Liberal Arts deficit jeopardizes ethnic studies

Audrey White

Ethnic studies centers and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies may fall under the swinging axe of University budget cuts, and members of a new student organization called The Students Speak said they will do whatever it takes to fight back.

The College of Liberal Arts announced last week that under a recommendation from the Academic Planning and Advisory Council, 15 centers and institutes stand to lose a combined $1 million, with the centers for African and African American, Mexican American and Middle Eastern studies taking the largest hit.

In response, members of Chicano advocacy group MEChA organized the first Students Speak meeting Tuesday night with about 50 students from different area studies majors, as well as Student Government representatives and other interested students. They said they hope that through protests, education and working with student leaders and the administration, they can reduce cuts they say could irreparably harm the education of students who use the centers for classes, research, programs and organizational support.

“I started school at Brown, and I transferred here because of the Center for Mexican American Studies,” said Diana Gomez, a Mexican American studies senior. “We’ve agreed that this organization needs to be a student initiative because we’re in these courses and these centers, and we’ll fight to keep them in place.”

The $1 million dollars is part of $3.5 million that the dean’s advisory council must identify for cuts to fill an unexpected shortfall in money received from tuition. That money was used to fill other budgetary holes in response to cuts ordered by legislative leaders. Other plans include cutting faculty by offering early retirement packages and leaving vacant positions unfilled. The College of Liberal Arts will not be out of deficit until the 2014-15 school year, according to projections from the advisory council.

Richard Flores, the senior associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, attended the Liberal Arts Council meeting Tuesday night and gave a presentation to explain the metrics used to determine cuts for each center, including how they use the funding they have and how many students major in programs related to the centers. Although the original recommendations included no student input, Flores said College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl and other administrators hope to meet with students, faculty and staff from each center to get input on the possible effects
of the cuts.

“We’re pulled in two directions. One is we want to hear and consult broadly, but on the other hand, center directors need to start making decisions,” Flores said.

The Students Speak members left their meeting to attend the Liberal Arts Council meeting, and they said it was the first time they had access to the information Flores presented. There was some confusion because the council members said their meetings are not a forum open to all Liberal Arts students.

“We were left out of the process, and it’s not until tonight that we managed to finagle our way into this [council] meeting and see some of the metrics they used to make these cuts,” said Mexican American studies senior Bernardino Villasenor. “In slashing these programs, they’re slashing our cultures and identities, too.”

Liberal Arts Council President Carl Thorne-Thomsen said he wants to work with SG to plan open forums so students can get involved in future conversations about Liberal Arts cuts.

In addition, the Senate of College Councils expects to launch the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Council for liberal arts before the semester ends, providing a direct link between the administration and students in
the college.