January 16, 2021
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Story tips, concerns, questions?

California State Capitol Building in Sacramento, California where the State Legislature convenes. Photo by m mucoki on Unsplash

By Iracema Navarro, Political Editor

Updated 8/03/2020: Additional reporting by Brenda Verano and Robert Rios

One month after the state voted to introduce an ethnic studies requirement to the California State University, the CSU Board of Trustees, defying a great deal of CSU faculty, approved an alternative version that broadens it to include classes that have a social justice component.

The board voted, 15-4, July 20 to endorse Chancellor’s Timothy B. White’s alternative version, throwing the fate of AB1460, which is endorsed by the California Faculty Association (CFA), the CSU Ethnic Studies Council and many of the faculty organizations representing the CSU’s 23 campuses, including the CSUDH Academic Senate, into question.

AB 1460, passed by the state assembly last year and the state senate June 18th,  would require that all CSU students, beginning with the freshman class of 2021-22, complete a three-unit course that would focus on the study of one of four ethnic groups: African American, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Latinx, and Native Americans.

The bill is currently in concurrence in the assembly, meaning minor amendments to the original assembly bill must be resolved. At that point, it would be sent to Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom, If signed into law, it would supersede the requirement passed last week by the CSU board.

That CSU requirement, introduced by the office of Chancellor Timothy B. White, broadens AB 1460’s requirement  to include classes that deal in some way with social justice. 

White said in a press release that the alternative proposal would give students more choices, and “advances the field (of ethnic studies)” by connecting “it with the voices and perspectives of other historically oppressed groups.”  Classes that focused on “police reform, disparities in public health and the economics of racism, to name just a few, would meet the new requirement,” White said in the release.

However, many, including a large number of CSUDH faculty who support AB 1460, believe the CSU requirement does not reflect the original intentions of the ethnic studies requirement and was crafted without the chancellor’s office seeking input from faculty.

Charles Thomas, the immediate past chair of the CSUDH Academic Senate, and a professor of business law, took to Twitter after the Board’s decision, calling the chancellor’s proposal a “canard” that dilutes the intentions of a specifically ethnic studies-focused requirement.

“@calstate The 2016 CSU was for “ethnic studies.” The demands from the ES Council was “ethnic studies.” What you deliver: “ethnic studies AND SOCIAL JUSTICE.” Like when you order “fresh squeezed orange juice” and they bring you “Tang”. We. See. You.”

“We feel (the board’s decision) was a way to bypass the ethnic studies focus of the bill,” said Dr. Vivian Price, a CSUDH professor of interdisciplinary studies. “Especially in view of the Black Lives Matter movement, I feel strongly that now’s the time to make sure our students have a grounding in ethnic studies. Social justice classes are important but they should not be used to supplant the focus of the movement to support student learning in ethnic studies.”

Dr. Donna Nicol, the chair of the CSUDH Africana Studies Department, said that broadening the requirement to include social justice-related classes would dilute the original purpose of an ethnic studies requirement.

“The only way to truly understand the marginalization of those and other under-represented groups is to understand how African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and Chicanx/Latinx Americans were racialized and subject to institutional racism in education, politics, the economy, and the legal realm,” Nicol said.

White, along with the statewide academic senate, which includes representatives from each of the 23 CSU campuses, object to AB 1460 in part because they are uncomfortable with the legislature mandating a change in general education requirements at the CSU.The GE requirements have not been changed in 40 years.

But, critics of the Chancellor-introduced requirement say any objection to legislative intrusion into CSU curriculum by mandating a requirement does not reflect the reality that an ethnic studies task force commissioned by White recommended in 2016 that a GE requirement be incorporated.

The lack of movement on the part of the CSU Chancellor’s Office in creating an ethnic studies requirement is what prompted  state senator Shirley Weber, who taught for 40 years in the African Studies department at San Diego State University, to introduce AB 1460, according to Nicole. 

In a CSUDH academic senate meeting last year, Nicol said, according to the minutes of the meetings, that the “reason Senator Weber put together AB 1460 is because of the lack of action taken on the Ethnic Studies Task Force (recommendation). We have been waiting for the Chancellor’s Office and by extension the campuses to do something with regards to Ethnic Studies.”

The lack of movement, “speaks to a lack of commitment from the Administration with regards to Ethnic Studies,” Nicol said.  

An encouragement letter supporting the AB1460 was sent to Gov. Newson on July 15 from the California State University Council on Ethnic Studies. It warned of a potential “Trojan Horse” in the Chancellor’s proposal. 

Christopher Monty, the chair of the CSUDH history department, explained the Trojan House is management “behind the backs” by the CSU over campus faculty, because it does not incorporate the concept of necessary consultation in shared governance.“

“I think this move does undermine the important and crucial role that faculty have in curriculum decisions,” said assistant professor of Asian Pacific Studies Mary Lacanlale. “ I’m not sure why there is strong opposition to AB 1460 by the chancellor and the board, but I have hope that we are at a turning point in how our society values and advocates for the rights of historically marginalized groups. I know from personal experience and as a scholar that struggles for racial and social justice and equality have had and continue to have many barriers.”

Jennifer Brandt, an associate professor and program coordinator of Women’s Studies at CSUDH, said she was “disappointed in the Board’s decision to alter the original intentions of the bill,” and its timing runs counter to the mood of the country, as well as the distinctive academic focus of ethnic studies departments.

“At a time of great social and political unrest around anti-Black sentiment, state-sanctioned violence, and white supremacy, the CSU had the opportunity to be a leader in taking a stand against systemic racism by committing to having all students take a course specifically in ethnic studies as a graduation requirement,” Brandt said. “What a strong and powerful message this could have sent. Instead, in broadening the focus to more widely include social justice, this measure both ignores the specific history of the four groups specified in AB 1460, but also overlooks the fact that ethnic studies’ departments are disciplines and fields of inquiry with specific theories and methodologies. In a lot of ways, the Board’s decision is the academic equivalent of saying, All Lives Matter.”




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