CSU Board of Trustees clashes over ethnic studies requirement, potential increase in units

Board removes social justice aspect of requirement

Gerardo Zavala

Gerardo Zavala

Members of the California State University Board of Trustees voiced opposition to the implementation of Assembly Bill 1460 at their board meeting Tuesday.

Trustee Romey Sabalius noted that the California Faculty Association and the Council of Ethnic Studies have also expressed concerns and opposed the CSU’s implementation of the law. Sabalius said that these bodies, as well the Academic Senate and 18 CSU faculty senates, do not necessarily want the ethnic studies requirement to be a GE or lower division requirement and have requested campus autonomy in their resolutions

The Committee on Educational Policy discussed issues concerning the proposed implementation of the bill, which created the ethnic studies requirement, and the requirement’s placement in lower division general education.

The committee approved a change in language to section six of Title 5 of the California Code of regulations.

The change in language in section six removes the social justice aspect from the ethnic studies requirement. 

The language change was prompted by criticism from backers of the bill who argued that students could meet the requirement by taking a social justice course without ever having to take an ethnic studies course. 

RELATED: CSU chancellor and faculty at odds over ethnic studies requirement implementation

Trustees Silas Abrego and Maryana Khames were the only two who voted against the language change. 

Abrego said he instead supported the proposition submitted by the CSU academic senate, which recommended providing campus autonomy in implementation of the requirement and would establish that the requirement may be met in both upper and lower division courses and in either general education courses or courses outside of it. 

Abrego argued that AB 1460 does not mention that the ethnic studies requirement should be a general education or a lower division course. 

“If we don’t follow the letter of the law, we’re actually inviting further legislative intrusion into our affairs because we’re not adopting what was intended in the law,” Abrego said. 

Abrego’s concerns also stem from the CSU Chancellor’s Office’s proposed implementation of the law that would create a three-unit lower division area F requirement within general education and remove three units from the 12-unit area D requirement. 

RELATED: Sac State Faculty Senate prepares opposition to CSU implementation of AB 1460

Jack McGrory, CSU trustee, said that a general education task force had warned that the CSU had too many general education requirements at a February 2019 meeting.

According to the task force’s report, the CSU should reduce GE units from 48 to 42 to align with other institutions and offer high unit majors breathing room while facilitating pathways for transfer students and encouraging persistence, graduation and closure of equity gaps. 

“We’re requiring more of our students than most national public universities do,” McGrory said. “I feel strongly that ethnic studies should be a general education requirement, but it should fit in within that priority.” 

McGrory said that the CSU would essentially be requiring students to take the 48 general education units and an additional 3-unit ethnic studies class if the requirement is not placed within general education, limiting students’ ability to explore other subjects. 

“Students need to be able to experiment beyond general education and their major and minor to look at other courses and learn from them,” McGrory said. 

RELATED: CSU Board of Trustees explains $1.4 billion surplus, ethnic studies implementation

Vice Chancellor Loren Blanchard addressed and answered three frequent questions he has received concerning the Chancellor’s Office’s proposed implementation of the law. 

  • Campuses may offer upper division courses in addition to lower division courses to meet the new requirement, but lower division courses must be offered. 
  • A course that has been approved to satisfy Area F may be used to fulfill other major or minor requirements.
  • Faculty have complete autonomy in determining which courses will be approved to meet this new requirement on their respective campuses. 

Some board members expressed their beliefs that the requirement should be and was intended to be a GE requirement. 

Andrew Jones, executive vice chancellor and general counsel for the CSU, said an ethnic studies task force recommended that the ethnic studies requirement be in GE to California Assemblymember Shirley Weber, the author of the bill.

“Senator Weber said the No. 1 recommendation of that task force was that ethnic studies be a GE requirement,” Jones said. “I think there’s no question that the intent of the legislature is that this requirement be invited in general education.” 

However, the ethnic studies task force’s November 2019 report doesn’t specifically say that the ethnic studies requirement should be a GE requirement. 

Alison Wrynn, associate vice chancellor of academic programs for the CSU, said making the ethnic studies requirement part of GE requirements recognizes the importance of ethnic studies while creating a clear path for students transferring from community colleges, as well as allows students who are exposed to these disciplines early on to enroll in more ethnic studies courses if they decide. 

The committee will meet and discuss this issue again during the next board meeting Jan. 26 and Jan. 27, 2021.