The California State University Board of Trustees will vote Tuesday on a proposal that would require students to complete at least one course in “Ethnic Studies and Social Justice,” but the measure has been criticized by some as watered down, setting up an unprecedented showdown with the state Legislature.
The measure going before the trustees is the first proposed change to the CSU’s general education curriculum in 40 years, according to a staff report prepared by Executive Vice Chancellor Loren Blanchard and Associate Vice Chancellor Alison Wrynn.
Under the proposal by CSU Chancellor Timothy White, CSU students beginning in the 2023-24 school year would be required to take a three-credit ethnic studies or social justice course. But it is the inclusion of the “social justice” option that has sparked opposition by critics, most notably the California Faculty Association and some activist groups who want the requirement focused on “ethnic studies” of communities of color — Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans.
The CFA has blasted White’s proposal as a “weaker alternative” to the requirement being proposed through CFA-sponsored state legislation that would mandate the ethnic studies requirement at CSU schools. The legislation, AB 1460, has already passed the Assembly and Senate, but is awaiting a final Assembly vote on the exact wording of the bill.
But the CSU vehemently objects to the bill, with Blanchard and Wrynn decrying it as a “dangerous precedent” in which the Legislature and faculty association would be overstepping the Board of Trustees’ authority to set curriculum for the university system.
“Legislative interference as exemplified by AB 1460 compromises the autonomy of the Board of Trustees as well as the ability of CSU campuses to determine how academic and curricular requirements to enhance student learning can best be met at individual campuses,” they wrote in their report to the board. “It erodes CSU’s academic freedom.”
The “social justice” provision of the CSU proposal would expand the types of courses students could take to meet the requirement, adding courses addressing the Jewish community, the disabled, aging populations, the LGBT community and women/gender studies.
CFA President Charles Toombs said the university’s proposal undermines the entire intent of the ethnic studies movement, which is to recognize the “customs, history and traditions” of communities of racial and ethnic groups in California.
“AB 1460 acknowledges the historical failure of the CSU system to institutionalize inclusive curriculum, the sociopolitical urgency of the moment elevated by the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-Black racism, and the long-term social benefit of an ethnic studies course requirement,” Toombs said in a statement. “AB 1460 was student-, Ethnic-Studies-faculty- and community-driven, and its passage would be akin to civil rights efforts of the past.”
Blanchard and Wrynn contend in their report, however, that the CSU proposal is more inclusive and more relatable for the diverse student body. They contend the legislative proposal excludes courses on ethnic groups such as Jewish or Middle Eastern studies, gender and women’s studies, sexuality studies, disability and aging studies.
“Courses that address current and emerging social justice issues, including race and criminal justice, disparities in public health and education equity, would also fail to meet the requirement as proposed by AB 1460, resulting in a significant missed opportunity for students to apply their knowledge as tangible action,” according to the report.
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