Students, Faculty Discuss The Fate of Ethnic Studies

Faculty Members Hold Meetings With Students To Discuss the Proposed Consolidation of Majors

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Students and faculty in the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Department are working to open dialogue and reduce tensions after a recommendation from an external review committee to consolidate three of the department's majors into one comparative ethnic studies major has drawn significant anxiety among students over the past few weeks.

Faculty members from each of the four majors in the department, which also includes an ethnic studies major, held meetings in the past two weeks to discuss the committee's recommendations - affecting Asian American studies, Chicano/Latino studies and Native American studies - with students and answer questions. The fourth meeting was held Thursday in Barrows Hall, with approximately 10 students and six faculty members in attendance.

Students held an additional meeting Wednesday night in preparation for Thursday's meeting.

While students entered Thursday's meeting prepared to assert their opposition to the consolidation recommendation, both students and faculty felt satisfied after the meeting's conclusion.

"I think it was really productive and it definitely ended on a very positive note," said UC Berkeley senior Ruben Canedo, an ethnic studies and social welfare double major who facilitated the student meeting.

Thursday's meeting resulted in an agreement to have another meeting in the middle of November for faculty members to listen to students' concerns and recommendations to improve the department, according to Thomas Biolsi, chair of the ethnic studies department and professor of Native American studies.

After consulting with graduate and undergraduate students, faculty members will report their decisions stemming from the recommendations to the campus administration in May, Biolsi said. They may not make decisions on some recommendations until next year.

According to Keith Feldman, assistant professor of ethnic studies and facilitator of Thursday's meeting, the faculty has yet to discuss any of the recommendations. They plan to sit down together Nov. 1.

In the report, the department was also encouraged to enhance the majors' field study requirement and increase faculty involvement with students. Although the faculty members will not make any guarantees over potential changes to the department's structure, Feldman said students should "absolutely not" be worried.

"(The consolidation recommendation) is essentially dead in the water as far as the faculty is concerned, although I don't want to put words in their mouth," Biolsi said.

According to Biolsi, much of the student concern is because of the circulation of misinformation. The recommendations are meant for the department to give "more students more value for their tuition money," he said.

The department plans to add three new faculty members within the next two years. This expansion, which was authorized by the administration before the report was released, comes after the loss of six faculty members to retirement and death over the past 10 years, Biolsi said.

While students remain unclear about the future of the department, Canedo said he welcomed communication between faculty and students.

"The ethnic studies department is near and dear to my heart, and I want what's best for it," Canedo said.


Contact Mary Susman at [email protected]

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