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Cutting Class

news_cabrilloCancellation of Cabrillo’s Chinese language program causes a stir
Budget cuts: two of the most dreaded words in current economic times and, unfortunately, also two of the most common. With the state’s deficit at a staggering $19.1 billion, funding for social programs has been hacked away, leaving schools and communities to deal with the brunt of the blow.

For most of the Golden State’s public schools, this means having to cut many needed and desired courses. Cabrillo Community College is no exception.

“Over the past three years I’ve had to cut a total of 11 language courses,” explains Jim Weckler, dean of business, English and language arts. Yet out of the 11, none have caused more of an uproar in the community than the cancellation of the entire Chinese language program. A group calling itself the Friends of Chinese Language at Cabrillo College is looking for some answers.

Founded by Cynthia Berger and Marlene Majewska, two concerned citizens who met earlier this year after a Cabrillo Board meeting, the Friends of Chinese formed when the two began wondering why such an important language was being cut altogether. According to the U.S. Census, Chinese is the fourth most-spoken language in the country, and it also claims the most native speakers, making it the most spoken language in the world. The U.S.-China Business Council estimates exports to China from the 17th Congressional District, which includes Santa Cruz, rose an impressive 224 percent in the past decade. Berger is quick to point out that many jobs in the district will give a bonus for knowing the language. Three petitions against Cabrillo’s decision have already been circulated; one in October 2009 and two more last spring. “[The school’s decision] just didn’t make sense,” Majewska sighs.

So why the cuts?

According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, state funding is determined by the enrollment on the date of the census. Yet, data from Cabrillo’s own Planning and Research Office shows that Introductory Chinese course had well above the minimum requirement of enrollment while Intermediate Chinese, which was cut last year, would at least meet the minimum. Friends of Chinese sent Weckler and the Cabrillo College Governing Board a letter detailing enrollment statistics along with questions and concerns that they say still haven’t been answered.

Weckler points to two main factors for the decision: money and sequencing.

Normally, two language courses are given in the fall semester, each one having a varying number of no-shows, dropouts and withdrawals. The idea is that by the end of the first semester there will be a core of committed students to continue onto the spring semester. However, four years ago, when Chinese was reinstated to the curriculum after a long hiatus, Weckler “had enough teaching units to offer one in the fall and two in the spring. Which, in hindsight, isn’t the way to start a language sequence.”

What does this mean for the current students at Cabrillo and the surrounding community? “There were seven languages at Cabrillo. Five of them were Western, with Chinese and Japanese [as the other two],” says Berger, explaining that students who want to major in Asian Studies will now have Japanese as their only option for fulfilling their requirements. “We also know they didn’t consult with the chair of the Asian Studies when they cut Chinese,” she adds.

Majewska points out that this will widen the curriculum gap. “Just the other day I was talking with a woman who now has to drive over the hill so her son can learn Chinese,” she says.

But all might not be lost for the Friends of Chinese. When asked about the group, Weckler chuckles in delight. “I consider myself a friend of Chinese language, by the way,” he says. “We are bringing Chinese back once we get this budget thing figured out.”

At a recent board meeting, prominent local businessman George Ow Jr. offered to donate roughly $15,000 to reinstate the course. A combined effort from the Asian community along with the Friends, pledge to match the amount. However, this is still in negotiations as some question whether or not having a public institution teach privately funded courses is a wise idea. For the time being, Majewska offers this advice for anyone who wants to take action, “If people write to their trustees, and call their trustees, and meet with them, then they can influence them to put this on the agenda.”

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