There is debt, and then there is indebtedness.
I offer some observations about the issues raised at Thursday’s meeting between San Francisco State University (SFSU) students, alumi, faculty, and staff of the College of Ethnic Studies (COES) and SFSU President Leslie Wong, Vice President and Provost of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser, and Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Ronald Cortez concerning the proposed COES budget for 2016-2017.
1) As public education throughout the United States, the California State University (CSU) has been systematically underfunded even as student admissions applications and graduation rates have steadily risen. According to the CSU Budget Office:
The CSU’s 23 campuses are the source of almost half the bachelor’s degrees awarded each year in California and nearly one-third of the master’s degrees. Yet years of fiscal crisis have constrained the CSU’s capacity to admit students. In the fall 2012 term, the CSU had to deny admission to more than 20,000 eligible California undergraduate applicants. While the state still faces fiscal uncertainties, the CSU has legitimate funding needs in order to carry out its critically important mission for California of student access, success and completion. This 2014/15 support budget request is tempered by recognition of the state’s ongoing fiscal challenge, yet represents a credible statement of the university’s key funding needs. During a half decade of state fiscal crisis, state support fell to a low of $2.0 billion…. this amount was nearly one-third below the peak level of state support of $2.97 billion in 2007/08. A funding recovery began with the enacted 2013/14 state budget. Nevertheless, the current level of state funding is less than what was provided in 2000/01 (13 years earlier) when the CSU General Fund appropriation was $2.47 billion. This comparison makes no adjustment for inflation. Moreover, in 2013/14, the CSU is teaching almost 58,000 more California resident, full-time equivalent students (FTES).
Since the 1990s, rather than challenge public officials and voter priorities concerning the funding of education and address dwindling state support, CSU administrators have embraced corporate business models and assumed the operational role of fundraisers: looking for ways to privatize funding sources; create new revenue streams; develop contracts with corporations like Coke and Pepsi for campus monopolies for which the corporations pay donations; attrack donors through spectacular events and benefits; and create ways of augmenting programs with potential to bring in the dollars (athletics).
These efforts are capitalist-driven and they treat Ethnic Studies, Women’s/Gender and Sexuality Studies, Disability Studies, and the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Creative Arts — which tend not to bring in large private donations — as financial burdens to bear even as they herald ‘those programs’ as examples of how universities fulfill their ethical and legal mandates to serve social justice and multiple kinds of communities historically disadvantaged.
On March 21, 2014, the CSU unanimously approved a statement to advance Ethnic Studies within the CSU. In part, the statement provides that the CSU is:
RESOLVED: That the ASCSU endorse the efforts of the CSU Task Force on the Advancement of Ethnic Studies; and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU urge CSU campuses and the Office of the Chancellor to vigorously support the growth and development of Ethnic Studies by providing adequate funding and support; and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU urge that changes in status made to Ethnic Studies departments or programs only occur in consultation with campus Ethnic Studies faculty and through established campus curricular review processes; and be it further; RESOLVED: That ASCSU encourage campuses to evaluate Ethnic Studies programs, as we evaluate all academic programs, by recognizing their academic merit and educational and societal value rather than purely financial considerations; and be it further; RESOLVED: The ASCSU commend the California State Legislature for adopting Assembly Concurrent Resolution 71 – Relative to Africana Studies (2013) which expressed support for the continuation of Africana studies departments, programs, and related projects in California’s institutions of higher education, and be it further; RESOLVED: That the ASCSU distribute this resolution to the CSU Board of Trustees, CSU Chancellor, Timothy P. White, CSU campus Presidents, CSU campus Senate Chairs, CSU Provosts/Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs, California Faculty Association, CSU Ethnic Studies Council, California State Student Association and Members of the California State Assembly and Senate.
The introduction to the SFSU strategic plan reads:
Emerging from the University’s long-standing commitments to teaching, learning and social justice, the new strategic plan is anchored by five core University values: Courage, Life of the Mind, Equity, Community and Resilience.
It goes without saying that the COES is core to the ability of SFSU to fulfill its own strategic mandate to advance social justice and equity. A fulfillment established in a January 2016 by a Stanford University report to have profound impact on student success.
In this study, we estimate the causal effects of an ethnic studies curriculum piloted in several San Francisco high schools. We rely on a “fuzzy” regression discontinuity design based on the fact that several schools assigned students with eighth-grade GPAs below a threshold to take the course in ninth grade. Our results indicate that assignment to this course increased ninth-grade student attendance by 21 percentage points, GPA by 1.4 grade points, and credits earned by 23. These surprisingly large effects are consistent with the hypothesis that the course reduced dropout rates and suggest that culturally relevant teaching, when implemented in a supportive, high-fidelity context, can provide effective support to at-risk students.
Disporportionate Cuts, Centralization of Curriculum, and a Lack of Transparency About it All
Provost Rosser said that in 2009-2010 (her first year on the job) that CSU systemwide experienced a 10 percent budget reduction. CSU faculty, through their union, voted to accept a 10 percent pay cut or furlough to help compensate and save temporary faculty jobs.
During that same year, SFSU imposed a 15.89% cut on the COES.
At the time, the COES had 60 full-time faculty. Today it has 37. Over time, as faculty have retired in Africana Studies, Asian American Studies, and Latino and Latina Studies, the departments have not been permitted to replace them. Two promised lines to help develop the initiative in Arab Ethnicities and Muslim Diaspora Studies were withdrawn. American Indian Studies has had no new faculty lines since its last hire in 2010. The Cesar Chavez Institute, the M.A. graduate program, and the Ethnic Studies Student Resource and Empowerment Center have all lost funded positions for directors and advisors.
But since 2009-2010, course offerings in the COES have increased. This has occured through the centralization of augments for temporary faculty or lecturers in the Office of Academic Affairs (AA) by Provost Rosser.
After preliminary course schedules are produced by department chairs for tenure and tenure track faculty, with a few courses scheduled for temporary faculty through union entitlements or course releases, AA reviews the coverage of general education or statutory requirement courses in the COES. The courses are neeeded by the campus community in order to help facilitate student graduation and tend to be the ones most impacted in enrollment. But rather than allowing department autonomy in developing curriculum, AA decides which courses will get added and for how many sections. Departments then assign temporary lecturers to cover the courses. This has involved anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of the total course offerings in the COES.
(As a side note, I should say that when American Indian Studies conducted its last self-study a couple years ago, Provost Rosser was sharply critical of how much weight was given to general education courses within our curriculum, a situation her office has directly created.)
At the meeting yesterday, while Wong, Rosser, and Cortez maintained repeatedly that there would be no cuts to the COES budget for next year, they also said that the COES would not receive any augmentation. Without augments for temporary faculty, there will be a reduction in anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of course offerings within the COES, varying by individual departments and programs.
In fact, the COES Dean Ken Monteiro reported that the proposed budget for the COES will not even cover existing tenure and tenure track faculty salaries. But he was also careful to point out that he has not yet received a consistent or full accounting of the current or proposed COES budget from the administration. More directly, he has been given conflicting information.
That conflict is reflected in public statements issued by the SFSU administration. The budget they gave to the COES a couple weeks ago stated that it was at $3.6 million minus $245,000 for augments but is now saying — at the meeting yesterday and to the press — that the budget is $5 million. Both of these things cannot be true.
It also cannot be true that the SFSU administration knows how much — to the lecturer, to the course — that the COES budget needs to be cut by and not be able to produce an accurate budget. At the meeting, students demanded that the administration produce such an accounting by the end of Black History Month — Monday, February 29, by 5:00 pm. (You can read his non-response response here.)
Cuts v. Debt
Throughout the meeting, Wong, Rosser, and Cortez maintained that the COES proposed budget would not be cut for the next academic year. They maintained that there would be no loss of permanent faculty or temporary lecturers. Several newspapers and blogs have repeated this insistence as a fact of goodwill.
What they did not address or acknowledge was the impact of the alleged debt they have imposed on the COES. In a letter addressed to the SFSU community on February 23, Wong stated:
Be assured that no plan exists to reduce the yearly budget for any of our six colleges, including the College of Ethnic Studies. While our 2016-17 budget for the University has not been finalized, we expect this year’s allocation to closely resemble last year’s. What has changed is how we respond to programs, including colleges, that run annual deficits, as has been the case for Ethnic Studies in recent years. When budget gaps have been discovered in other programs, a strategy was developed that allowed the program to continue while arranging to pay back its debt to the University within a set timeframe. In the case of the College of Ethnic Studies, no reimbursement plan has been requested. But the college has been asked to adapt to new budgetary discipline moving forward. Adapting to new budgetary guidelines can come with challenges and, as I’m hearing from members of the College and others in the SF State community, anxiety about the unknown. As a lifelong educator, I believe strongly that increasing knowledge can greatly decrease concerns.
So, technically, Wong, Rosser, and Cortez insist that they are not imposing any budget cuts on the COES but are only expecting the COES to make its account current. To balance the books. To stop over-spending?
As reported by Inside Higher Education, On January 8, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed $1 billion in new funding for public institutions, “an increase of 3.4 percent. (Roughly $590 million of that amount would come from the state’s general fund.) The total of $30 billion in state support for higher education would be an increase of 30 percent since 2012, when California emerged from years of deep, recession-driven budget cuts.”
As reported by Press Telegram, “Gov. Jerry Brown’s funding proposal for CSU during 2016-17 calls for an additional $139.4 million investment to pay for net student growth enrollment at 1 percent. CSU says 3 percent enrollment growth is needed. The higher growth rate would cost another $102.3 million in state funding, allowing CSU to enroll about 12,600 additional students.”
If the CSU budget is being augmented by the Governor’s office, allowing for student growth enrollment, how is it that the SFSU budget for the coming academic year is not also augmented? Why is the COES going to experience cuts at a time of growth, even a modest one, within the CSU? Why has the COES been asked to bear the brunt or the lion’s share of budget cuts to SFSU since 2009? Shouldn’t we be talking about what SFSU owes to the COES?