Needs Attention Memo and Responses

Needs Attention Memo Link

Student Response

To Whom It May Concern:

We, the students, are greatly concerned with the “Needs Attention” Memo sent to the School of Humanities on November 15, 2011. This alarming memo addressed African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Women’s Studies, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Literatures, French and Italian, and German, as well as the Chicana/o- Latina/o Studies Department in the School of Social Sciences. With this selection of targeting, we feel that this is an attack on studies that are crucial to the development of critical consciousness among students and the UCI community.

Disseminated through the School of Humanities, this memo undermines the scholarly distinction of these programs and criticizes faculty for failing to meet manufactured expectations and requirements, which remain conveniently unknown. These departments are targeted on the basis of “productivity” measured in terms of low student-to-faculty ratios, a characteristic that is usually regarded as essential to a quality education.  As a result, the seemingly arbitrary elimination of critical studies seems to stem from the broader context of systematically removing programs that do not benefit the corporate structure.

We feel disturbed by the severe lack of methods used to determine of the “collective role and place” of many of these Interdisciplinary Programs [IDP] on our campus. If the writers of this memo had legitimately researched for qualitative evidence regarding the success of IDPs, they would find concrete evidence and stories of the meaningful impact these units offer students in areas of critical thinking, identity and cultural competency, understanding historical legacies and struggles, and the futures of our diverse communities. We believe there is no legitimacy in this memo’s ability to critique scholarly quality of these programs when the writers have proven no expertise in these fields.

Not once does this memo provide meaningful solutions to the “low enrollments and low student-faculty ratios” it describes, other than making problematic allusions to consolidating these units.  Therefore, we see a disturbing contradiction in the fact that the memo labels these units as “Needs Attention”, without expressing any genuine concern or commitment; this reveals the austerity politics and damaging lack of institutional support from the University in this manufactured time of hardship.  We believe the members of the Academic Planning Group should engage in conversation with the IDP Department Chairs and students in order to discern what support the IDP units need, and how we can collectively create solutions to attract more students to these crucial majors.

Much of the UCI community is uneducated about the Third World Liberation Front, comprised of students of the Civil Rights movement who recognized the exclusion of their histories and identities in their University curriculum.  Starting in 1968, students fought to institutionalize the representation of their narratives at San Francisco State College, in order to make their education more relevant and accessible for marginalized communities.  At UC Irvine, the original establishment of Ethnic Studies also started from the student’s struggle in the early 1990’s when many organizations built a coalition named the Ethnic Students Coalition Against Prejudicial Education (E.S.C.A.P.E.).

Despite the fight that has carried on throughout generations, it is evident that University systems insistently take advantage of budget crises to threaten the existence of Ethnic and Critical Studies first.  Still today, we will continue to fight against any ideologies that fail to prepare students with cultural competency and develop their critical consciousness, both of which are necessary in recognizing and fighting institutional injustices.  Therefore, we demand the writers of this memo to re-evaluate its ways of devaluing the School of Humanities and other IDP units, and to cease its actions in treating the University as an enterprise.

We demand the following:

1) Stop the cuts and sustain Interdisciplinary Departments & Programs.
2) Reform the Multicultural general educational requirement to mandate all students to take at least two Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, or Ethnic Studies courses.
3) Establish and support a UCI School of Ethnic Studies and Critical Theory Studies.

Ethnic Students Coalition Against Prejudicial Education (E.S.C.A.P.E)

Alyansa ng mga Kababayan

American Indian Student Association

Asian Pacific Student Association

ASUCI Office of the Executive Vice-President

Black Student Union

Black Educated Men

Central American Student Association

Ethiopian Student Association

Filipinos Unifying Scientist-Engineers in an Organized Network (FUSION)


Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán 

Pilipino-Americans in Social Studies

Pilipino Pre-Health Undergraduate Student Organization

Asian American Studies Response

December 6, 2011

To: Vicki Ruiz, Dean, School of Humanities
From: Jim Lee, Chair, Department of Asian American Studies
Re: Addendum to Budget Reduction Memo in response to APG and EVC/P memo

This memo serves as the Department of Asian American Studies’s response to the memo from the APG and EVC/P that you forwarded to Humanities chairs and directors via email on November 15, 2011. It also serves as an addendum to the memo that I sent to you on November 9, 2011. Imbedded in this response are comments related to the Ph.D. Program in Culture and Theory.

We wish to address and correct the deep factual and narrative inaccuracies in the memo, which include the following:

• We challenge the claim that our Department has “very low” undergraduate enrollment, since by memo’s own measure, our SCH for 2009-10 are in excess of 1209, not far from the “exceptional” number Classics enjoyed during this same period. On the contrary, the ten-year record shows that Asian American Studies has held consistently high enrollments, and that this high rate of enrollment has “not changed much over the years.”

• Asian American Studies, as well as the other targeted interdisciplinary programs, have and continue to serve the Ph.D. program in Culture and Theory at every level. Asian American Studies faculty have taught in the Program’s Core series, and have individually mentored Culture and Theory students, whether serving on qualifying committees, dissertation committees or directed readings. The assertion that faculty participation from the IDPs is “significantly less than anticipated” is patently false; one even wonders the how “significant participation” is measured.

• Enrollments in Culture and Theory have remain relatively low because block funding has remained low. That said, Culture and Theory admissions rate is more selective than many other graduate programs in the School. The claim that neither the IDPs nor Culture and Theory are NRC-ranked—faulty a ranking system as it is—and thus constitute a liability is specious; it is not the fault of the programs that the NRC does not recognize this graduate program, but the all-too- narrow and fallacious scope of the NRC itself: do not criticize the object under scrunity when lens scrutinizing is flawed to begin with.

• The claims that “not one [member of the IDP] has served as director and few have taught core or elective courses” for Culture and Theory are also false. Inderpal Grewal, formerly a core member of Women’s Studies (and now at Yale), was the Program’s first Director; Arlene Keizer, who served as Director from 2009-11 is a core member in African American Studies, and Jim Lee, Chair of Asian American Studies, is its current Director. Glen Mimura, also a former Director, was until very recently an active affiliate of Asian American Studies (formerly Core), and even served on a search committee for the Department’s recent hire.

• We contend that the overemphasis, even obsession, with one metric of “excellence” or “coherence” (i.e. the NRC rankings), prevents our colleagues across campus to see how the

members of Asian American Studies demonstrate visible “quality” and “excellence.” The following constitute but do not exhaust other criteria for evaluating quality and excellence: Linda Vo is an elected Board Member of the Association for Asian American Studies and is an Advisory Board Member of the Journal of Asian American Studies and Co-Chairs the American Studies Association-Japanese Association for American Studies Project Advisory Committee. She has also been recognized as one of “25 to Watch” emerging great academics in Diverse magazine. Claire Kim is co-chair of the Committee on the Status of Asian Pacific Americans of the American Political Science Association, serves as Associate Editor of American Quarterly, the journal of the American Studies Association, and sits on the Editorial Board of Kalfou, a comparative ethnic studies journal headed by George Lipsitz of UCSB. Dorothy Fujita-Rony has sat on the boards of the Filipino American National Historical Society and Labor and Working Class History Association. James Lee continues as an editor of the Heath Anthology of American Literature. Christine Balance has won over $17,000 of extramural grant money; Claire Kim received an $8000 grant from the UC Center for New Racial Studies just last year.

• We do not understand why the otherwise inaccurate statement that Asian American Studies and other IDPs have “trouble attracting and retaining chairs/directors” is at all a measure of quality, excellence, or productivity, and we would invite then the APG and EVC/P to apply this same principle to the local cultures of other academic units.

• The memo makes liberal use of the phrases “measures of quality and productivity” and yet is at pains to apply these so-called measures vaguely, unevenly, and inconsistently. To wit: Classics is lauded as enjoying “clarity of purpose and focus” and an “exceptional number of SCH” to “outweigh the relatively low number of students [majors?] compared to the number of faculty.” But by this measure, Asian American Studies falls into this category as well: our SCH matches that of Classics, and our curriculum demonstrates the interdisciplinary breadth that mirrors the national and international field of Asian American Studies. Even a cursory glance at our course offerings and major requirements shows that our program’s curriculum is consistent with Asian American Studies programs around the nation.

• Programmatic coherence is touted a number of times as so-called evidence of a given unit’s quality and/or excellence. But the criteria by which “coherence” is determined is never made clear: what does the memo mean by coherence? Methodological? Disciplinary? Ideological? And if any of these, isn’t such coherence worth challenging and debating lest it turn into calcified, ahistorical, untested “knowledge?” Moreover, we challenge this notion that coherence is an intrinsic academic or scholarly virtue worth upholding. Is not an engagement with a diversity of ideas, approaches, objects of study, indeed an interrogation of the very contours of knowledge a measure of quality that is at least equal to if not more worthy of evaluation than coherence? Is singular approach truly better than multiplicity?

• On diversity: we are curious as to why the IDPs are targeted and bearing the brunt of this question of “[reassessing] the role of these units in our broader effort to leverage diminishing State resources,” given that (1) Asian American Studies exists at UCLA, UC Davis, and UCSB and enjoy autonomous teaching programs at UC Berkeley, UCSD, and UC Riverside; no other UC has focused so obsessively on “reassessing” on the backs of these IDPs; and (2) UCI is, along with UC Riverside, the most racial and ethnically diverse campus in the UCs. We question why it is that the most diverse units in the most diverse School on campus occupy half of those deemed “needing attention” and wonder what implicit or explicit message this sends to UCI’s stated commitment to diversity at all levels of campus life. Indeed, the very description of the School of Humanities in the General Catalogue highlights the IDPs as programs that “cut across disciplinary boundaries.” Does this targeting of Asian American Studies and the other IDPs constitute a reaction against both diversity and a return to disciplinary retrenchment? If so, then the memo is more an ideological document than one of true “policy,” but one that carries the weight of policy.

It has not escaped our attention that this memo targets the very academic units that contribute most to the stated academic goal of “[providing] students with a foundation on which to continue developing their intellectual, aesthetic, and moral capacities” (General Catalogue). A crucial dimension of this foundation is the absolute necessity in the twenty-first century to cultivate cultural competencies in multiple communities in the US and beyond. This memo serves to erode and potentially eliminate wholescale the deep legacies of knowledge and struggle that are the basis and constitutive of Asian American Studies and the other IDPs. In essence, we are being told that for some reason, under the aegis of something called “quality” or “excellence,” the stories and knowledges derived from Asian American Studies are just not excellent enough and worth studying. We find this a deeply disturbing and indeed intellectually, morally, and aeshetically bankrupt way through which to cultivate this foundation for our students, which this memo was ostensibly supposed to represent. With the call to reassess the role of the IDPs and other units deemed needing attention, this memo in essence asserts without substantiation a qualitatively different mission of the university. We wonder if this new mission of the university is one truly worth pursuing, whether in times of growth or contraction.

Women’s Studies Response


To:       Vicki Ruiz, Dean of the School of Humanities
From:  Jennifer Terry, Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies
Date:   December 7, 2011

Re:       Addendum to Budget Reduction Memo in Response to APG and EVC/P memo

This memo is the response by the Department of Women’s Studies to the memo sent to chairs and directors in the School of Humanities via email on November 15, 2011. Herein we address and correct several of the notable inaccuracies in that memo.

  • Operating under the instructions we have repeatedly received from the upper-administration, we have concentrated on student credit hours, and in this category, our enrollments are comparable to or better than other units of the same size or larger than ours. We were never given a directive that we should concentrate specifically on increasing our number of majors nor any target number that would be deemed optimal for our number of FTEs. Of course, our goal has always been to increase our majors. We revised our curriculum in 2005 for that very reason. Because we have been told explicitly by the dean and by the EVC/P that student credit hours would be the measure of unit productivity, we have spent much energy over the past decade offering our large lecture courses that fulfill General Education requirements. That said, as of Spring 2011, we had twenty-eight students majoring in Women’s Studies, up from nineteen in Fall 2009. This increase occurred during a time when the department had sustained the loss of 2 of our 8 total FTE faculty, a 25% reduction. We have not been given the opportunity to replace these positions. However, with only 5 FTE ladder faculty members and 1 FTE Lecturer, we have steadily increased our majors and continue to do so.
  • We challenge the claim that Women’s Studies has “very low” undergraduate enrollment, since by the memo’s own measure, our undergraduate SCH taught by just 6.0 FTE faculty members exceed that of other units that are not on the “Needs Attention” list. The most recent data available (2009-2010) indicate our SCH were 5,441. In terms of faculty-to-student ratios, the AGP/EVC/P report only points to major numbers for English, History, and Film and Media Studies, not to SCH. The memo should have compared the faculty-to-student SCH of these units to those of Women’s Studies. We are confident that our SCH are comparable or better. Over the past ten years, Women’s Studies has had consistently strong enrollments overall.
  • We contest the statement that Women’s Studies and the other IDPs have “trouble attracting and retaining chairs/directors.” Senior members of our department have willingly and effectively chaired the department each time a term comes up. Since the memo uses this false assertion in a discussion about the measure of quality, excellence, and productivity, we request that this point be redacted for the sake of accuracy.
  • The memo speaks of “measures of quality and productivity” without clarity about how these measures are defined and applied. For example, Classics is appraised as having “clarity of purpose and focus” and an “exceptional number of SCH” to “outweigh the relatively low number of students [i.e. majors?] compared to the number of faculty.” By this measure, Women’s Studies should be lauded for its accomplishments, rather than relegated to a status of lacking coherence. As stated above, our SCH have been consistently robust for many years and our Department has been recognized nationally and internationally for its interdisciplinary breadth and cutting-edge curriculum focusing on transnational feminist studies.
  • The memo makes reference to the NRC ratings as a key measure of “excellence” and “coherence.” We contend that the NRC ratings are narrow as is the memo’s reliance on them. This narrowness obscures – indeed makes invisible – the many contributions of our faculty to multiple disciplines and to innovative interdisciplinary scholarship nationally and internationally. Moreover, it prevents our colleagues from across the campus to see how members of the Women’s Studies department demonstrate “quality” and “excellence” by serving on the editorial boards of nationally and internationally acclaimed journals, serving as officers of professional organizations, and publishing in top university presses and journals. Over the past decade, our faculty members have been awarded large sums of extramural funding (for example, Jennifer Terry received a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation for $640,000 in 2006-2008).
  • The memo erroneously remarks that Women’s Studies and the other IDPs “do not have PhD programs,” remarkably overlooking the fact that, from its inception, all Women’s Studies faculty members have served as core faculty in the Culture and Theory PhD program. It then goes on to speak rather dismissively about the Culture and Theory PhD by erroneously asserting that the program was “supposed to provide access to graduate students for faculty in these [IDP] programs, but that does not seem to have worked.” This statement is patently false: our faculty members have taught seminars, conducted directed readings, and provided academic advising and dissertation supervision to Culture and Theory students. Each chair of Women’s Studies has served on the Executive Committee of the program and been integrally involved in curriculum development, admissions, and recruitment. In addition, we employ Culture and Theory students as TAs for our large undergraduate courses, providing them an opportunity to learn to teach in interdisciplinary classrooms with innovative tools suitable to learning in the 21st century. The key reason why the Culture and Theory program lost its initial momentum was the suspension of admissions during the third year of its very existence, a decision that was made by the then-director on the grounds that the Graduate Division would not commit funds to support a small cohort of new students. Putting a program on a starvation diet and then blaming it for not thriving is disingenuous to say the least. The Culture and Theory program is intellectually vital and viable. It has suffered from a lack of resources, not from a lack of faculty commitment. We request that the APG and EVC/P redact its memo in light of these facts.
  • Our long-standing and vital Graduate Feminist Emphasis is mentioned in passing in the memo only to relegate it to a trivial status, given that it is not intelligible within the narrow grid recognized by the NRC. The GFE provides a coherent program of study for graduate students from other departments, who receive specialized training in feminist epistemology, methodology, and pedagogy. GFE students benefit from teaching experience in Women’s Studies courses, joining a vibrant interdisciplinary research community, and they are qualified for a wider range of job positions upon graduation than their peers in their home departments. Since its implementation in 1994, the GFE has been awarded to 112 PhD students from programs around the campus. Many of its recipients have gone on to acquire tenure-track positions in departments seeking expertise in women’s studies, gender studies, and feminist studies. We ask that the APG and EVC/P rectify this oversight.
  • On the subject of programmatic coherence, as invoked in the memo to be a sign of quality and/or excellence, we question how “coherence” is being defined and measured. Our curriculum is carefully crafted and our courses are designed to meet the goals explicitly stated in our department’s mission statement, which itself incorporates much of what the University has stated to be its goals. Our expertise in feminist transnational studies has established our predominance, and we enjoy the reputation of being among the best departments of women’s studies in the country. Our last external review appraised the department for its stellar quality, stating, “UCI has put together an impressive ensemble of faculty and classes to produce a unique and highly promising, interdisciplinary course of study at the graduate as well as undergraduate level in Women’s Studies. The quality, rigor, and potential of the program are beyond question.”
  • We question why Women’s Studies and the other IDPs that enhance the diversity of the University are being singled out to bear the burden of this question of “[reassessing] the role of these units in our broader effort to leverage diminishing State resources.” Women’s Studies exists at every other UC campus that offers undergraduate education, and yet no other UC campus has focused so heavily on “reassessing” resources by targeting Women’s Studies or other interdisciplinary programs such as African American Studies and Asian American Studies – programs that fulfill the mission of the UC to provide an intellectual foundation for living in a diverse world. Over the past few years, Women’s Studies and each of the IDPs have been proactive in carefully trimming our already small budgets. Three years ago, Women’s Studies consolidated our staff with Comparative Literature and German and we were held up as a model of efficiency for doing so. We teach large numbers of students from all across the campus. We regularly host research colloquia with invited participants from other UC campuses and beyond, and we do so on a bare-bones budget. In the current need for a cost-benefit analysis of academic performance, we therefore question why the APG and EVC/P are targeting units that clearly have been doing so much with so few resources. Our vital contributions to the University and, indeed, to the larger contexts of California, the United States, and the rapidly diversifying world should be respected, not targeted for reduction.

We offer these data and clarifications so that the APG and EVC/P may rectify unfounded claims upon which our department was assessed and placed in the “needs attention’ category. We request a re-evaluation of our standing on the basis of the accurate and up-to-date data included in this memo. Although the APG/EVC/P memorandum did not include instructions detailing the precise format of the appeal process, we submit this memo to you as the first step in such an appeal.

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