At the Chicanx Latinx Students Town Hall with Chancellor George Blumenthal on May 9, students brought up issues like lecturer Nandini Bhattacharya’s recent layoff, transparency surrounding the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) grants and curriculum and white supremacist flyers posted around Cowell.
It was an opportunity for students to voice concerns to Chancellor Blumenthal, Campus Diversity Officer Teresa Maria Linda Scholz and interim Executive Vice Chancellor Herbie Lee. The three responded to questions and concerns from about 60 students who attended.
“While there is a celebration that [UC Santa Cruz] is [an HSI], there are still many issues that the grant won’t be able to change in its time frame and fund with its budget,” said Judith Estrada, director of the Chicano/Latino Resource Center, in an email. “Students are understanding that the HSI initiatives will make change but that the institution’s campus climate needs to change in order to serve many students who are first generation and coming from low-income and underserved communities.”
Bhattacharya’s recent layoff from the division of physical and biological sciences (PBSci) was the dominant topic of discussion. Since her layoff, the division of student success has rehired Bhattacharya using a two-year HSI grant. At the town hall, students demanded the PBSci division rehire Bhattacharya in a more permanent position as the lecturer for Math 2 and 3.
Math 2 and 3 are algebra and precalculus courses essential for students who do not place into the calculus class Math 11A. Most of these students are students of color. Understanding the material in Math 2 and 3 plays a vital role in the success of students in other math classes required for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors.
“Usually, if you are from a low-income family, that means that you have a very poor K-12 education,” said one student* who remained anonymous. “This usually means that we go to schools that are underresourced and underfunded, that don’t have teachers that necessarily teach us.”
The student said offering Math 2 and 3 as online courses could create larger issues of retention and graduation of Latinx and Chicanx students because students tend to be less engaged in online courses and a computer cannot do all the work a professor can.
Ruby Campos, Chicanx and Latinx Educandose Chancellor’s Undergraduate Internship Program (CUIP) intern and member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA) spoke on behalf of MEChA students in reaffirming the importance of lecturer Nandini’s permanent status.
“We empathize with lecturer Nandini [… I] tested into Math 2 when I first came to this university, I knew I could go to her,” Campos said.
Chancellor Blumenthal responded, saying his position at the university is not to make changes to the curriculum of specific departments because the UC operates under a system of shared governance, which allows departments like the math department to make specific decisions around curriculum. However, Blumenthal said he would hold PBSci accountable for student success in light of potential changes to the math department.
“I am a big fan of Nandini,” Blumenthal said. “I really want her to be successful here and to stay here. So as I said, her employment is secure for a while. I understand it is not yet permanent, but I am committed to working to find a way to find a permanent solution.”
Blumenthal also said he would support MEChA by writing a response to its recent demands affirming his desire for Nandini to be a more permanent faculty member.
MEChA began its campaign last week to build student support for reinstating Nandini in PBSci, and has already gathered endorsements from several spaces including the Student Union Governance Board and several college governments.
At the meeting, students also brought up concerns about white supremacist flyers that have been posted around campus on more than one occasion. Students said the university had not done enough in response to these flyers.
Campus Diversity Officer Teresa Maria Linda Scholz said her office was working on a more complete response to these flyers by coordinating directly with colleges to organize a space for students to share their reactions. In fall 2017, the Campus Diversity Office will be going to every college to teach students how to use the hate and bias reporting system and outlining the process of response.
“I’ve already been doing microaggressions workshops with staff and […] some faculty and students here on campus as a way to highlight what [microaggressions] are,” Scholz said.
Blumenthal said there were many things he and the administration will follow up on after the meeting, like writing a response to MEChA’s demands.
“Realistically we knew what the response was going to be from the chancellor [regarding Math 2 and 3 curriculum],” Ruby Campus said. “We just needed something […] from [him] because we’re planning on pursuing this and holding PBSci accountable for meeting student needs.”