The American studies major will be suspended in July this year. Students who have already proposed or declared the major will be able to complete their degree, but the major will be closed to new applicants. Photo by Sal Ingram.

The American studies faculty has voted to suspend admission to the American studies major as of July 1 this year.

Since the 1970s, the American studies major has given students an interdisciplinary and historical context in which to study the United States. It allows students to study the diversity within its political, social and cultural institutions. The department’s mission is to prepare students to think critically, be effective writers and responsible citizens.

The faculty voted to recommend to the academic senate that the program be suspended for one or two years. This is “not a cancellation” of the program, said vice provost and dean of undergraduate education Bill Ladusaw.

Declared and proposed American studies majors should not have any difficulty completing their degrees, said Eric Porter, professor and head of the department, in an e-mail to students affiliated with the department.

The academic senate committee on educational policy, which has authority over all undergraduate matters, will decide whether or not to cancel the program.

There are currently around 125 declared American studies majors. In the 2008–2009 academic year, 36 students graduated with degrees in American studies.

The feminist studies and linguistics departments, which are also in the humanities division, also granted around 30 to 60 degrees in the 2008–2009 school year. In the same academic year, psychology granted 422 degrees. The molecular engineering department granted three.

Currently the American studies department has only five faculty members. Literature, the largest department in humanities, currently has around 40 faculty members. The linguistics department and language studies program has around 11, philosophy has seven and feminist studies six.

The limited number of faculty members is the primary reason for suspending the program, Ladusaw said. But because other departments are already stretched thin, the American studies department cannot count on them to provide necessary professors to maintain the major.

Hiring new faculty is not an option, because the process is very slow, Ladusaw said.

“The wise thing to do is to take a time-out, [rather] than bring more students in than we can serve,” he said.

Porter, the head of the American studies department, assured students who received the e-mail that students currently declared or proposed in the major will be able to complete their major and obtain their degree in “a timely fashion.” He advised proposed American studies majors to take the courses required to declare their major by spring quarter. Courses such as Introduction to American Studies will be offered for the last time this spring.

Fourth-year American studies and psychology major Elena Brown said she is unhappy with the murky fate of the American studies department.

“It sucks, and I’m upset about it,” Brown said. “It’s really frustrating. They’ve already cut community studies. Humanities are just not important here, apparently — where you learn to think critically about big issues like multiculturalism and diversity.  American studies is the closest thing to ethnic studies, and now it’s being targeted.”

The decision to suspend the undergraduate major will affect graduate students as well.

For Adam Reed, second-year graduate student instructor and history of consciousness doctoral candidate, the dissolution of the American studies major means that finding work as a teaching assistant or graduate student instructor will be more difficult.

“American studies has been a place for history of consciousness [graduate] students to get TA-ships, and we’re getting incredibly fucked,” Reed said. “So American studies is gone, there are not going to be any other programs for students to TA.”

Reed’s graduate focus on race in the United States makes him the perfect candidate for a TA in American studies, but not for other departments. He said eliminating the American studies department would mean the loss of valuable academic research and resources.

“We’re pretty much closing down a whole important field of knowledge that students are really interested in and is really important,” Reed said. “And it’s just going to be gone.”

Magaly Monroy, fourth-year American studies major, said that the suspension sends a very discouraging message about what kinds of programs the university values.

“It makes me feel that the university is telling me that what I want to be learning is not as important as either math or science majors,” Monroy said.

Brown said one of the key ideas of public education is supposed to be that all students should be able to choose to study any discipline they are passionate about.

“That’s the beauty of going to public university — the diversity between disciplines and people — and it’s becoming less and less diverse,” Brown said. “It’s really frustrating, because I don’t think students care.”

An informational meeting will be held on Monday in Humanities 1, Room 202. American studies students will have the opportunity to discuss further plans for the major and will be given information about how to proceed.

Ladusaw said that the two main goals of his office are to serve the current students and to engage in active conversation on how to sustain the American studies program in the future.