Social science consolidation on track despite student opposition

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Campus administrators remain committed to restructuring staff and cutting work hours in three social sciences departments, despite concerns raised by a coalition of students regarding the accuracy of the data used to plan the restructuring under the Operational Excellence initiative.

The Coalition for Gender and Women's Studies, African American Studies and Ethnic Studies has taken a variety of actions, such as holding teach-ins and writing a letter of demands, to combat the consolidation of staff in their departments. The consolidation - part of an effort to save $500,000 within the Division of Social Sciences at the College of Letters and Science - would result in layoffs and reductions in work hours under the organizational simplification initiative of the campus's cost-cutting Operational Excellence initiative.

After holding teach-ins for African American studies students and the Black Student Union on March 14 and 16, the coalition read a letter at the March 19 Undergraduate Campus Climate meeting listing demands such as reversing the plans to cut staff work hours and correcting some alleged inaccuracies in the data cited by Carla Hesse, dean of the social sciences division of the College of Letters and Science.

Rob Connell, an African American studies graduate student and a member of the coalition, said in an email that Hesse's data incorrectly stated that gender and women's studies currently has 42 enrolled majors instead of 71 and that the data did not take 30 minors and 130 designated emphasis students into account.

According to Althea Grannum-Cummings, student affairs officer for gender and women's studies, there are currently about 70 majors according to Bear Facts, which is more regularly updated than the Cal Profiles online system Hesse used.

However, Hesse said in an email that even if the department has about 70 majors, she would not revise her decision to reduce staff hours.

"The average ratio of (student affairs officers) to majors campuswide is about 200, so even at 70 majors, a 50 percent (student affairs officer) position is a fair allocation," she said in the email.

The coalition's letter designated a deadline for a response by March 28, the same day that coalition members attended a meeting of the Student Operational Excellence Committee - a group of students formed by the ASUC that advocates for increased student involvement in the initiative - to discuss the concerns with Andrew Szeri, faculty head of the initiative program office and dean of the Graduate Division.

At last Wednesday's ASUC Senate meeting, coalition members addressed questions to Szeri. Students at the meeting said they had met with Hesse, as well as with other staff members, to talk about alleged errors they had found in the data Hesse used and that they were frustrated by a lack of response from the campus.

"The real, deep question is if students have gone through several meetings with different levels of people and are having that much trouble correcting errors, what can we do so it's not always that strenuous?" said Student Action Senator Farrah Moos at the meeting.

Szeri said at the meeting that the process of making restructuring plans based on accurate information was "pretty fault tolerant," but he met with Hesse the next day to review the data she had submitted that was used to make restructuring plans.

"I am confident that Dean Hesse has accurate data and that she made sound decisions to move forward under challenging financial circumstances, in a way that is fair and equitable to all of her portfolio," Szeri said in a statement Tuesday.

Hesse said she does not have any direct contact information to send a response to the coalition after reviewing the data, though she sent a response April 2 to Thomas Biolsi, chair of the department of ethnic studies, so that it could be circulated.

Biolsi said in an email that he shared the response with student affairs officers in the department on April 2 but that the response may not have been circulated to all department faculty, undergraduate and graduate students until April 4. He said he has not yet received feedback.

Connell said in an email that coalition members have not had any more discussion with Szeri since the senate meeting and have not heard a response from Hesse.

"In terms of moving forward if the administration does not respond to our demands, we will continue to conduct teach-ins so as to galvanize support," Connell said in the email.


Alisha Azevedo covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]

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