Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Humanities Core Course Director: “I’m worried I’ve seen the best, that the best is behind us.”

by Amanda Hansen

I interviewed Professor Julia Lupton, director of the Humanities Core program at UCI. It is an eight-unit course that fulfills requirements in first year writing and humanities breadth in one integrated course. She sat with me to discuss how and the extent to which the California budget crisis affected this program

Q: What is the Humanities Core Course and what does it accomplish?

A: It’s an integrated approach to general education, humanities, and lower division writing. We read major works of literature and philosophy, listen to music, look at art, and at the end of the spring quarter, a research project is due.

Q: How badly has the state’s budget cuts affected the program?

A: Very badly. We gave to deal with layoffs, fewer services, fewer staff and bigger classes. It’s harder to get things done, especially because there’s a non-reappointment of lecturers and fewer lectures, there are also fewer sections. Discussions went from twenty-two to twenty-three students per lecture. These cuts are doing nothing that would destroy the program, but it does have a negative impact. For example, we had to tweak the curriculum to accommodate the students. Last year, there were three papers assigned per quarter. This year it’s two papers, granted the papers are longer.

Q: Could you expand on what you mean by it’s harder to get things done?

A: As staff layoffs and furloughs for staff kick in, it will be harder to keep our offices open for the full business day, harder to keep computers and networks operative, and difficult to keep up with our assessment projects, which help us determine how effective our teaching is.

Q: Do you feel other departments, such as the science department, are given priority over the Humanities when it comes to the budget?

A: we definitely got hit harder than other departments. The humanities rely on the state completely for funding, whereas science departments receive grants and have other sources as well. It’s a different kind of research, so it would be as if I would be being paid to research Shakespeare. That’s why it’s so difficult to find other sources to fund the humanities.

Q: Where were you when you found that your department would be cut?

A: the cuts have been happening for over a year. I was expecting it; the state always cuts education during trying times so I knew it was a matter of time. I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration hasn’t timed the concessions. It was just anticipated.

Q: What do you mean you wouldn’t be surprised if the administration hasn’t timed the concessions?

A: By telling us in pieces (furloughs for faculty; cuts to staff; changes to the funding for graduate education and to general education), the administration makes the cuts more palatable. We accept one thing, and then another, and then another. My guess is that the furloughs will lasttwo years -- but we are not being told that.

Q: what did you think of the furloughs?

A: When I heard there would be furloughs, I was relieved because I wanted the university to keep going. I thought “that’s great, what a relief.” Then you hear the bad news, you hear about the layoffs and people not coming back to work.

Q: why did you think furloughs would be good at first?

A: I want to do my share. People are being laid off all over the state.

Q: Did you participate in the walkout?

A: No but I went to the rally. It was the first day of school and I didn’t want the freshman to be confused On their first day of classes. Imagine to walk into class only to walkout! No, I didn’t walk out but I told the instructors to talk about it and address the situation.

Q: Have you considered organizing your own protest to combat the cuts to your program?

A: I’ve written to my state representative and the governor. I’ve been telling my students to do the same. It’s sad when you see seniors can’t get into the classes they need to graduate. I think the students are the main people affected. I’ve been telling my neighbors to write. I think it’s also in the numbers; if the state is flooded with the real cost of these cuts maybe it will affect how they vote on funding for the UC’s. The state is a mess. We’re stuck.

Q: Did you get a response for your complaints?

A: yes, I got an automatic reply.

Q: What’s the one thing that worries you most about these cuts?

A: it’s the fear that it won’t bounce back. I’ve been here for twenty years, I love the atmosphere, and it has a very upbeat spirit. I’m worried I’ve seen the best, that the best is behind us. It’s the legacy I’m worried about. What worries me is what kind of school will we be in ten years? There’s nothing to gain from any of this. The students are getting screwed; it has potential to damage the reputation of excellence. California schools are especially hit because higher performing faculty may leave because other states want to take them away. You lose your colleagues… I think we’re taking a big cut and not replacing faculty. It could be hard to recover from that.

Q: Can you tell me more about losing faculty to other universities? Can you give an example of one such instance? I don't know if anyone has left yet, but many of us are much more open now than we were last year to the idea of employment elsewhere. It's not about the furloughs. It's about what kind of university this will be five years from now, or ten years from now. Will we still be granting Ph.D.s? In how many humanistic disciplines? To what quality of students? Will we still be delivering an excellent education to our GE students? To our majors? Will we still be rewarded for research? These are all serious questions. I am guessing that I am not the only faculty member asking them.

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