Students organized a meeting on Monday to get answers to their questions about the sudden announcement that the American studies major would be suspended. Approximately 30 to 40 students attended the town hall meeting, along with three of the five department faculty members. Students offered their suggestions on how to maintain the goals of the American studies department even after its suspension. Photo by Nick Paris.

After learning about their department’s suspension, American studies majors rallied together to organize a town hall meeting to express their confusion and anger.

Students affiliated with the major were notified this month that admission to the American studies major will be suspended July 1.

Fourth-year American studies major Shawn Freeman, who helped organize the informational meeting, said it was successful.

“This is exactly what I was expecting,” Freeman said. “Students had concerns and they expressed [them], considering the meeting went over an hour.”

Approximately 30 to 40 students squeezed into conference room 202 in Humanities 1 on Monday afternoon and voiced their opinions and questions.

Some missed class for this opportunity. Others weren’t even American studies majors.

American studies department chair and professor Eric Porter, who sent the e-mail notice of the suspension to majors and proposed majors, led the discussion. The vice provost and dean of undergraduate education Bill Ladusaw and two of the four other American studies faculty members were also present.

Fourth-year American studies major Elena Brown was pleased with the outcome of the conference.

“We didn’t want just dialogue from them,” she said. “We weren’t sure of what the format of the meeting would be.”

Fourth-year American studies major Perry Trucco thought the meeting was straightforward.

“[Porter] wanted to put into our heads there’s not much we can do,” he said. “The true issue isn’t in our hands. Everybody wanted to do something, but it’s not in our control at this point.”

Porter said it was the American studies faculty who voted within the department itself to suspend the major.

Unlike community studies, which was cut in spring 2009, American studies faces suspension rather than elimination. The decision to discontinue community studies was made primarily by one administrator. American studies, on the other hand, was suspended based on the recommendations of the department’s faculty.

“There have been too few resources for too long,” Porter said.

In addition to the budget cuts, faculty members have transferred out of the department or to other universities.

When students asked why the school added the new Jewish studies major, the American studies faculty said that the new major requires far fewer resources than American studies would need. Unlike American studies, which has its own professors dedicated to the major, Jewish studies relies on the faculty of other departments, such as history of consciousness, literature and music.

At a quarterly press conference Monday, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal said he is optimistic about the suspension. He hopes it will create new opportunities to develop programs like ethnic studies.

“The suspension, or the potential suspension of that major does give us an opportunity to rethink things from anew,” he said, “and we could very well end up in a better place than where we started.”

But students don’t want a new place to start.

Some were frustrated by the short notice and finality of the suspension.

“It’s a little too late,” Brown said. “[The faculty] already have their minds set. They could’ve opened dialogue a lot sooner. I’m a little skeptical … about their intentions, and maybe they’re just trying to save their own asses.”

Students want to save American studies any way that they can. Some suggested creating a new major with the combination of American studies and ethnic studies.

American studies professor Kimberly Lau said the faculty has already considered this option.

“We talked to everyone on campus about collaborating, but because of resource scarcity it’s difficult for them,” she said.

Another idea was to integrate the goals of American studies into the classes of other departments.

Trucco said the program helped him appreciate aspects of history he wouldn’t have learned in other classes.

“You can’t get that stuff from other majors,” he said. “It enlightened me more so than I anticipated.”

Lau said the suspension may even benefit American studies majors.

This spring is the last quarter Introduction to American Studies will be offered. Instead of teaching the introduction course, professors and teaching assistants will be able to teach more upper-division courses next year.

And because Introduction to American Studies is the only pre-requisite for declaring the major, proposed majors should not have a problem declaring this year.

In 2012–2013, the absence of the 100, 101 and 102 series will free up professors and TAs to teach other American studies electives.

As a result, class sizes will decrease and more courses will be offered for declared majors.

Any proposed majors can get into Introduction to American Studies next quarter and shouldn’t have trouble pursuing the major, the faculty said.

The suspension should not affect majors’ applications to graduate or law school, department chair Porter said.

Meeting organizer Freeman said the turnout was good considering the short notice. Messages announcing the town hall were sent en masse to students and alumni throughout the community.

Meeting organizers met on Saturday night and Monday morning to collaborate on a list of concerns.

Students wanted to know what eliminating the concentration actually means for the campus community, Freeman said.

Porter said many American studies lecturers and staff work in other departments as well.

Students said they are interested in planning another meeting, possibly with the Student Union Assembly.

Porter said no promises were made to lecturers and graduate students concerning jobs for the future or that American studies would be back in two years.

“Even if we hire another faculty member, that’s not the progress we want to make,” Porter said.

For the time being, the suspension stands, but Porter said he will do his best to maintain future communication with students.

“That’s all we can do,” he said. “There’s just a handful of us.”