Monday, October 26, 2009

Film and Media Studies Professor: "The notion of civic participation without education is spurious."

Mo Howland

Catherine Liu, a professor in her fifth year at UCI, sat down and spoke with me about the effects of the budgets cuts for herself, the School of Humanities, and other parties. She is the Director of the Humanities Center and the Film and Media Studies program. During the protests on the 24th of September, she gave a speech that tugged at the hearts of faculty, staff, and students.

Q: How have you been effected by the budget cuts?

A: Well, as the director of Humanities Center it’s been really hard for us to plan any events because we haven’t gotten our budget yet. I think there is a lot of disarray and confusion about what actually has to be cut. Personally, as a researcher—the library time, the library access, the slow delivery of all different things. This is bad for me as a teacher too because I send my students to the library and they can’t get in before ten and they close at eight. It’s also psychological, I think. It’s demoralizing because we got a seven percent pay cut and the people who are not making at the top bracket—the ones straight in the middle—my husband and I both work here so we both took a pay cut. Right now I think I’m working more than I ever have.

Q: What was your budget in previous years?

A: Hard numbers: we have seen a ten percent cut. Our budget was never that big. It was $83,000 a year. Most of that we gave away as Grants. $53,000 came from UCOP and we administered its distribution. The part that’s still coming from the School of Humanities even hasn’t been determined yet. Other departments and other schools have the possibility of doing outside fundraising or grants. I started to do that and I’ve been doing it, but it’s very hard because there is just less money in Humanities to go around. Concretely, we moved into [Humanities Gateway] and we didn’t have any furniture. At every single level it’s like looking towards the future—the day-to-day operations of being a professor or running a center. Luckily I have a really great department and we are very functional. We have the sense of mission.

Q: What are your hopes for the future of California’s education?

A: I think that there should be a massive reevaluation of public priorities and a massive evaluation of school funding for CSU's and K-12. I think that we should repeal prop 13-that's the really unpopular position. It's really horrific that it's on the books. In New York state, My parents pay over $10,000 in property taxes a year-they live in a very wealthy suburb. We live in a wealthy suburb too in California -we pay $2,300 in real estate taxes a year. K-12 education is deeply affected by local real estate taxes. I went to great public schools in New York. I think California was as good or better than any state In terms of public education, but after Prop 13, the situation has steadily deteriorated. California has fallen to number 47 in the number of 19-year-olds in college. We're like the south, which has never been a region known for the value of public education.

Q: What were your initial fears and concerns when the budget cuts were being discussed?

A: That cuts would be miss implemented and mismanaged.

Q: How have you been seeing that so far?

A: It’s just happening so slowly that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the long run, but I think people are doing the best they can at every single level. I just think that there’s no way of getting around the pain of laying off staff.

Q: With the proposal to focus more on professional degrees, what are your fears for Humanities?

A: The two-tier degrees where they’re going to charge more for business and engineering and less for humanities? It’s creating a class system within the institution of hierarchy. Frankly, it’s really silly because at Irvine our School of Humanities is ranked higher than the school for

business and engineering. It doesn’t take that much money to raise your rankings. Humanities uses much less money to gain effect. I think it would be really ironic if we had that at Irvine. If they abandon it then it will be a terrible waste of investment for all those years that they have been building up the school.

Q: What are other faculty opinions? How are they being affected?

A: There seems to be two camps. There’s the camp that says we have to face this and take action and the camp that says we have to defend what we have. Either position is a difficult position right now. One seems to be concerned with preserving and one seems to be like, “O.K. well we have to face the situation and break everything down.” If you break everything down, it takes time to reconstruct what you've destroyed. You have to figure out what the best way of doing something is if you are going to reorganize.

Q: With rising tuition and thoughts of privatizing the UC what would you urge students to do?

A: There are immediate things, like direct action and protest. There’s a more long-term thing about educating yourself and educating your peers as deeply as possible in the history of this University, taxation, and becoming more committed to a long-term politics. Not just for this issue, but for the future. You are going to inherit this mess in some ways. The notion of civic participation without education is spurious. To deeply participate in democratic culture all the residents should know as much as possible. Everybody should know exactly what is at stake and what is going on. Students can create more coalitions and connections between campuses, student groups and unions, and faculty groups and students. This is not a bad opportunity. This is not terribly optimistic. When things are good the status just leaves everything it it’s place. Things are so shaken up we’re not sure what to expect next.

Additional Information (Updated 11/2/2009):

Q: Have their been any updates on the past month?

A: We’ve lost one full time staff member and we’re not getting her replaced. It’s bad because we’re in a department with many majors. I feel like everyday life is more stressful. It’s wearing on the everyday operation of our school. We’re still waiting for the official layoff of staff members. Originally it was going to be twenty-nine people, but now we think the layoff number is twenty and it can possibly be going down to nineteen.

Q: How will Film and Media Studies be affected?

A: Day to day life is difficult; making photocopies for classes, ordering books, course planning, processing of expenses and personnel actions are all creating a burden for our diminished staff. In Visual Studies, We’re going to do graduate admissions soon. Our department has 100 – 150 applicants for our PHD program. The UCI Department of Philosophy gets 200 applications a year for their Ph.D. program. That’s just two graduate programs in our school. You can’t have a research university without attractive graduate programs. If we lay off people at the projected scale, who is going to be processing applications? Staff is also important to institutional history. They are the backbone of an institution. Some of our most experience staff are retiring. We’re losing some of our most experienced administrative people.

Q: What is the Humanities Center?

A: The humanities center has supported interdisciplinary faculty and graduate student research. We give out money, run events, and we do public events. We just sponsored at talk by Gustavo Arellano, the OC Weekly writer and amateur historian of Orange County. We bring provide programming that brings in people from the community and present a public face for Humanities. Within the School, professors and graduate students present work in progress. We also discuss topical issues in the field. I have a 50% program administrator and we’ve have been able to do a lot with a very little budget. We still don’t have our budget from the School for ’09-’10, but we’re working on carry-forward. What will happen next year is up in the air. We have received grants as part of the UC wide Multi Campus Research Unit that is now managed by the UCHRI. (University of California Humanities Research Institute) This money used to come directly from from UCOP but this year the funding scheme was turned into a competition. Fortunately the Humanities Initiative was successful, but this entailed a lot more work and coordination across the ten UC campuses. I email solicitations almost every day for collaborations and requests for financial support fromfaculty planning talks, conferences, and other research programming that is vital to a vibrant School of Humanities. . It’s really hard for meto figure out what to say to them. We are going to run one grant cycle in January—we usually run two—but we’re short on staff and we have the reduction of the budget. We want to support research activities and preserve and nurture new initiatives I don’t have a lot of administrative support to do all this. The School needs a vibrant research atmosphere – that is what helps us retain the best faculty, attract the best graduate students.

Q: What resources are going to be changing?

A: We will have fewer dollars from the school. The program administrator of the Humanities Center, Maritess Santiago, will have to take a temporary layoff next year. She will have to miss eleven days of work with no pay. She is a UCI alum, an incredibly gifted person. Is this how we reward our best staff? All of these things are incredibly worrisome. Are we going to be starved like this in the long-term? We need to fight this. The better-educated students are the better they are able to make decisions and the better they are able to participate in a democracy. Students are curious, passionate, and generally engaged in the work of Humanities. That is a bright spot to me. In the classroom, students are always excited to be in Humanities courses; they discover a passion for their work. I don’t need administrative assessment tools to see the transformative experiences our students undergo in their years with us. The Humanities provide students with critical tools of engagement. Are we going to be able to continue to teach our students like this? Or are we going to have classrooms without professors? Professors are difficult to manage, they are a pesky lot to administrators. Sometimes, I think that if we don’t fight the budget cuts, the future UC is going to be a wasteland like dystopia – a world without workers – that is, you’ll come to UCI and there will be beautiful, empty buildings, skeletal overworked and terrified staff, invisible janitors and service workers and barely enough faculty to turn on the powerpoint presentations that will substitute for classes, and a lot of debt-ridden paying customers/students shuffling through to their four year degrees.

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