Budget cuts push students to speak for departments

Audrey White

Fewer than two weeks after the College of Liberal Arts recommended cuts to centers and institutions, more than 100 UT students, faculty and staff attended the second meeting of a new organization Monday night called The Students Speak.

Students from majors that use the centers’ resources and organizations such as Student Government, Liberal Arts Council and student activist groups ¡ella pelea! and Stop The Cuts offered their perspectives as to how to affect the decision before it becomes final. Those who spoke said petitioning, working with administrators, protesting and grassroots outreach may all be part of the group’s efforts.

Specialized centers fund research, scholarships and programs that expand opportunities for students and faculty in related departments. The College of Liberal Arts helps fund these centers under its overall budget and many centers also have access to federal funding.

“It’s a matter of recognizing grassroots organizing as powerful,” said Latin American studies senior Carina Souflee, one of the group’s organizers. “Just because it’s not institutionalized doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. These are our majors, and if they go away, it’s a problem not just for us but for the people who come after us.”

The recommended cuts to the centers, which total $1 million, will predominantly impact the Centers for African American, Mexican American, Latin American and Middle Eastern studies, which account for three-fourths of the reductions. The Center for European Studies would gain 11 percent in funding, totaling $10,276.

The Academic Planning and Advisory Committee must recommend cuts for a total of $3.5 million. They used a series of metrics, including enrollment in related courses, number of research grants and national reputation to determine how to allocate cuts, said associate dean for academic affairs Richard Flores. Students at the meeting said Flores and other administrators had not replied to e-mail requests for additional information and explanation.

Flores told the Liberal Arts Council on Nov. 16 that if it were not for increasing state-mandated budget cuts, the college would not have to consider such cuts to the centers. He said departments were cut 20-33 percent of their soft money budgets in the spring, and centers were the next area for consideration. Students at the Students Speak meeting noted that it was important to consider the center cuts in the national context of university budget cuts.

“This is probably the sharpest edge in the crisis because they’re gutting some of these programs, but there is a hollowing-out of programs throughout the University,” said assistant English professor Snehal Shingavi. “It’s pretty awful what’s happening, and it’s happening in California; it’s happening all over Texas.”

SG University-wide representative Matt Portillo urged the students to not only target the University with organizing and action but to take their passion before the state legislature and lobby on behalf of increased University funding. Other students said they do not feel student governance organizations such as SG and Liberal Arts Council are willing to adequately fight on behalf of the issue and spoke in favor of direct action such as protests.

The group will be signing onto a protest hosted by ¡ella pelea! on Dec. 1.