Hundreds of chanting, singing and loudly passionate students and faculty rallied at City College of San Francisco on Thursday to protest a new austerity measure they say will threaten diversity studies at their school, which is fighting to remain accredited.
“We need ethnic studies!” student Olewasami Brown told the crowd of about 200 gathered on the college plaza under rare sunshine in the fog belt. “How many of you have ever heard of Melanesia?” When no one recognized the Oceanic region of his birth, Brown called out, “I thought so! Which is why we need ethnic studies here!”
But college officials insist that diversity studies—including the departments of Women’s Studies, LGBT, Interdisciplinary Studies and Labor and Community Studies—are not in jeopardy.
They say their $2 million cost-cutting move to consolidate groups of departments under one umbrella “school” is no threat to such classes, and that the true motive of the protest is anger that the shakeup will require many faculty members to spend more time in the classroom and give up thousands of dollars of extra pay.
“It’s a cynical thing,” said John Rizzo, president of the Board of Trustees, which voted last month to dismantle a long-time but expensive system in which the chairs of academic departments teach fewer classes and receive a stipend to do administrative work.
“No one in the administration is saying we’re going to lose these diversity programs,” he said. “We treasure them. But I can understand why the department chairs are opposing it. It’s people trying to protect their salaries.
City College has more than 60 academic departments, often with fewer than 10 instructors. Asian American Studies has nine instructors. Asian Studies has two. Philippine Studies has three. Each has its own chair, released from teaching at least one class to do scheduling, program reviews and other tasks that other colleges hand to deans.
The system was called out as too expensive by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, which said in July that the college of 86,000 students must become an efficiently run institution to remain accredited and in business.
As part of the college’s effort to comply by the March 15 deadline, trustees voted in October to replace most of the chairs with eight deans to oversee departments grouped into “schools.” All departments, not just those with diversity courses, will take part, college officials said.
Although details of the new system are still to be negotiated with the Department Chair Council, a labor union representing the chairs, the plan approved by the trustees would, for example, bring 13 departments, including those with diversity studies, under one school with the unwieldy title of “Behavioral Science/Social Science/Multi-Cultural Studies.”
One person, not 13, would take care of administrative duties.
Edgar Torres, chair of the Latin American and Latino Studies Department, took a microphone and told the crowd, “Diversity departments are critical for student success!”
African American Studies chair Tarik Farrar said, “The attack on the diversity departments is the first step! When you cut back salaries and cut benefits, you turn out cheap products!”