Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"The sad part is that we lose our connection to these high school students in helping them fulfill their college dreams."

by Apphia Freeman

Lynn Mally, director of the humanities outreach program Humanities Out There (HOT) at UC Irvine, agreed to be interviewed concerning how the UC budget cuts would affect the future of the program and the Humanities department as a whole. HOT aims to enhance the critical thinking and writing skills of Orange County high school students by giving them a taste of a university-style education that is also age-appropriate, by bringing public school teachers, graduate students and undergraduate tutors into public school classrooms. Lynn has been a Professor of History at UCI for 21 years, and undertook the position of HOT director in place of HOT’s founder, Professor of English Julia Lupton.

Q1: So you are a professor of History here at UCI and you are also director of HOT. When did you become director?

A: Just last year. Julia Lupton was director for a really long time, maybe 7 or 8 years, and there were some transitional directors, but I’m just going to do it short term. Next year will be my last year at UCI. Julia’s an amazing professor and her department had lots of demands on her, and it was too draining for her to handle everything. When Julia was involved it was a much bigger program – she got money to publish some of the curriculum – and what HOT is at its best was probably what Julia envisioned it to be.

Q2: For what reasons did you decide to assume the position of director of HOT? Was there anything about the program that you were drawn to?

A: The History department has a teacher-training outreach program – to teachers, not high school students – and I’ve participated in the process of envisioning how high school education can be more like college education. So HOT seemed like a good opportunity. We hire graduate students, like a TA-ship, and they are assigned a high school teacher, classroom and time, they help recruit undergraduate students, they develop curriculum in coordination with the teachers and take their undergraduate recruits into the classroom, which is divided into small groups for a more participatory process. They use creative worksheets, visual aids, and literary sources to inspire the high schoolers and encourage them to participate, and ultimately to consider college as an option, and give them the confidence to know that they have the ability to make it.

Q3: So HOT benefits all the parties involved. Who do you think it benefits the most?

A: Its kind of hard to say – ideally you hope the high school students would get the most out of it, but their progress is also kind of hard to track. The high school student body changes a lot, and we can’t really document the students’ progress – but it’s our hope that they were motivated and inspired by the program.

Q4: So I read in the New University article that this year the Department of Education did not give HOT the $60,000 grant. And the Dean of the Graduate Division also said that they could no longer match the Dean of the School of Humanities’ funding.

A: Well we don’t know, it’s a possibility – its not quite clear if that’s necessarily going to happen but it seems like it could. The Dean of the School of Humanities funds 2 TA-ships, and they have to pay the TAs’ graduate fees as well. A TAship is worth about $28,000 a year--but about $12,000 of that goes to pay fees and expenses. Our budget for this year is about $125,000. About $117,000 comes from TA funding, the rest from carry forward and other small sources of revenue. So we have the money this year for 4 graduate TA-ships (with the first 2 TA-ships matched by the 2 from the Graduate Dean) who are only operating for 2 quarters so its enough to fund 6 TAs per quarter (3 History TAs and 3 English TAs). Insofar as I understand, the Dean of the Graduate Division is responsible for funneling money for graduate programs all across the school, so she gives money for the funds we use for recruiting graduate students – she has money that she’s using to fund these TA-ships. Their money is being dramatically cut. So they are considering cancelling the funding, but it’s not finalized yet – because their contribution is kind of above and beyond what they are obliged to do. On the other hand the university does get credits for these outreach programs; it makes the university look like it cares for those in the community, so it’s a good thing for UCI to have these outreach programs.

Q5: You proposed in the article that a solution would be to increase the Dean of the School of Humanities funding or increase the government grants for HOT to continue in line with the original mission it was founded upon. But with the budget cuts, it just doesn’t seem like these funding needs are going to be met.

A: There are 3 sources of funding that we’ve been getting – one is these outside government grants, one from the Dean of the School of Humanities and one from the Dean of the Graduate Division. If we can’t get funding from the Dean of the School of Humanities, then there’s no point continuing the HOT program. We are already very small, we only have 6 graduate students working just 2 high schools – Orange High School and El Modena High School in the Orange County Unified School District – and we just can’t make as much of an impact. The UCI Center for Educational Partnerships is looking into writing grants in the future, but we’ll see. If the Dean of Graduate Division says they can’t match the funding of the Dean of the School of Humanities, and the Dean of the School of Humanities says they can’t up the number of graduate TAs, then there’s a good possibility HOT will fold.

Q6: Julia also stated in the article that the university will have to stop depending on outside sources if they want to save HOT, and both Deans are considered inside sources of funding.

A: I just think it’s futile to blame anybody, because there is just no money. On the one hand HOT is extra – its not directly related to the educational mission of the UC – it’s not directly educating you, it’s indirectly beneficial in terms of giving people field experience. Other departments need funding also, and we need to cut somewhere, so I can see the logic of it. The problem is that these programs are extremely hard to create and also hard to recreate, so even though HOT is really limping along compared to what it used to be, it’s still there and it has a history, an institutional memory, and once it’s over then that’s gone. The sad part is that we lose our connection to these high school students in helping them fulfill their college dreams.

Q7: Would you blame the state then, as the root of this whole crisis?

A: Well, even from the beginning money came from the Central UC administration, and they cut back funding for these outreach programs a long time ago. So I guess you might look at the University of California’s priorities. The turn away from outreach is a big problem.

Q8: So some of the consequences of these cuts include fewer workshops, fewer TAs, workshops offered fewer quarters. Do you know any specific cases of TAs who have been cut?

A: The cuts have been gradual – last year there were four TAs from History and four from English; this year there are three from each. We’ve been promised funding for this year so nothing more will be cut this year. The HOT program will still exist in its very small form, so it is secure for this year. We’ve managed to get outside funding for the operating budget for HOT, because the money we get from the University is only for the TAs. So except that it’s smaller, there won’t be a difference in what HOT will do this year. Q9: HOT has diminished in size, but has its quality been kept the same? Have the cuts affected the vision/mission of HOT, the quality of the lesson materials, etc.? The format of the lessons is the same. However, we no longer have the money to print the lesson plans. They are copied and distributed in the classroom.

Q9: Have you gotten feedback from anyone regarding the shrinking size of HOT? Or is there anyone you know who has personally benefited from HOT or has been affected by the cuts?

A: They are just right now recruiting for the workshops; I don’t know how many undergraduate students are looking to attend these workshops, so I’m not sure about the response at this point. However I do know an English teacher from Santa Ana High School who had worked with HOT for years was shocked to hear that it would be moving from her high school this year. She said that it was one of the only things that her students looked forward to.

Q10: What do you think UCI should do in terms of solutions within its control? How and why is HOT worth it? With all the cuts going around, do you think funding for HOT should be sustained?

A: The positive thing about HOT is that it supports the graduate students by providing them their TA-ships and paying for their graduate fees. I personally think that graduate students have gained a lot from HOT, it has opened up to them different career paths – the opportunities for graduate students have been shrinking so this provides them another career path. One of the graduate students who graduated with a PhD from here is now heading up 2 outreach programs. Others have been hired in universities that have teacher-training programs, hired to teach history and to oversee other teachers. So I personally think HOT is worth the money because it’s showing graduate students other options besides being professors, so I would make the argument that grants should continue to go to graduate students for HOT, but I don’t know, because I can imagine an English professor saying the same thing, that their classes need TAs as well. Everybody’s fighting over very limited resources. There is no right or wrong in this case.

Q11: What do you think is the most regrettable consequence of these cuts?

A: Well where to begin? I think that I and a lot of people are getting the sense that the University of California is becoming a fundamentally different place. The model that seems to be floating around now – that in order to keep the quality of education, we’re going to have to be more elitist, which means charging higher fees, soliciting students from outside the state, and that we cannot put funds into outreach but into research – is just a horrifying prospect to me. That to me is what is so heartbreaking, and HOT is just one aspect of such losses.

Q12: What’s the future like for HOT? I mean it’s obviously going to remain a very small program, but how many years do you think it could run?

A: Well first of all I think there’s at least a 50% chance that HOT will fold next year. Just because of the many pressures on the Graduate Dean and the Humanities Dean. I think if it does survive, the most we can hope for is that it could get back to what it was last year, with 4 TAs in English and 4 in History, which is already a very small program. If HOT is to thrive, I think we have to get private money, which we haven’t been able to do. It’s going to take a very special group of people to fight for programs like this, and they will need a lot of thrust and enthusiasm and vision to carry these programs.


Following my interview with Lynn (and at her recommendation), I also emailed Julia Lupton, a Professor of English of UCI, with some additional questions. Julia was HOT’s founder and served as HOT director for about 7 years, up until 2007. I wanted understand what HOT was like in its heyday, and thought that Julia would be a knowledgeable source.

Q1: Could you elaborate a bit on what a typical HOT lesson given in a high school classroom is like (i.e. lesson plans, schedule, etc.)?

A: The graduate student leader would begin a session with a very short content presentation (5-10 minutes). Then, the class would break into groups, each led by an undergrad. The students would work together on some kind of imaginative content-based project (designing a map, game, country; mounting a debate or skit; etc.)

Q2: When was HOT at its peak?

A: Around 2000?

Q3: What was HOT like at its peak? Could you provide some logistical info or some figures, such as the number of TAs, how many workshops/quarters it operated in a year, how many high schools it reached, etc.?

A: At one point, we had about 10 GSRs (Graduate Student Researcher), each employed for three quarters. Each GSR led two workshops. We were in four high schools and two intermediate schools. We had over 100 undergrads participating each quarter.

Q4: How many $28,000 TA-ships did the School of Humanities Dean use to fund compared to the number of TA-ships it funds now (2)?

A: They cost less then. I believe it was 2 funded by the School of Humanities, 2 by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and the rest funded by a GEAR UP grant administered by the Center for Educational Partnerships.

Q5: Was the $60,000 grant from the Dept of Education – which has now been cut – was this used to fund TAs as well?

A: Yes, this money all went to GSR support.

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