LZC Offers Earnest Input To DOC

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LZC Offers Earnest Input to D.O.C.

Guest Commentary

By the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition

May 10, 2007 — When Benjamin Balthaser interviewed to renew his contract with the Dimensions of Culture writing program, he was told he would not be welcomed back. When he asked if this had anything to do with his teaching, he was told emphatically no; his evaluations had been exemplary. After four years of teaching D.O.C., he was told to go because of his public critique of the program.

A day later, a second TA, Scott Boehm, was told the same thing: After winning the Thurgood Marshall College Distinguished Teaching Award the year before, he would not be welcomed back because of public statements he'd made about the D.O.C. program. That D.O.C. Director Abraham Shragge said as much to InsideHigherEd.com and then a day later changed his story for the Guardian should come as little surprise, since dismissing two TAs with distinguished teaching records for their public speech is a clear violation of academic freedom, let alone the First Amendment.

So what did these two TAs say that was so horrible? That education with an emphasis on social justice is a bad idea? That students should leave Marshall College for Revelle College? They argued that D.O.C. had strayed in the past five years from its core principles of social justice. They said that D.O.C. watered down its commitment to viewpoints marginalized by inequities of race, class or gender and that it diminished its critique of dominant culture. The Lumumba-Zapata Coalition marvels that, 30 years after the founding of Third College in a wave of student protest, demanding a college that would address the intellectual and social needs of marginalized students and students of color, attempting to hold up these principles in public debate could be grounds for censure and dismissal.

And what is remarkable about the changes to D.O.C. is not their wide-ranging nature, but rather their consistency. Students were once asked to write about structural racism in their first quarter; they are no longer. Students were once asked to write about affirmative action in their second; they are no longer. Students were once asked to consider issues of police brutality, imperialism and the racialization of the prison system; they are no longer. Students were once asked to read about slavery and the genocide of Native Americans alongside the Constitution and the Federalist Papers; the Founding Fathers are now uncritically praised.

Is race still a topic in D.O.C.? Of course. Does D.O.C. still discuss inequality and other important issues? Yes. We aren't saying it doesn't; we are asking for open dialogue about changes to a program that is central to aspirations for social justice.

This is not a question of politics. This is a question of whether D.O.C. is meeting the mission it set for itself and the academic standard it's supposed to achieve. Looking at the readings is not enough. Just to name a few examples from recent years, minstrelsy has been taught as satire with no mention of racism. The position of the Family Research Council - which says gays are perverse sex criminals - has been taught as just another point of view. Allan Bloom's assault on multi-cultural education has been taught as daring intellectual individualism and Thurgood Marshall's famous dissent in the first affirmative action case isn't discussed in the college bearing his name. Asking for tenured faculty, who have expertise in the fields they teach, is not a violation of academic freedom, as professor Michael Schudson claims - it is merely a request for the quality of education students deserve.

What the LZC asks for is simple: an advisory committee made up of students from Thurgood Marshall College Student Council and the Student Affirmative Action Committee, long-time TAs and, most centrally, faculty who have expertise in the areas outlined in the original plan for the program: ethnic studies, critical race theory, American studies, critical gender studies and Third World Studies. This demand has been endorsed by 17 student and faculty organizations including the Student Affirmative Action Committee and its seven student-member organizations, the Office of Academic and Support and Instructional Services, Concilio, the Cross Cultural Center, the ethnic studies department, the Native American Alumni Association, Project YANO and others. Together they represent the views of thousands of students and faculty on campus and in the community. These are the same concerns that Schudson calls "laughable." If D.O.C. is the same as ever, one must ask why many of its original supporters now question its direction.

The hypocrisy of an administration that stands for critical dialogue yet silences TAs by removing them, that changes a program founded by students of color without consulting those chosen to represent them, that says one thing to the public and another in private is not exceptional; it is all too typical. UCSD is ostensibly committed to waving the flag of diversity; there is a question about how far it will to go to achieve it. The D.O.C. administrators want to say the program is the same as ever, but in fact they avoid providing a program that challenges students. Diversity is not about making everyone happy - it is about justice and meaningful, engaged dialogue.

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