Humanities Budget Issues

UC Irvine is a pretty good school, right? Hell, scratch that. We’re great. We’ve got high-ranking programs all around, from biology to engineering to social science, but our greatest strengths lie within our humanities departments. In fact, our graduate program for literary criticism is number 1! All over the board, when it comes to theories on gender studies, literary theory, minority issues, we can generally be said to kick some serious ass.

So this begs the question: Why are these programs being cut?

I know what springs to mind. We’re all thinking it, and I’m sure you are, too. It’s what the administration wants you to think. We’re in a recession. The economy is tanking. There’s less funding from the State than ever before. Programs are getting cut all across the board. Everyone is suffering, but at least we’re all suffering together, right? Wrong. I’m afraid, dear reader, that the truth is far more insidious than such simple economic propaganda, and what underlies the current educational climate is a conspiracy of mismanagement, ineptitude and outright inconsideration.

Now, when it comes to what’s simply being shown on paper, here’s the situation: The School of Humanities is facing a 4.8 percent reduction in funding this year. That’s $1.3 million. Now, add in the $500,000 that was cut last year, and you get an overall budget cut for the School of Humanities by $1.8 million. Think of that as 18 professors, to give you an idea. Again, every educational department is facing serious cuts, but some more so than others. This, of course, leads to the natural thought progression: how is that determined?

It’s a little complicated, and a little inefficient.

And it’s more than a little out of my league, so I’m going to copy the most succinct exposition of the administration’s system from the “Reading Guide for the ‘Needs Attention’ Memo” which has been floating around to various humanities majors:

“The assessment is based heavily on numerical factors used to determine the ‘productivity’ of departments. Two important factors used are the majors-to-faculty ratio (“Total Majors per FTE”) and the number of students actually taught by faculty in classrooms. This latter is referred to on the document as the “SCH(PHD)/Filled FTE,” which stands for Student Credit Hours (Payroll Home Department) per Filled Full Time Equivalent. “Student Credit Hours” is the unit of measurement used to calculate students in classrooms. “Full Time Equivalent” is the unit of measurement used to designate faculty members (awkwardly labeled so it can encompass joint appointments). So a “Total Majors per Filled FTE” number represents how many majors there are, on average, for every faculty member within that department. So, the school average of 15.3:1 Total Majors per Filled FTE means that for every professor at UCI there are 15.3 students. These numbers are important as departments and programs are being urged by administration to teach as many students as they can, both in classes and as majors in the field.”

The problem with this system is that it’s wholly numerical. It doesn’t take into account the importance of the department culturally, the level of quality work that is being produced or the work of the faculty within the department. And piling on the punishment is the fact that most of these departments are interdisciplinary, making them excruciatingly difficult to work into the administration’s system of assessment. Essentially, these departments are being punished by the administration, because the administration cannot figure out a way to properly gauge their effectiveness.

So which departments are getting cut? At the moment, there is some serious funding being snatched away from African-American studies, Asian studies, women’s studies, comparative literature, German, and French and Italian. That’s right, French and Italian are grouped into one department, and German might be up to join them. How depressing is that? We’re a major university, yet our French/Italian departments aren’t even properly dichotomized. It’s illogical downsizing, and it goes along with running this school like a corporation.

When did our public universities stop focusing on producing quality students, and faculty that produce quality work and publication? When did UCI become a doctor/lawyer factory, and stop funding the programs that study the way the world works? Why did they take away all the fucking money?!

And not just give it away to math and sciences, oh no. It’d be one thing to totally reshape the humanities departments and eliminate the one thing we’re good at (which is what’s being done here) just to give it all science departments. Because, at least in that case, the funding would be going to some form of academia. Unfortunately, that’s not the only place the money’s going. Because, newsflash, everyone isn’t sinking with the ship. In fact, Meredith Michaels, our very own Vice Chancellor of Budget and Planning, took a lovely 9.9 percent raise in salary during this round of cuts. Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Here she is, cutting programs left and right, and suddenly, some more money finds its way into her bank account.

All of the departments that didn’t meet the (totally bogus) assessment standards were labeled “Needs Attention,” and subsequently punished. But what really “needs attention” here at UCI? Is it the fact that Humanities is doing its best in spite of serious cuts, and a school that doesn’t seem to care about us, or is it the fact that there are currently more administrators than faculty employed by the UC system?

This is your university too, underclassmen. You need to let them know that this is not acceptable, that you are not a goddamned robot. Because without English, history, philosophy, minority studies and other programs, you’re not much more than a calculator. Get informed, get involved and take back your school. Visit http://www.ucineedsattention.blogspot.com/ for more information and ways that you can fight back.

 

Ryan Cady is a second-year psychology major. He can be reached at rcady@uci.edu.