The California State University Board of Trustees Wednesday approved the creation of an ethnic studies/social justice course requirement, despite objections that including “social justice” classes waters down the intent of the proposal.
Some dissenters on the board argued that allowing students to take a social justice course means they would be able to meet the requirement without taking a traditional ethnic studies course on the history of the Latino, Black, Asian-American or Native-American communities.
The social justice provision allows students to meet the requirement by taking classes on other populations, such as the Jewish community, the disabled, the LGBT community and women/gender studies.
The board approved the policy on a 13-5 vote, with one abstention.
Board member Silas Abrego unsuccessfully sought to postpone the vote on the proposal, saying the university needed more consultation with ethnic-studies faculty members, and objecting to the idea that a CSU student would still be able to graduate “without ever having to take an ethnic-studies course.”
“So why do we keep referring to it as an ethnic studies requirement when it isn’t true?” he asked.
After a lengthy discussion the board rejected the proposal to continue, then voted down a proposal by board member Hugo Morales to remove the words “ethnic studies” from the mandate.
“This is about `social justice,’ which we have championed,” Morales said. “Let’s call it that. When we call it something that it’s not, an ethnic studies requirement, that’s not what it is.”
Other board members, however, insisted that ethnic studies courses focused on the four traditional groups are the “anchor” of the requirement, but including other groups is more reflective of the current U.S. population and engages more communities that have also faced historical oppression.
“To me, it is better to have the broader lens,” board member Rebecca Eisen said.
Eisen said she has confidence that the CSU faculty who develop their classes to ensure that ethnic studies will serve “as an anchor” in the curriculum so “the core of this requirement is not lost, watered-down, weakened in any way.”
CSU Chancellor Timothy White insisted the traditional ethnic studies courses “remain the anchor of this proposal and for the course offerings,” but he said it offers a diverse student population a more diverse array of options to meet the requirement.
The board’s vote could ultimately wind up being moot, depending on the actions of the Legislature, which is expected as early as next week to give final approval to a bill mandating that the CSU require students to take a traditional ethnic studies course. If Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the bill, it would override the Board of Trustees’ vote.
White and some board members said during a committee discussion Tuesday that such a move would be an unprecedented intrusion by the Legislature into the board’s purview of setting curriculum.
White reiterated Wednesday that it was important for the board to act on the CSU proposal, so Newsom will be able to examine it alongside the state legislation.
The board’s vote marks the first change in the CSU’s general education curriculum in 40 years. If it stands, the university’s measure will take effect in the 2023-24 school year. The proposed state legislation, if it is passed and approved by the governor, would take effect in 2021-22.
The California Faculty Association opposed the CSU measure. CFA President Charles Toombs blasted it as a “diluted” requirement.
“How the board can look at anyone with a straight face and say that an ethnic studies requirement can be fulfilled without ever having to take a course in ethnic studies is beyond believable,” Toombs said.
Executive Vice Chancellor Loren Blanchard insisted Tuesday, however, that the CSU plan “doesn’t in any way undermine ethnic studies.”
“For a generation that is demanding change, this is our opportunity now to act and to ensure that CSU’s graduates have the knowledge and actionable tools to recognize, question and ultimately dismantle racial and social injustices,” he said.