UCI Humanities Courses May Be Cut as Budget Faces $2-3 Million Deficit

Facing a structural deficit of $2-3 million, UCI’s School of Humanities will make several budget cuts across all of its departments by reducing course offerings in the upcoming 2016-17 academic year.

Course offerings in each department in the School of Humanities depend on two key factors: available funding and student enrollment. Once funding is met, departments offer a course provided that enrollment is at a minimum of 12 students for a lower-division class, eight students for an upper-division class and four students for a graduate seminar.

“Even then, faculty may choose to offer the course as independent study to interested students,” said School of Humanities Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele.

According to an e-mail sent by Dean Van Den Abbeele to Humanities faculty on May 3 announcing the School of Humanities budget, the cuts are due to “employee benefit cost increases and salary readjustments for non-Senate faculty.”

The e-mail also describes that while salary range increases and merit adjustments are covered centrally by the University of California, the School of Humanities must cover the cost for benefits increases of all employees and salary increases for Unit 18 lecturers, or non-Senate faculty.

“I fully support better pay as well as increased benefits and working conditions for all our gifted, dedicated and hard-working faculty and staff across all ranks and categories,” said Van Den Abbeele.

Cuts in the School of Humanities have taken place in the past, but in previous years, costs for employee benefits were covered by “spending down the carry-forward funds accumulated through the many vacancies that occurred in the ladder faculty through retirements or separations during the lean budget years.”

However, all carry-forward reserves have now been exhausted and the School of Humanities is facing a $2-3 million deficit requiring Dean Van Den Abbeele to make budget cuts in all departments. Each department has received decreased budget allocations for the upcoming academic year.

The exact course cancellations for the upcoming year have not yet been determined as enrollment is still pending, but Dean Van Den Abbeele does not expect any majors to be at risk.

However, among the Humanities courses expected to be affected are language courses. English Professor Andrew Tonkovich stated that three Japanese classes have already been cancelled, and that professors are “concerned that in other foreign language units the departments seem to be reconfiguring class caps to require bigger enrollments,” resulting in “fewer times and available sections” for these courses.

Moreover, many students have been expressing frustration about these cuts and in the decline in course offerings.

“The School of Humanities should be expanding the available courses, not cutting the ones we already have,” said sophomore Victoria Turner, who switched from the School of Humanities to the School of Social Sciences this year. “Already for majors like Global Cultures, which was mine, they didn’t offer enough classes that concerned my focus. It was hard to schedule a course plan.”

Cynthia Claxton, director of the Humanities Language Learning Program which offers courses in Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Vietnamese, agrees that students should be concerned that language and culture programs may no longer be offered. According to Claxton, learning a second language is important to achieve success in any field in an increasingly globalized world, not just by giving students an advantage when applying for jobs, but also by giving students the ability to understand a new culture from that culture’s terms.

Additionally, students in the School of Humanities need to satisfy a two-year foreign language requirement in order to graduate.

Claxton describes that while allocated resources and budget play a role in course offerings, student enrollment is especially important.

“Students who are not willing to take these courses contribute to the problem,” said Claxton. “If students want these courses to be offered, they have to enroll in the courses.”

Many students satisfy their language requirement in high school, and opt not to take another language. According to Claxton, however, students should enroll in a language in college to increase fluency, as one quarter of language in UCI is equivalent to one year of language in high school.

“Students who truly want to achieve competency in a language really need more than just three quarters of study,” said Claxton. “The rewards are great not only in terms of academic accomplishment, but also in personal growth and cultural literacy.”

This past academic year, first-year Hebrew language and second-year Persian language courses were cut because there was not enough enrollment in these courses.  

Claxton points out that per student interest, the School of Humanities is also providing new opportunities such as the new Global Middle East Studies major set to be offered this upcoming academic year. A Persian minor was offered for the first time this past academic year.

Dean Van Den Abbeele urges renewed funding to allow long-term financial sustainability, but until this is provided he plans to work with the Humanities Executive Council (HEC) to address the financial crisis.

“It is incumbent upon each of us to re-examine our current practice and aspirations with an eye not just to greater efficiencies but also to locating other sources of material support,” said Van Den Abbeele. “To this end, I look forward to working with HEC on a new strategic plan of the School that can both account for these fiscal realities and better position us to meet those intellectual and pedagogical ideals we hold most dear in the humanities.”