On The Chopping Block?

onthechoppingblockAll eyes await the fate of UCSC’s Community Studies Program

Forty years ago, at what was then a small, up-and-coming public university, a man by the name of Bill Friedland founded the Community Studies Department. It has since become a trademark of the school, UC Santa Cruz, and synonymous with its liberal atmosphere.

Often the target of conservative critics—some may remember right-wing author David Horowitz dubbing Community Studies as a “training ground for political activism” in his explanation of why UCSC was the “most un-American school in the country”— the community studies program offers an interdisciplinary education in community organizing and action and sends each student on a six-month field study in their area of focus. Faculty estimates that its undergraduates have done more than 2.5 million hours of community service.

Just three weeks before the department’s 40th anniversary reunion, Friedland, who now serves as a professor emeritus for the department, got some bad news. It was at the Wednesday, April 1, department meeting that Sheldon Kamieniecki, Dean of Social Sciences, community’s studies umbrella division, told the faculty that community studies may be no more as of July 1. According to Kamieniecki, it is just a proposal; Friendland seems to think otherwise. On Tuesday, April 7, Friedland told a jam-packed lecture hall of infuriated students, parents, faculty and allies that, “having been a dean myself, I know that when a dean comes into a department and says something, they aren’t ‘just thinking about it.’ None of us left that meeting believing he was just thinking about it.”

Money Talks

Budget cuts are an ugly reality. These days, practically every official in the public sector grudgingly has to face them. Those up at UCSC are no exception. The UC Regents are not scheduled to vote on the system-wide budget cuts for the ’09-’10 fiscal year until their meeting in May, but UCSC, like every other campus, is preparing itself for what they feel will be a large blow.

“We don’t yet know precisely what the campus share will be for the next fiscal year but we can’t wait until July 1 to come up with plans that have to take affect July 1,” says UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns. In the meantime they have estimated that the school will be asked to cut $13 million from its budget, although Burns says it is possible that this figure could be much higher. “The state’s fiscal situation is a bit discouraging,” he says. “It is possible that we may have additional cuts on this campus.”

Planning according to the $13 million figure, UCSC has decided that administrative divisions will absorb $8.5 million, and that the remaining $4.5 million will be cut from academic divisions. The dean of each of the five academic divisions was assigned a target budget reduction. With no way around making some drastic changes, Kamieniecki announced to his department that 15 percent of his assigned $1.3 million reduction could be taken care of by eliminating the community studies department.

Bettina Aptheker, a venerated feminist studies professor speaking on behalf of the Academic Senate, explained at the April 7 meeting that “a dean cannot disestablish a department; what a dean can do is initiate a process to disestablish a program.” According to Burns, the proposal (for nothing is in writing, yet) would take away the community studies department and relocate the major of the same name to another existing department. “Community studies as a major is not going anywhere, at least anytime soon,” he says.

Even if the major were discontinued, students are equipped with what are called “catalogue rights”—the right to graduate with a degree in a major even after it has been cancelled. “[The school] would have to do that in a way that would not deny currently enrolled students that have declared that major, or current or incoming students that have proposed declaring the major, with the opportunity to earn a degree in that discipline,” Burns explains.

As soon as B. Ruby Rich, professor and chair of the Community Studies department, took the microphone at the crowded meeting, she advised all students who weren’t yet declared as community studies majors to march straight to their college offices and do so. Rich, who facilitated the meeting, told GT afterward that she has little faith that the major will remain if the department is gone.

“I don’t know if it would exist if it weren’t a department,” she says. “You have to understand that there is such a strict separation of authority on campus—an administration can’t say they are doing away with a major because that is not their prerogative. But they can say that they intend to do away with the staffing of the department, which is the authority.” Even if the major remains, she says it would lose much of its integrity because students wouldn’t be doing field studies.

Rich is one of many UCSC kin who feel the school is rapidly heading in the direction of science and leaving liberal arts and humanities behind in its wake. In the past several years, as research and science has thrived on the campus, the school has lost programs like Journalism and downsized its languages.

“Their attempt to do away with what they may see as non-normative departments would make the Santa Cruz campuslook like the other UC campuses as opposed to being distinctively different,” says Rich. “I’d like to know whether the cuts would be different if the campus weren’t run by scientists.”
Outrage over the decision has escalated amongst faculty and students, but officials want to make it clear that they, too, are upset by the potential losses.
“No one is suggesting that these cuts, whether in community studies or elsewhere, are not impacting our quality,” says Burns. “We’re doing our best to mitigate those impacts, but you cannot have cuts of this scale and have it be painless.”

In For the Long Haul

The opposition may be in for what Rich called “the long haul.” But although opponents of the cuts may have to wait months for budgets to be voted on and decisions to be finalized, they managed to sprout a “movement” less than a week after Kamieniecki broke the news to the department.

A Facebook group was launched the following day, garnering more than 600 members in its first 24 hours. As of last Tuesday night’s “emergency meeting,” it had more than 1,600. “I haven’t checked it in a hour,” says the group’s creator, Adam Butler, “but if it’s increasing the way it has been it should be over 1,700. Every time I hit reload there are two or three new members.” Outside the meeting, standing amidst the campus’ iconic redwoods, Butler explains why he utilized the social media tool. “The purpose of the Facebook group is to disseminate information,” he says. “The most valuable thing here is that it doesn’t take much effort from each person if enough people come together.”

Butler is one of the movement’s many “allies,” or people who aren’t directly linked with the Community Studies Department as faculty, students, alumni or parents. He is in his last quarter as an American studies major, but, upon hearing the news, was determined to do whatever he could to help.

“I feel, despite the major I’ve declared, that Community Studies is the most valuable major that we have on this campus and by extension of that the most valuable major for the local community,” he says. The coalition announced at the meeting that they will have 10 working teams, each with a point person. They encouraged everyone to post updates and announcements on the Facebook page. The faculty also launched a website,, which went live during the meeting.

The large and raucous gathering was only one of several in that first week— there were student-planning meetings, phone-banking sessions, and even a visit to Chancellor George Blumenthal on Thursday, April 9. Earlier that day, the Academic Senate unanimously sent a letter of concern to Dean Kamieniecki, and the department faculty wrote one to the chancellor, provost and dean.

“We have to have patience,” Mike Rotkin, community studies professor, told the room, adding that the faculty had drafted a resolution to ask the Santa Cruz City Council, of which he is a member, and the County Board of Supervisors for support. He reminded everyone of when teaching assistants went on strike in 1998 and won because they gained legislative support.

“Seventeen percent of the UC budget comes from legislators,” he added, encouraging everyone to start writing letters. “One thing legislators care about is community service. They are more likely to listen to an individual constituent than any one letter from a department at a school.”

Like other speakers, Rotkin pointed to the fact that severe budget cuts are inescapable. Also reiterating the general view, he stressed that the blame shouldn’t lie with UCSC, but with the UC, a wealthy organization ripe with high-paid executives and non-academic business ventures.

“What kinds of cuts are the University Office of the President making?” he asked the crowd. “They pass it down disproportionately so that the real cuts take place with the actual services. I don’t want to hear that there is no money for community studies, it’s just a matter of what people’s priorities are.

“People need to understand that the UC has $6.5 billion in unrestricted funds to spend on anything they want,” he continues, citing a figure from the University Office of the President website. They’re saving it for building. Any rational builder would use some of the funds to maintain critical programs.”

The meeting seemed far from over, but a class was about to begin in the room, and its students were showing up outside its doors. With a quickness that is characteristic of the group, someone announced that another lecture hall across campus was free. Everyone wishing to continue the conversation left and trekked to the next meeting spot.

Rich watched as they filed out, saying she is “astounded” by the level of organizing, adding, “They really care about social justice. They are concerned about the justice of these cuts and what the affect will be on the body politic of the campus.”

But the impact of cutting the community studies department would reach much farther than just the city on a hill; thinking of the innumerable undergraduate internships and number of graduates working as community organizers and at nonprofits, Rich worries about the large- scale consequences of axing a program that has “such deep roots” at a time when its flag bearers are needed the most.

“Enormous budget cuts are hitting this state, there is no way around that,” she tells GT. “The irony is that community studies probably has more relevance at this moment to the national mood than it has since its moment of founding. It seems a shame that this would be happening now.”

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