“Lecturer of the Year:” Donna Schuele Deserves Tenure

For the University of California, Irvine’s Department of Criminology, Law and Society, 2014 was a great year. The undergraduate program was ranked as the #1 criminology major in the country by USA Today, praising the combination of traditional criminological theory with an emphasis on law and society. No surprise, the program’s popularity at UCI has boomed, with an increasing enrollment that now makes the CLS major the “sixth most popular” according to the recently released 2015 ZotReport. Certainly, none of this would be possible without the efforts of talented and dedicated educators, including Dr. Donna Schuele, who was nominated by students and received UCI’s prestigious “Lecturer of the Year” award in 2013.

However, what was once a promising future for the CLS program now seems in tatters —  unfathomable that such a sharp turn could occur in such a short amount of time. The UC’s diminished focus on providing California’s best and brightest with a quality education and its increased focus on maximizing the bottom line at whatever cost is now being realized at the campus level, particularly in the CLS department. With a “publish-or-perish” approach, the department is leaving its undergraduates to fend for themselves. A result of this about-face is the impending termination of Schuele.

Also on the chopping block are a number of core courses, incomprehensible at a time when enrollment in the major is at an all-time high. For the upcoming quarter, more than 900 students are forced to vie for a seat in only 15 class offerings. This represents a decrease of more than 30 percent from the previous quarter and almost 50 percent from the same time two-years ago. A majority of these courses have increased their capacity by 10 percent, putting more pressure on an already-strained student-to-faculty ratio. Graduate students are suffering as well, as Schuele was slated to design and teach both a Crime and Gender and Leadership course for the department’s award-winning online program, also ranked first in the nation.

With the impending loss of an educator who counsels, mentors and advocates tirelessly for her students, why does the administration refuse to take immediate action to reinstate Schuele?

The administration’s inaction is not only egregious, it is irresponsible, especially at a time when UC president Janet Napolitano has called for a substantial increase in tuition over the next five years. Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has taken the UC system to task for its overwhelming research-oriented focus, calling for a shift in priority toward a public institution more centered on students and teaching.

Why would UCI terminate an award-winning lecturer? Schuele, hired in 2007, has played a critical role in the success of hundreds of students. One extraordinary example: Cleo Tung (class of 2009), a former student who was awarded the internationally prestigious Gates Fellowship to study, all expenses paid at Cambridge University, in 2010. Schuele served as Tung’s advisor, mentoring her through the application process, assisting her in writing a personal statement and providing her with a letter of recommendation.

For Schuele, this is simply “business as usual.” She provides vital resources necessary for success, including holding law school application workshops on her own time – and at no cost to students or the university. One need not look further than one of her current mentees: a student, majoring in CLS, who has been offered over $1.1 million in scholarships to some of the most elite law schools in the country.

Students who are tired of paying more for less are culminating a rally scheduled for Tuesday (12 p.m. to 2 p.m.) at the flagpoles in support of Schuele, and to call on the administration to give students their money’s worth.

So, we ask again, why would UCI terminate an award-winning educator? Why would UCI deprive students campus-wide of her extraordinary mentoring skills and dedication? Why would UCI prevent students from developing the critical thinking and writing skills that they know they need to survive in the competitive world of work and graduate study? Why would UCI end the career of one of the most cost-effective educators on campus? UCI must reinstate Schuele, grant her tenure and allow her to continue to push the CLS program forward in its award-winning ways.

 

Noah Cowart is a fourth-year criminology, law and society major. He can be reached at mcowart@uci.edu.

Jade Scholz is a fourth-year social ecology and criminology, law and society double major. She can be reached at jlscholz@uci.edu.