Last spring, UC Santa Cruz felt the first blow of budget cuts when community studies (CMMU), an academic program centered around social justice and community organizing, received drastic cuts that forced students and faculty to mobilize in order save their own program.
It began when UCSC’s Dean of Social Sciences Sheldon Kamieniecki received an order from Chancellor George Blumenthal and Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger to cut $1.4 million from the division budget. Word was leaked that the dean was “cutting” CMMU by laying off the administrative and support staff for the major.
In April of the same year that marked its 40th anniversary, the department received notice that Mike Rotkin, the field study coordinator, and his assistant, Florencia Marchetti, would be laid off 50 percent for the 2009 school year and laid off completely by the end of 2010. The CMMU department manager was laid off and consolidated with the sociology department manager.
Students quickly created the Coalition to Save Community Studies (CSCS) and held weekly protests and educational meetings.
The students and supporters cried foul. They rallied. Then they left.
Since the news about CMMU broke last spring, the Quarry has been silent. Pink slips have been issued to the field study coordinators (FSCs). Students are scattered around the country on their field study, and the department is now left figuring out what to do next.
Kit Rutter, a main organizer for Coalition to Save Community Studies and third-year CMMU student, says she and the small group of activists are ramping up their actions for this school year to dispel two prevailing misconceptions: that the major no longer exists and, conversely, that it’s completely safe and in the clear from budget cuts.
“It’s definitely still in crisis,” Rutter said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
‘Like a Car Without Wheels’
CMMU requires its students to embark on a six-month field study, in which they work toward social change in a nonprofit organization, sometime during the summer or fall quarter prior to their graduation.
Rotkin and Marchetti’s roles as field study coordinators are to place students in internships, deal with any logistical issues and crises and read students’ daily field notes and term papers.
According to Rotkin, there has been a full-time coordinator since the program was started in 1969 and two coordinators for the past seven years. Rotkin finds the notion that CMMU could exist without a field study component absurd.
“Community studies without a field study is like a car without wheels,” Rotkin said.
Rotkin estimates it would require approximately $175,000 to fund his full-time and his assistant’s almost-full-time position. Currently, a portion of the coordinator salaries are being funded by fees paid from CMMU students who pay regular student fee amounts while doing their field studies.
The second set of pink slips will go into effect for Marchetti and Rotkin in March and June 2010, respectively, which means that at the end of this school year there will be no more field study coordinators, leaving the future of CMMU hanging in the balance.
Field Study: Foundations for Change
Currently, 140 students are interning full-time at nonprofits around Santa Cruz, the Bay Area and the nation for their CMMU field studies. Marchetti commented on the unique nature of the community studies program and its integrated field study opportunities.
“The students get the chance to go out in the world and test the knowledge they gained at the university against the reality, and use the knowledge they are learning to make something work better,” Marchetti said. “Like most professions, you learn by doing.”
A look at the field study students and organizations reveals an impressive network of graduates as well as many interns who go on to work at nonprofits that have been created by CMMU alumni.
One prominent example is Nane Alejándrez, who is founder and director of Barrios Unidos (BU), a nonprofit that addresses youth violence in Santa Cruz. He came to UCSC in 1977 to learn how to deal with violence after a tumultuous life marked by gangs, heroin addiction and serving in the Vietnam War. He found support in the CMMU staff, and Mike Rotkin in particular, who advised him as he started the organization.
“I can give credit to UCSC for being a part of Barrios Unidos,” Alejándrez said.
Since graduating, Alejándrez says he’s been “blessed” to have many CMMU interns come through BU and participate in the org’s six-month internship.
“It allows me to have someone to work with and [to] be able to mentor and teach what we learned the last 30-something years,” Alejándrez said.
One such intern is Angie Espinoza, a third-year CMMU major and education minor who has been working with BU since June of 2009.
Espinoza learned about BU when Alejándrez came into her Chicanos and Social Change class during her freshman year and talked about the organization and his experience with gangs.
This resonated with Espinoza, who “grew up in the madness” in Costa Mesa, California, where everyone she knew was in gangs and she had to deal with girls who verbally attacked her mother and tried to beat her up after school.
“I felt like I needed to come in here and see what Barrios Unidos was about,” Espinoza said.
At their office on Soquel Street, Espinoza works as an assistant to Alejándrez. But unlike many interns incessantly engaged in tedious tasks like copying and stapling papers, Espinoza has spent her time rubbing shoulders with national and international figures.
Espinoza recently prepared a BU fundraiser in San Francisco that boasted guests like actor and activist Danny Glover, California Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass, and Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers of America co-founder and vice president.
“It was unreal — I was chanting along with Dolores Huerta, the godmother of the Chicano movement,” Epinoza said.
A few weeks prior to the event, Espinoza and Alejándrez had dinner with Bernanrdo Alvaverz Herrera, the Venezeulan ambassador to the United States. She recalled a moment when she told a group of 15 people, including a Chevron Corporation executive and an Emmy award-winning documentary filmmaker, Saul Alindo, about the crisis with CMMU.
“It was intense actually,” Espinoza said.
In addition, Espinoza works for the Prison Project, one of BU’s nationwide programs. She visits incarcerated individuals at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy and corresponds with inmates through letters.
“I get some crazy letters — poems expressing the madness they’ve been through,” Espinoza said. “Sometimes I’m left speechless by the powers in the words and it makes me try harder to keep youth out of there.”
The Fight For the Future
For current third-year CMMU students, it remains unclear whether they can embark on their six-month field studies during the upcoming summer and fall quarters.
“We’re going on [knowing] that in July, we’ll have nobody to manage the field study,” Rotkin said, noting that the program nonetheless admitted 50 new majors this quarter and will have a total of 120 new majors by the end of winter quarter that will need to complete field studies.
In light of these departmental changes, CSCS is changing gears this quarter as well. First, they’re choosing to break away from protests, which main organizer Kit Rutter said were liberating for some, but isolating for those outside the major.
In addition, CSCS is moving away from working with the administration.
“We tried that last quarter and nothing really came of that,” Rutter said.
Instead, Rutter and CMMU department chair B. Ruby Rich plan on utilizing the political sway of UCSC’s Academic Senate, a “shared governance” committee composed of faculty who, by design, are supposed to share responsibility with the administration for managing the UC system.
Additionally, the CMMU department has set up an endowment fund to raise money for the field study coordinators titled “40 by 40,” which encourages community studies alumni and nonprofit organizations who have used CMMU interns to donate $40 — which, compounded, might help extend the program for another 40 years.
Rich said that the department has raised about $7,000 thus far — a major monetary distance from the $500,000 necessary to generate enough dividends to achieve the 40-year continuation goal.
Second-year community studies and art major Alyssa Gutner-Davis works on the fundraising campaign. After witnessing the organizing around CMMU last spring, Gutner-Davis felt a sense of urgency to join CSCS because she didn’t want to see the major “destroyed.”
“The funny thing was I hadn’t taken any of the community studies classes yet, [but] hearing about the cuts [made me] upset because I liked what I heard and read about the major,” Gutner-Davis said, adding that she is worried about her future and is determined to find a way to complete a field study even if she has to do so outside of UCSC’s oversight.
“I’m not going to get it at the price everyone else is getting it at,” Gutner Davis said. “That’s really hard to hear.”
Among everyone from the CMMU department chair to CSCS organizers to the two field study coordinators, one thing seems agreed-upon by all: they are going to work their hardest to preserve the field study component as it exists right now while holding tight to a fervent belief in its educational and social value.
“It’s almost ironic that this is happening to community studies because we’re taught to be prepared for [things like this],” Rutter said. “It’s definitely a good test for us. It’s empowering in some ways and it’s just completely disheartening in other ways.”
Rutter explained that CSCS will look into a lawsuit in case the appeals to Academic Senate fall through, although exact details regarding such a lawsuit remain unclear.
Rotkin said Dean Kamieniecki has asked CMMU for an answer about how it will proceed by December. The department had its first meeting about three weeks ago, and Rotkin and Rich both reported that the discussions were inconclusive, but will continue as the field study season approaches.
Given that there is not and won’t be enough money in the budget in the future to fund the FSC position, the future of the field study will have to change.
“The only option is to do with a different kind of field study,” Rotkin said.
What it will look like, nobody knows.