Saving The Humanities

Claudia Cheffs/New University

 

In response to a “Needs Attention Memo” sent out by the Academic Planning Group (APG) and the Budget Working Group (BWG) to the humanities department in November, the ASUCI Legislative Council met on Tuesday, Feb. 7 to discuss the fear of cuts in the School of Humanities and other funding issues. At the meeting, humanities Representatives Neil Bautista and Brian Dinh proposed for the whole council to support the fight against possible cuts within the School of Humanities.

 

Calling attention to African-American studies, Asian-American studies, women’s studies, comparative literature, East Asian languages and literatures, French and Italian, and German, as well as the Chicana/o-Latina/o studies department in the School of Social Sciences, the memo labeled these courses as “needs attention” based on various criteria. Departments were labeled “needs attention” if their quality and/or productivity fell short of expectations and requirements, or more specifically, if the student to faculty ratios were “extremely low.”

 

“The memo that was sent to the humanities in particular was just, I guess, slightly alarming in its presentation. It was borderline insulting,” said humanities Representative Brian Dinh, a fourth-year literary journalism major.

 

He pointed out that in the midst of budget cuts and financial constraints, certain departments within the humanities, such as English and history, are being strengthened with more resources and funding. He said that the memo was unclear about what deemed a department “exceptional” versus “low.” In fact, history actually performed lower than East Asian languages and literature in the categories of total majors per filled faculty and the number of student credit hours per full-time faculty.

 

“With this selection of targeting, we feel that this is an attack on studies that are crucial to the development of critical consciousness among students and the UCI community,” said the Ethnic Students Coalition Against Prejudicial Education at UCI (ESCAPE).

 

“Disseminated through the School of Humanities, this memo undermines the scholarly distinction of these programs and criticizes faculty for failing to meet manufactured expectations and requirements, which remain conveniently unknown.”

 

Wearing an X on his left eye to support his legislation, “Blinded by Humanities Cuts,” Brian Dinh stood in front of the ASUCI Legislative Council and gave a brief presentation on the importance of ethnic and women’s studies. Both Brian and Neil called for more transparency in the APG and BWG judging criteria and repercussions for schools that continue to not meet these criteria. They also requested an open forum with these organizations to discuss their criteria.

 

“I agree with them on the fact that these courses do need to be kept, regardless of their student to faculty ratio,” said Paul Caporaso, a second-year international studies and political science double major, who attended the council meeting.

 

“The presentation itself, I thought, was all over the place. It wasn’t professional. It wasn’t coherent. He kind of just threw out information from all different time periods, from different regions of the United States in order to form his argument.

 

“The main point was just to show why ethnic studies and these critical studies classes are important,” said Dinh. “My main presentation was just showing how race is still important today.”

 

After the presentation, the council opened up the floor for debate in which other legislative council members asked for more information on the issue. Many brought up the inevitable budget cuts in the humanities department, while others asked what further action needed to be undergone in order to permanently protect the departments in question.

 

“What astonished me the most was Vikram’s response as to being in the meeting,” expressed Horacio Cortés, a second-year political science and Spanish double major.

 

When asked about attending a previous meeting with APG, the ASUCI President stated he had class and that ASUCI Vice President of Academic Affairs, Charyln Arellano attended in his place. However, when asked by the Legislative Council, Arellano said that she had only attended about half of the meeting before going to class herself.

 

“If they’re our representatives then it’s a joke. I understand they have classes and they have other priorities, but one, he’s president, two, Charlyn is another executive officer. If they are the only two options that we have as students to represent us, then it’s just sad.”

One of the main issues that the legislative council brought up during the meeting was the charged language of the proposal. They suggested that Brian and Neil consider cutting out this language and replacing it with more neutral phrases. The council expressed their hopes at meeting with APG, BWG, the executive vice chancellor, students and faculty in order to discuss departments labeled “needs attention.” Such language, they feared, would deter from that cooperative communication.

 

“Some people had a problem that the language was kind of charged, using language like attacks, condemns and demands,” admitted Brian Dinh. “I am mostly going to keep that language just because I feel like as students we do have a right to be angry.”

 

After deliberation, the proposal was tabled until the next legislative council meeting, where it will be readdressed and voted on. The council meetings are open to the public, and those who care about this issue can attend the following meeting to express their concerns with the “Needs Attention Memo.”

 

“I think the biggest flaw that we as students have is that there’s no transparency. There’s no transparency between administration and ASUCI and there’s no transparency between ASUCI and the student body,” said Cortés.

 

Humanities Representative Brian Dinh expressed his concern that many humanities majors were not aware of the “Needs Attention Memo” or the possible cuts to their departments. He shared that he and Neil Bautista went to a few classes to announce and inform students about the memo and the legislative meeting.

 

“We wanted to show support to the various student groups that are fighting and responding to the memo,” said Dinh.