UCSC humanities division forum keeps the budget wheels turning
Distress over UC Santa Cruz budget cuts has already spurred an opening-day walkout, the occupation of a campus building and a flurry of coalition-building among students, workers, and faculty. While every division on campus is coping with permanent budget reductions, the transparency of the decision-making has varied.
On Sept. 29, UCSC Humanities Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele hosted a “Humanities Division Town Hall Meeting” to disclose the division’s latest budget woes and elicit creative solutions from the campus community. The evening of the event, more than 60 faculty members and graduate students (plus a handful of undergraduates) are gathered at the Humanities Lecture Hall.
The humanities division encompasses some of UCSC’s most popular and prestigious departments. Literature is the fourth largest undergraduate major at UCSC, and history is the sixth. The feminist studies department is a world-renowned leader in gender and sexuality scholarship. The National Research Council has ranked the linguistics doctoral program among the top 10 in the country. The inimitable history of consciousness graduate program is a hub of cutting edge, interdisciplinary scholarship. Clearly, the stakes are high.
Van Den Abbeele begins the event with an unsettling slide presentation that details the division’s latest money matters. The budget for humanities was permanently reduced by $1 million on July 1 and by another $390,000 in late July. It was given an additional one-time reduction of $1,066,800 in September, a cut that may become permanent by next summer.
Although these cuts have not yet caused drastic curriculum changes, the division is feeling the strain. According to Van Den Abbeele, financial support for graduate students will be largely limited to teaching assistant positions, and senior hires will be at a virtual standstill in the coming years. The division is also anticipating significantly diminished research and technology support. Even before the latest cuts, the humanities had the lowest Instruction and Research Funding on campus.
“One of our problems is that what we do is completely people powered,” says Van Den Abbeele. “We don’t have labs we can shut down [or] centers we can pull the plug on.” Without drastic changes, therefore, the division will be forced to make faculty-level cuts such as not replacing professors who retire in coming years. If additional savings are needed, the division may have to layoff large numbers of lecturers and severely impact the curriculum.
Van Den Abbeele explains that several departments will become inoperably small if professors retire and are not replaced. The history of consciousness program, feminist studies, American studies, and philosophy are “at risk of losing viability” in this way. “I view these as in jeopardy,” he says.
The audience bristles at this possibility. “While I appreciate the intellectual solidarity that I think everyone here has … we are coming from departments that are ‘tiered’ very differently,” says Associate Professor of Feminist Studies Anjali Arondekar. “I need to be assured that my department will remain the way we want it to be.” Several history of consciousness graduate students expressed similar concerns.
Town hall attendees are then introduced to the newly formed Advisory Task Force on Reconstitution, a group that is currently reviewing the division’s expenses to identify money-saving strategies. They are seeking input from faculty and students to make major decisions that may include consolidating, reconstituting, or even discontinuing departments.
“It’s easy to get gloomy about those numbers, but there also are opportunities,” says history professor Edmund Burke III, noting that he has experienced several cycles of financial boom and bust at UCSC. “There can be creative responses to the situation we find ourselves in,” he says. Some in the crowd suggest merging the humanities and social science divisions, a common setup at other campuses. Several recommend intensifying efforts to get students involved in the dialogue.
Creative solutions aside, the discussion has a broader subtext: the uncertain future of humanities in the UC system at large. As state funding for pubic education declines, science and engineering departments are able to bring in more external dollars and are rising in importance and receiving fewer threatening cuts.
“We’re trying to feel our way through this … it will have bumps and turns,” Van Den Abbeele tells the crowd. “It’s important that people are heard in the process whenever decisions are made.”