Lumumba-Zapata Coalition Demands
April 13, 2007
From their beginnings, Thurgood Marshall College (TMC) and the Dimensions of Culture writing program (DOC) have been dedicated to principles of racial equity and social justice. However, recent changes to the DOC program have threatened the integrity of TMC’s commitment to such goals. DOC was conceived as an alternative to mainstream education that would challenge students to critically question the society in which they live, particularly in regards to issues of race, class, gender and sexuality. Unfortunately, the current leadership of the DOC program seems opposed to fulfilling this mission.
In response—and after repeated attempts to work with the DOC administration to address our concerns—we have formed the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition (LZC) in honor of the original LZC that was established in 1969 to create a college based upon innovative approaches to curriculum, pedagogy, governance and meeting the needs of communities of color and the working class of UCSD and San Diego. While not the original LZC vision, both TMC and DOC are part of the legacy of that movement within the university. Nearly forty years later, our broad coalition consists of faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates spanning several departments at UCSD who are united in their desire to restore the commitment of TMC and DOC to achieving racial equity and promoting critical inquiry about social and economic equality.
It must be recognized that the Dimensions of Culture program is not the private property of a few administrators and lecturers, but that it is a part of Thurgood Marshall College, which has roots in historical struggles over establishing more equitable systems of education that challenge the status quo in both content and form, as well as part of the greater UCSD community. Thus, the input of students, teaching assistants, and UCSD faculty from across campus who are committed to social justice should be included in a meaningful way into the decision-making processes about the substance and direction of the DOC program.
In this spirit, the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition demands that the TMC provost and the DOC director take the following steps immediately:
1) Return to the principles of the original DOC plan and curriculum.
“[TMC] has a history inextricably linked to the sixties. The concern for social justice that erupted in that era gave birth to the College and at the same time broadly restructured higher education and transformed research agendas in the social sciences and humanities. The College’s distinctive emphasis on recruiting and providing social and academic support for minority students was part of the raison d’etre for the College. It was also part of [TMC] from the beginning that the history and cultural experience of minorities should be part of the educational heritage of all [TMC] students, regardless of their ethnicity. As we look to the last decade of the century and beyond the heritage from [TMC’s] founding is something to live up to and to update. With this in mind, we strongly endorse… the establishment of the core course, “Diversity, Justice and Imagination (DOC).”
—Original DOC program proposal (1990)
When DOC was created in the early 1990s it was designed as a program that would challenge hegemonic assumptions about race, class, gender and sexuality. Although we recognize that it still does so to a certain extent, recent curriculum changes and lecture strategies have diminished the content of the program, while it has been simultaneously transformed into a form of uncritical patriotic education that fails to interrogate the injustice integral to the founding of the U.S. and the current state of U.S. society. Fundamental DOC terms such as hegemony, power, ideology and intersectionality should be reintroduced into the DOC curriculum and emphasized throughout the course. Foundational readings by Stuart Hall, from critical race theory and about social and economic justice should form the backbone of the DOC curriculum, rather than be gradually eliminated from the course, as they have been since 2000.
2) Hire more staff, faculty, and TAs whose academic training suits the DOC program, with a particular emphasis on recruiting people of color to work in DOC.
Since 2004-05 DOC has lost many of its qualified faculty, some of whom feel they were pushed out of the program. They have largely been replaced with lecturers whose academic training is far less suitable for the DOC program. Instead of faculty whose academic work intersects with the fields of ethnic studies, American Studies, literature, critical race theory, critical gender studies and theories of social movements, the principal DOC lecturers since 2005-06 have been a military historian (who is also the current director of the program, since fall 2004), a political philosopher (whose academic training concerns traditional and conservative twentieth century philosophers), and a sociologist whose work focuses primarily on female corporate executives. The result of their dominant influence over the curriculum has been a more mainstream, traditional curriculum that is consistently incoherent and far from the original vision of the program. This trend must be reversed immediately in order to preserve DOC’s original mission, maintain the integrity of TMC and prevent student, TA, and UCSD faculty dissatisfaction with the current direction of the program. In addition, DOC and TMC should be strongly committed to recruiting, hiring, and retaining staff, faculty and TAs of color to work in the DOC program, which has not been the case.
3) Form a DOC advisory committee to be established by the end of May 2007.
This committee would include two TMC Student Council officers, two Student Affirmative Action Committee officers, as well as four TAs and four UCSD faculty members from outside of DOC whose academic work intersects with the fields of ethnic studies, American Studies, literature, critical race theory, critical gender studies and feminist theory, as well as theories of social movements. The purpose of the committee would be to independently review the current state of the DOC curriculum in relation to the history of Thurgood Marshall College, the original DOC plan and curriculum, as well as current academic scholarship in the fields that relate to the mission of the program. It should then meet with the TMC provost and DOC director in order to suggest changes to remedy the course’s growing incoherence and departure from the program’s founding principles, as well as make suggestions about the hiring, recruitment strategies and retention of teaching staff. In order to ensure that this committee’s recommendations will be taken seriously by TMC and DOC administration, it should convene once during each quarter to review the current curriculum, make suggestions and discuss recruitment strategies and hiring decisions. Members of the Lumumba-Zapata coalition and the TMC provost should agree upon the selection of members for the initial advisory committee. Future members should be chosen by the acting advisory committee members on an as needed basis.
4) Stop the militarization of DOC.
Since 2004-05, many DOC events have involved military-based themes. While the military is certainly an important institution in U.S. society, we feel strongly that the military should be critiqued in the curriculum—rather than promoted by the program—if DOC is committed to ideals of social justice, not supporting the primary vehicle of state violence. Instead of military-related events, speakers and service projects, we want DOC to realize its mission by providing ways for students to explore and address issues of justice, equality and diversity both inside and outside of the classroom and lecture hall. In addition, we seek an end to the militarism that has palpably pervaded the program, such as consistently calling Seqouyah Hall “the DOC compound” or “headquarters,” referring to students as “little criminals,” and giving TAs military-themed rewards for their work. We feel that there is a qualitative difference between the military and higher education that should be respected, particularly in a program like DOC.
5) Tailor the extracurricular activities of TMC and DOC to the history and principles of both.
While both TMC and DOC offer many extracurricular activities to students—many of which are excellent—we feel that a better job can be done in hosting and promoting activities that reflect the mission of the college and the DOC program. In addition to bringing an end to events that promote the military we propose more activities that promote social justice and raising awareness of border issues such as the maquiladora tour to Tijuana that was organized by a teaching assistant and Lumumba-Zapata Coalition member in 2006. We also strongly recommend that speakers invited to TMC better represent its ideals, rather than undercut the principles of DOC. For example, Juan Williams’ visit in fall 2006 contradicted many of the core concepts taught in DOC that quarter, especially when he denied the well-documented discriminatory practice of redlining by banks in housing markets, stated that the poor are largely responsible for their own poverty, and suggested that many Katrina victims could have avoided their fate if they had made better personal decisions. It is difficult to sustain a structural critique of racism and exploitative economic systems when invited speakers deny that they exist. At the same time, DOC should do a better job promoting speakers and events that reinforce the curriculum, such as Angela Davis’ talk in winter 2006 or the spring 2007 “American Pie” program that is focusing on border issues. Unfortunately, neither of these UCSD events was promoted by the DOC administration.
6) Stop the harassment and intimidation of teaching assistants, lecturers and professors who challenge the DOC program’s commitment to fulfilling its original mission.
Many teaching assistants—as well as some lecturers and professors—who have brought concerns about changes to the DOC program have faced heightened scrutiny of their job performance and been subject to disciplinary and intimidation tactics, including threatening to not rehire TAs because of their critiques of DOC. This is a clear abuse of administrative power and a violation of free speech intended to curtail attempts to intervene in the gradual shift away from the founding principles of the program. Not only are such tactics unproductive ways of dealing with persistent substantive problems, but they also run afoul of university standards of conduct and academic protocol. DOC is not a corporation or a military unit that requires the blind obedience of its employees, but an academic program that is part of the UCSD community of students and scholars, in which rigorous critique and public debate play vital roles in maintaining the health of the institution. A university that promotes critical discourse and free speech cannot tolerate the coerced removal of instructors because of disagreements about the direction of the DOC program.