Dean Sheldon Kamienieki speaks to students at the Academic Budget Forum on April 29th, 2009. Photo by Conner Ross. From CHP Archive.
Dean Sheldon Kamienieki speaks to students at the Academic Budget Forum on April 29th, 2009. Photo by Conner Ross. From CHP Archive.

Several UC Santa Cruz programs and departments, including but not limited to community studies, may be at risk of disestablishment. According to Student Union Assembly (SUA) and Academic Senate officers, deans and division administrators are consulting with committees of the Academic Senate to determine whether the most recent budget cuts will fundamentally change the curricular stability of any of the programs affected. 

“If in fact the budget cuts are so severe that they involve the disestablishment of a major, then we have to embark on a different process,” said Academic Senate chair Quentin Williams, a UCSC earth and planetary sciences professor. 

If the cuts are found to be detrimental to a program to the extent that the university’s ability to offer that program as a major is impaired, the Academic Senate requires that the policies and procedures outlined in the Academic Planning Guide be observed. 

Changes that drastically alter a major or program are subject to restrictions. If the budget cuts effectively phase out a major or program, the division must propose a disestablishment plan and remove the program through a set of procedures other than financial strangulation. 

“There are actually consultations with different senate committees about the effects of the budget in almost every division,” Williams said.

These consultations are a manifestation of shared governance, a policy which requires administrators to discuss, among other things, significant program alterations with the Academic Senate.

SUA officers recently became aware that faculty members from many departments are concerned about whether proper consultations with the Academic Senate are being conducted, and resolved to take a stance in support of the committees’ anticipated verdict.  

“We want to make sure the policy is followed and if that means the process is longer, that’s OK,” said Matt Palm, commissioner of academic affairs for SUA.

Although Williams concedes that there is some room for interpretation in a discord like this, the instructions laid out in the Academic Programs and Departments Guidelines for Establishment and Disestablishment, a document conceived in July 2006, provide clarification.

The point most relevant to these circumstances, where the budget threatens the integrity of several departments, discusses the process by which a major is disestablished. For undergraduate majors, the document instructs, “In cases where the discontinuance is motivated by fiscal considerations, the decision is made by the campus provost in consultation with CPB [Committee on Planning and Budget] and CEP [Committee on Educational Policy].”

So, in the event that the budget cuts effectively devastate the fundamental principles of community studies or any other program facing cuts, administrators cannot simply pull the financial plug and must instead propose disestablishment.

But the question — whether these fiscal challenges threaten the community studies curriculum or the stability of a major — remains. 

“Are we cutting something so fundamental it forces curricular change?” Palm asked. “If so, those decisions would have to be vetted by the appropriate faculty and not just the dean.”

Williams said the Academic Senate is responsible for protecting curricular integrity and enforcing protocol. 

“The Academic Senate is charged with ensuring that the curriculum of the campus can be offered,” he said. “It’s a matter of ensuring, whatever changes are being pursued, that the proper procedures are being followed and appropriate senate consultation is occurring.” 

SUA is charged with enforcing the verdicts of those consultations. 

“We want to make sure to take a really solid stance on what happened and stand behind the recommendation of the committees,” said third-year Kalwis Lo, SUA chair. 

The degree to which these consultations are enforced varies. According to Williams, shared governance is a policy applicable to many of the decisions executed at the administrative level, but it is most often enforced when someone finds those decisions objectionable. He said that those concerned with the administration’s recent actions may be exaggerating the implications of recent decisions. 

“A violation of shared governance, phrased that way, is the way that many people might phrase any conflict between the administration and any department on campus,” Williams said. 

Williams added that the Academic Senate is not always at liberty to interfere in administrative action. 

“If things do not impact the curriculum of a specific program there is no purview there,” Williams said. 

Professor emeritus William Friedland left a job at Cornell University 40 years ago to come to UCSC, where the community studies program was founded based on his model. At its conception, the intent of the department was to create the opportunity for students to learn through experience, ultimately resulting in the establishment of the field study element of the major.

While the field study is only one among many victims of the budget cuts, cutbacks proposed by Social Sciences Dean Sheldon Kamieniecki have many worried that the end result will be the destruction of the entire community studies major.

Friedland is currently drafting an article entitled “Community Studies Curriculum: History of Origins and Evolution.” Though still in its early stages, the research discusses the vitality of the field study experience to the community studies curriculum. 

His intention is to provide people who have not been involved with the program since its inception with the perspective necessary to realize the relevance of the model as it exists. 

“Unlike the dean,” Friedland said. “I think what he is proposing will kill the department.”