S.F. State to add $200K to College of Ethnic Studies’ budget following mass protest

Students gather in San Francisco State University’s quad  to protest the College of Ethnic Studies’ budget.  	photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

Students gather in San Francisco State University’s quad
to protest the College of Ethnic Studies’ budget.
photo by Tomo Hirai/Nichi Bei Weekly

As budget problems loom for San Francisco State University, the College of Ethnic Studies was asked to rein in its budget as a reserve fund supplementing budget shortfalls for the college had run dry. While administrators promised $200,000 to help maintain the college, students protested it was not enough.

The college, which students, faculty and administrators say is the only college of its kind in the United States, was the birthplace of ethnic studies in 1969.

“All universities in California … have been politely trying to function with less money than it takes to educate a student,” Kenneth Monteiro, dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “Just like a family budget, you can do that for a while, and at a certain point in time it collapses. We’re at the point where it’s about to collapse.”

The university made budget cuts in 2009 due to the economic recession, and the funding from the state seven years later has yet to be restored according to Jonathan Morales, director of news and new media at the university. “The College of Ethnic Studies has been spending about $230,000 over budget each year for at least the last three years,” Morales told the Nichi Bei Weekly.

“Academic Affairs, the unit of the University that allocates college budgets, has been covering that overspending using one-time money that is typically set aside to pay for extra high-demand classes as needed. That money is now nearly depleted.”

University-wide, Morales said the school identified a $7 million deficit in 2014, but has since reduced it to $2 million. Morales also said that the College of Ethnic Studies and the College of Liberal and Creative Arts had gone over budget and that the College of Liberal and Creative Arts had been required to pay the university back.

Monteiro, however, said the cuts were unfair to the College of Ethnic Studies, which has the smallest budget among the six colleges on campus. Due to the economic recession, the College of Ethnic Studies had its budget cut by about $500,000 since 2007. He wrote in a statement, that the allocated budget for his college fails to pay for even the tenured faculty and permanent staff and guarantees “an artificial deficit even before the College copies a single document, buys a single piece of equipment or funds a single piece of material to support a student or faculty member’s work.”

The call for ethnic studies to “live within its means” would require Monteiro to cut classes, lay off non-tenured lecturers, close his college’s research institute, the César E. Chávez Institute, and not allow professors retiring or going on sabbatical to be replaced. He added that these budget constraints come as demands for classes in ethnic studies are increasing on campus.

Anna Eng, a Women and Gender Studies Department lecturer in the College of Liberal & Creative Arts, said the College of Ethnic Studies should be growing rather than shrinking today. “If the mandate is to teach ethnic studies to high school students in the S.F. Unified School District, we need to be creating those teachers,” she said. “We need to be creating people in the business field and the tech field to be knowledgeable of the diverse constituencies they are serving.”

Hundreds of students, along with faculty and several original 1968 strikers — who helped form the college — came out in protest Feb. 25 against the austerity demands and marched to a meeting with University President Leslie Wong, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sue Rosser and Vice President Ronald Cortez to read out a list of demands and to testify to the importance of ethnic studies.

Shannon Deloso, a first-generation Filipino American college student, said the university faces “the same problem we faced 48 years ago; the administration not seeing the value of our people and our stories.” She said the budget problem lies not in overspending, but underfunding, and demanded transparency from the school.

Oscar Peña said going to school allowed him to turn his life around. “Education taught me how to be a leader, how to be a father, how to be in the community,” he said. “I understand now why I choose Latino/Latina studies coming to this school. Because it’s imperative not just to understand my history, but to understand the social justice issues that go on in this damn country, especially at this school ­— which is a shame that (the administration is) putting us in this situation.”

Students demanded the full reinstatement of funding for the college, as well as more work study opportunities and the hiring of more faculty, including two extra faculty members initially promised to Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies. They also asked to elevate the Race and Resistance Studies Program to a Department status.

Professor Rabab Abdulhadi told the Nichi Bei Weekly that she had been hired in 2007 under the pretense that she would oversee two other faculty members, but those positions were eliminated following the economic crisis. She is the only faculty member for the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies program, which offers a minor with 16 students enrolled and general education classes. On top of teaching a full load of classes, she advises four student groups, conducts fundraising and does outreach for the university. “I’m one person, no budget, no staff,” she said.

Wong, taking the podium, promised an additional $200,000 to the college and promised to prevent further cuts to classes and staff for one year. He also asked all the colleges in his university to create a Budget Advisory Committee to improve transparency in the budget-making process. He added that he could not unilaterally make decisions on the student demands.

Sofia Cardenas, one of the protests’ student leaders, said she expected the administration to fully restore funding to the college “so that we can produce knowledge, so that we can produce graduates, so that we can retain our students. That’s what we expect, we expect no less.” However, when the student imposed deadline came, Wong did not deliver what students had hoped for.

In a Feb. 29 statement, Wong reiterated that he did not have the unilateral authority to deliver on the demands, and said Monteiro should take charge in restructuring his college.

“As the academic and administrative leader, the Dean is responsible for facilitating college programs through University processes. The Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies will work with faculty and students to shepherd a review, with faculty support and discussion in the appropriate venues, such as the Academic Senate. Restructuring programs, majors and departments, for instance, is completely within the purview of the department and college, with the faculty owning the curriculum,” Wong’s statement said.

Wong also reiterated his commitment to allocate an extra $200,000 to the college next year “to allow planning by the faculty, staff and students, as guided by the Dean.”

“The president’s public offer is a good first step showing positive intentions,” Monteiro said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “However, no one has discussed the actual total budgetary impact with me so I cannot speak to the real impact of this general framework at this time.”

Students, meanwhile, appeared to be less impressed.

The Student Organizing Committee responded on Facebook, stating they were disappointed with Wong. “In effect, President Wong has chosen to evade responsibility by addressing none of our demands,” the post said.

“We do not need more rhetorical support for Ethnic Studies,” the post continued. “We have demanded and we expect material support according to our very reasonable but non negotiable demands.”

The students resolved to “intensify” pressure on Wong and said he is playing a “dangerous game.”

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