulty and may face cuts, the Golden Gate Xpress previously reported.
According to Jonathan Morales, director of news and new media at SF State, the proposed cuts students have heard about aren’t actually cuts at all, and are instead a more multi-faceted financial issue.
“What’s been happening is the College of Ethnic Studies has been spending more than its budget allocation, and the University has been covering that with reserve funds from the academic affairs department,” Morales said. “That money is now depleted. We understand how that can be seen as a cut by some people, but in fact the University is no longer able to cover the college’s expenditures over its budget allocation.”
Tuesday’s meeting included a wide array of cultural organizations on campus, members of the Black Student Union and graduate students in the Ethnic Studies department.
Hanna Wodaje, vice president of the BSU, said she is worried about how the potential cuts will affect her ability to graduate.
“On behalf of the Black Student Union, we want (the administration) to know that we will not tolerate any of this, and this won’t go through,” Wodaje said.
Sofia Cardenas, a third-year women and gender studies major, said she was saddened to receive news that the office in which she works, the Ethnic Studies Student Resource and Empowerment Center, would no longer exist as a result of cutbacks.
“We found out last week by word of mouth that these cuts would be pretty drastic,” Cardenas said. “Another intern in ESSO proposed we attend the department chair meeting to get more information.”
According to Cardenas, students weren’t invited to the meeting, but they also weren’t told that they couldn’t attend. Shortly after confirming with Ethnic Studies faculty what Cardenas and her peers had heard, the students in attendance walked directly into the Administration Building to demand President Leslie E. Wong’s presence at a student and faculty forum 9 a.m. this Thursday in Ethnic Studies room 116.
Wong echoed Morales’ statement in an e-mail sent out to students Tuesday afternoon.
“When budget gaps have been discovered in other programs, a strategy was developed that allowed the program to continue while arranging to pay back its debt to the University within a set timeframe,” Wong said in the email. “In the case of the College of Ethnic Studies, no reimbursement plan has been requested. But the college has been asked to adapt to new budgetary discipline moving forward.”
According to a factsheet distributed at Tuesday’s meeting by Students for Equitable Education United in Solidarity, with the University out of funding to help it, the College of Ethnic Studies will need to cut its budget 15 to 17 percent, resulting in the potential dismissal of non-tenured lecturers and the loss of 40 percent of Ethnic Studies classes, in addition to other student and faculty programs.
Abby Li, a psychology major who also works with Cardenas at ESSO, said she finds a lot of value in the College of Ethnic Studies.
“We need to know about our backgrounds,” Li said. “We need to know about the injustices that happen so we don’t make the same mistakes and we learn from them.”
Since last Thursday’s meeting, faculty in the College of Ethnic Studies have also published their own set of demands, including a call for the restoration of all funding to the College of Ethnic Studies, increased funding allocations for lecturers in the college, an evaluative review of Provost Sue Rosser and an independent audit of the academic affairs budget.
Philip Klasky, ESSO Advisor and professor in American Indian studies, sees the potential cuts to the department as a huge loss.
“Ethnic Studies is essential,” Klasky said. “I think it’s essential in order to build a populace with critical thinking skills. Ethnic Studies is a right – it’s not a privilege, it’s not something that you add on to an education – I think it has to be part of the foundation of an education.”
As for Cardenas, she sees the potential cuts to the department as a loss for the entire campus, not just majors within the department.
“Ethnic Studies is a representation of the people on our campus, whether you’re in the program or not,” Cardenas said. “You can’t deny the fact that there is a certain level of empowerment in knowing that your campus respects and celebrates the diversity that you’re a part of.”