Chancellor, EVC Defend Decision to Cut American Studies

    Photo by Prescott Watson.

    Chancellor George Blumenthal and executive vice chancellor Alison Galloway met with student media news organizations at the chancellor’s quarterly press conference Monday. Among other issues, the administrators responded to queries about the governor’s proposed budget and the future of American studies.

    City on a Hill Press: How will the potential suspension of American studies affect the chancellor’s vision of a “cross-cultural” campus?

    GB: Both American studies and community studies are programs that do have important cross-cultural contributions that they have made. But I still think, that even with the suspension of admission of new undergraduate majors in both cases, there remain programs on this campus that really do provide significant cross-cultural opportunities for students. [The suspension] by no means reflects a reluctance to have them. The steps that involve those suspensions came about for a lot of different reasons, including the question of whether or not we can continue to support these students at the level they have been enrolling. But their suspension provides us an opportunity to rethink some of these programs and perhaps have them come back in a different form that might better the cross-cultural initiatives we’d like to see on this campus. I don’t see that as a takeaway. I see that as an opportunity to improve.

    AG: [The suspension of American studies] it is very much something we need to work on with the faculty to see if we can take this decision and make it into an opportunity to reformat some of these things, in particular around ethnic studies.

    GB: There has been a lot of concern on the part of students as to whether or not we can have an ethnic studies program or major on the campus. The faculty decided many years ago that our equivalent of ethnic studies would live within the American studies major. So the potential suspension of that major does give us an opportunity to rethink things, and we could very well end up in a better place than where we started with.

    CHP: How will the university account for the lack of diversity in student interest that might come with the suspension of American studies?

    AG: Well, the majors themselves have probably [had] around 200 majors in each of those or maybe a little bit less. So it’s not an incredibly large number of students. More than likely, most of those students would be adopted to other majors on campus. Those programs may not serve exactly the kind of things they would like to do, but we still have the option for the individual majors as well, so some students may be constructing their own majors around that. There are internship programs, such as were provided to community studies, in other fields as well. Sociology and environmental studies, for example, have internship programs. So students may go into those areas as well.

    KZSC: In light of the governor’s proposed cuts to higher education, do you have any insights as to what is going to happen to the university?

    GB: We are fortunate that we haven’t spent all the money we got last year. But we will have to make some significant additional cuts. That will mean that we won’t be able to do everything that we currently are doing, which is already cut back from what we were doing a few years ago. I don’t think we’re in a position to say specifically which programs might be affected. We can say that a year from now, if this budget passes as it was proposed today, we will have to make cuts. Making cuts means that a year from now there won’t be as many people working at the university as there are today and that’s going to mean a loss of services for students. Exactly where they’re going to be, we don’t know yet.

    AG: Obviously, cutting programs in and of itself does not save us money unless the costs associated with those programs go away. And that is something we haven’t done. We have kept the faculty going with most of the departments. The idea that we can just simply go in and discontinue teaching certain areas as we have done in the past doesn’t save us money. So we’re looking at ways of trying to preserve as much of the academic mission as we can. But still realizing savings in other areas.

    On the Spot: As UCSC isn’t predominantly a graduate program-focused campus, when budget cuts are enforced, do graduate programs get cut more than undergraduate programs?

    GB: It isn’t easy to look at budget cuts always and say, “This is undergraduate, and that is graduate.” We do have a graduate division which does have some money. But most of the cuts that take place on campus affect support units or even if they affect the department, they might affect graduates the same as undergraduates depending on the department and depending upon where the department’s priorities may lie. In addition to that, I would say you’re right, graduate students constitute 10 percent of the student body in this campus and that is one of the lowest if not the lowest of the UC system. But it has long been a goal of the campus and a goal of mine to increase the percentage of graduate students, certainly not to the level of Berkeley or UCLA but at least up to a level that is more consistent to the rest of the UCs. I think it may not be a priority we can easily attain during a time of decreasing budgets, but it is still a priority.

    AG: Many times the cuts that we think of as being primarily focused towards the undergraduates have profound effects on the graduate programs as well. Examples of these are things like the temporary support for teaching. In many cases we cut those teaching assistants but also teaching fellows. So we have fewer sections available for undergraduates. We have fewer course offerings available for undergraduates. Unfortunately, those have implications on graduate students too, for whom teaching assistantships and teaching fellowships are a very important means of support, so it hits both undergraduates and graduates. And unfortunately, that is the way things are: One blow does not hit just one people — it hits many.

    CHP: With the budget cuts, how can we keep and attract great professors?

    GB: I think a lot of our faculty come here and stay here because of the quality of our students, because of the nature of their interactions with other faculty. The research environment and the teaching environment are very important for the faculty, as well as what the future will hold, if things will get better or if they will get worse. I will say up front that we do not pay our faculty adequately. Our faculty are underpaid by national standards — they are easily more than 10 percent underpaid relative to faculty elsewhere at equivalent institutions. Over the past few years our faculty have even been underpaid relative to the UC system. We’ve been trying, over the last two years and will continue this year, to make sure that our faculty are at least not underpaid relative to other UCs. We don’t have enough money to make them not underpaid relative to the rest of the country, but at least relative to the rest of the UC system, I think that’s one of our obligations. We’ve made enormous progress in that regard in the last two years, and I’m hoping we’ll finish the job this year.