When third-year Lucy Dasilva learned her minor was suspended, she was overwhelmed with unanswered questions. Could she still take the courses she was hoping to? Would this impact her graduation plans? Why was the History of Consciousness (HisCon) minor suspended in the first place?
“I would not be at UC Santa Cruz if were not for the History of Consciousness Department,” Dasilva said. “[It] changed the way I think.”
The department stood out to Dasilva when applying to colleges. The interdisciplinary approach to critical thinking in the HisCon department is different from the other run-of-the-mill philosophy departments that populate universities near her in New England. After emailing her TA, she and her friends wrote a letter advocating for the minor’s reinstatement, citing the department’s importance not just to the UCSC community, but also to the larger world of academia.
The decision to suspend the minor came in May 2020, when the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) found that too many graduate students were teaching HisCon upper-division undergraduate courses. The committee recommended suspending the minor until a higher percentage of upper-division classes could be taught by tenured or tenure-track professors, collectively known as ladder-rank faculty.
Undergraduates like Dasilva hoping to declare and complete the minor still can, as long as they began taking courses before fall 2020. But undergraduates who began taking classes this year cannot declare the minor until it is reinstated. As of now, there will still be undergraduate classes offered for the minor next year.
Because it is a small department, when faculty go on sabbatical the percentage of classes taught by graduate students increases. This was the case for this academic year when two faculty members went on leave.
This small faculty has been at the core of one of the more storied departments at UCSC. It emphasizes interdisciplinary thinking and looking at traditional philosophy from different perspectives. This attracted some of the most famous UCSC professors and students — Angela Davis, Donna Haraway, Huey P. Newton — and was one of the first departments of its kind when it was founded at the same time as the university in 1965.
“It has quite a famous history,” said graduate student Jack Davies. “It was [one of] the first humanities [programs] on campus…you would expect the humanities division to support it and help it grow.”
The Suspension and GSI Classes
Graduate student instruction (GSI) exists throughout all departments in the university. Jane Komori, a HisCon graduate student lecturer, said GSI is a good way for grad students to gain experience teaching, while having a signature course can make them stand out in the job market.
While GSIs are seen as a benefit to both graduate and undergraduate students, there is still an expectation that the university will provide undergraduate training from ladder-rank faculty who have done important research.
For the 2020-2021 academic year, however, 100 percent of the HisCon upper-division undergraduate courses were taught by graduate students, which was deemed unacceptable by the CEP. For the minor to return, the committee is looking to decrease the percentage of GSI courses to 25 percent.
HisCon has only two full-time faculty members, and was a graduate-only program for the majority of its lifetime at the university. It was not until the 2015-16 school year that HisCon opened to undergraduate students as a minor. Despite it being the smallest department in the humanities, HisCon visiting chair Chris Connery is confident that this 75 percent decrease is attainable.
“HisCon attracts an extraordinary group of undergraduates to the minor and to its courses,” Connery said. “It does a really good service to the university. I’m hoping to get it back as soon as we can.”
Uncertain Future for Faculty Hiring
Over the past five years, there has only been one new hire in the department, while two faculty members have left.
Connery hopes to have the minor return for the next school year when the faculty members return from leave, though this does not entirely solve their predicament. The minor is still vulnerable if any faculty leave on sabbatical or for other reasons.
“The suspension should be lifted because they unfairly penalize us for being under-resourced,” said Komori. She continued, speaking about the need for new faculty hires, “With the very small number of faculty we have now, it becomes very challenging to manage the most basic functions of the department, especially when faculty need to take leave.”
The humanities division, which oversees all of HisCon’s hiring, is in the early stages of the laborious process of securing full-time faculty to instruct classes in the division. Before job recruitment even begins, the division must send a call to central campus for budgetary requests to begin the hiring process. The request goes through multiple senate committees, and if approved, the division then gets a financial allocation to hire for the position. The division won’t hear if the job is approved or not until late spring or early summer. Dean of Humanities Jasmine Alinder said this process has only just begun for the following academic year, as they have only sent out a request on Feb. 27.
Right now it is too early to tell if HisCon will receive an allocation for new faculty. Though the department and the division are still optimistic.
“My hope is that we’ll be able to get the minor reinstated and back in good standing,” Alinder said. “That is my hope.”