CSU chancellor and faculty at odds over ethnic studies requirement implementation

Faculty senate endorsed the Ethnic Studies Department’s resolution in opposition

Gerardo Zavala

Sacramento State’s Faculty Senate warned at its Zoom meeting Thursday, Oct. 29 that the California State University Chancellor’s Office’s proposed implementation of an ethnic studies requirement could lead to increased units required to graduate.

The warning came through the senate’s recommended revisions to the Chancellor’s plan for implementing ethnic studies. The senate also endorsed the sentiments expressed in the Ethnic Studies Department’s resolution opposing the Chancellor’s implementation plan of Assembly Bill 1460.

AB 1460 creates an ethnic studies requirement for future CSU students starting in the 2021-22 academic year with an implementation process that is to be done in collaboration with the CSU’s Ethnic Studies Council, the Academic Senate and the Chancellor’s Office, according to the bill. 

CSU Executive Vice Chancellor Loren Blanchard sent CSUs a memorandum with a proposed implementation of the bill attached. The proposed implementation would create a three-unit Area F, Ethnic Studies, in general education requirements, while getting rid of three units from currently-12-unit Area D, Social Sciences, and limiting the ethnic studies requirement to lower-division courses only. 

“I think the response here from the [Faculty] Senate is that it’s a top-down, one-size-fits-all response that isn’t really consistent with the law,” Faculty Senate member Timothy Fong said regarding the Chancellor’s proposed implementation. “I think it’s appropriate to say these are the reasons why it is inappropriate and would be harmful.”

The Faculty Senate’s recommended revisions argue that AB 1460 does not require that Ethnic Studies courses be lower division GE requirements and raised concerns that the Chancellor’s proposal lacks collaboration, has an unrealistic timeline and should give campuses greater autonomy in implementing the requirement. 

Several members of the Faculty Senate argued the 12-unit Area D is already limited due to its overlap with the American Institutions graduation requirement. Reducing Area D to nine units instead of 12 would limit students’ ability to explore the social sciences and find potential majors, according to the Faculty Senate. 

Faculty Senate members argued students might still need to take 12 units in Area D even if the requirement is lowered to satisfy the prerequisite requirement for an upper division course in Area D, which would increase the GE requirements. This is an issue that mechanical engineering professor and senate member Sue Holl showed concern for during the senate’s previous meeting.

“If we don’t maintain the same number of units for GE, we can’t have that full complement of GE courses and one more 3-unit requirement, something will have to go,” Holl said. 

Faculty Senate members also argued the addition of an Area F ethnic studies requirement would reduce opportunities to double count for classes that meet multiple graduation requirements, putting greater strain on high-unit majors like mechanical engineering, which requires 122 units to graduate. Holl said that her department has had to waive the foreign language requirement because of how difficult it already is for students to graduate. 

One of the amendments that the faculty senate decided to add to the proposed revisions was a statement from Faculty Senate member Tony Sheppard explaining why reducing Area D does not work for CSU students.

“In some programs, coursework in Area D also double counts in the major as required courses, elective courses or both,” Sheppard read from the amendment. “Reducing coursework and units in Area D will reduce double counting and may increase time or units to graduation.”

Faculty Senate member Jeffrey Dym argued that the Chancellor’s Office’s five learning outcomes do not clearly indicate that these courses are meant to address the U.S. experience. 

“For our students, this is being rushed, and I think instead of getting it through quickly, we should be doing it well,” Dym said. “These [ethnic studies courses] are not a global experience, these are particular to the United States.” 

Faculty senate member Hogan Hayes said that although feedback from senators has been included into the revision, he is still worried about the revision’s lack of a timeline. 

“The resolution just says we need time, and I’m afraid we don’t have that time,” Hayes said. “Enacting these changes will take the rest of the academic year unless we’re planning on working over the summer.”

Faculty Chair Tracy Hamilton said that she heard plenty of requests for more time in the feedback forms from senators, but never heard a specific amount of time to replace the Chancellor’s proposed timeline.