Hundreds Protest $2M Budget Cuts to San Francisco State University Ethnic Studies Program

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Photo by Paul Chinn for The Chronicle
Photo by Paul Chinn for The Chronicle

Students at San Francisco State University have taken up picket signs to protest impending budget cuts that could harm their beloved College of Ethnic Studies program. The college is the first and only College of Ethnic Studies in the nation.

Yesterday, hundreds of student staged a protest outside of a meeting with school President Les Wong to demand action. It was revealed Thursday that the College of Ethnic Studies will be given $3.6 million this year, which is nearly $2 million less than the College of Education received. This revelation is surprising because the College of Ethnic Studies has 30 percent more students.

Tuesday the university released a statement about the apparent financial woes:

Among our University’s greatest strengths, as reinforced in our strategic plan’s core values, is a shared commitment to community. This includes our stated objective to increase engagement and responsiveness to student, staff and faculty concerns.

With these principles in mind, it has been particularly gratifying to me to be reminded of the deep support across the University for the College of Ethnic Studies, as expressed through letters of support our office has received as well as by the many conversations initiated by students and faculty members in recent days. The College’s place of pride for SF State is well deserved, as both the first and only College of Ethnic Studies in the nation.

Unfortunately, a misapprehension has arisen that I want to dispel. Be assured that no plan exists to reduce the yearly budget for any of our six colleges, including the College of Ethnic Studies. While our 2016-17 budget for the University has not been finalized, we expect this year’s allocation to closely resemble last year’s.

What has changed is how we respond to programs, including colleges, that run annual deficits, as has been the case for Ethnic Studies in recent years. When budget gaps have been discovered in other programs, a strategy was developed that allowed the program to continue while arranging to pay back its debt to the University within a set timeframe. In the case of the College of Ethnic Studies, no reimbursement plan has been requested. But the college has been asked to adapt to new budgetary discipline moving forward.

Adapting to new budgetary guidelines can come with challenges and, as I’m hearing from members of the College and others in the SF State community, anxiety about the unknown. As a lifelong educator, I believe strongly that increasing knowledge can greatly decrease concerns.

According to the San Francisco Gate, “University President Les Wong announced that he will find $200,000 this year to eliminate most of the college’s $245,000 shortfall and — for now — halt cuts to graduate-level classes, faculty research, work-study funding, substitute instructors for faculty on sabbatical and other programs.”

Wong also spoke with The San Francisco Chronicle about the budget concerns and reassured that the school will find $200,000 for next year as well, but it may not be enough to solve the issue.

The College of Ethnic Studies reflects a rich history of protests that spawns back to 1968 and 1969. Student groups like the Black Student Union, Third World Liberation Front, and community activists united to force the university’s hand in order to form the college.

“Their specific demands included the establishment of four departments —American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Black Studies, and La Raza Studies within a College of Ethnic Studies,” according to the college’s website.

The students were well aware of this rich tradition of protest and activism and decided to raise their voices.

In the photo below, hundreds of students came out to the meeting with the university president:

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas spoke out about the budgetary concerns on Twitter:

Other students commented and reported the protests on their Twitter profiles as well:

Many of the students come from a variety of backgrounds and races. This united front shows great promise for the future.

 

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