Social Action Absent By Cecil Lytle

Social Action Absent From Purely Academic D.O.C. Debate
Guest Commentary

By Professor Cecil Lytle
Former Thurgood Marshall College Provost

Maybe it is May's warmer weather or the fatigue brought on by the long slog through the academic year's last quarter, but flap has ignited over the core curriculum of Thurgood Marshall College. The Guardian and other papers have been filled with articles about who is right and wrong about the history of UCSD's most unique undergraduate college.

Some weeks ago, a loosely-knit, mostly anonymous, coalition of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and staff made the claim that core TMC social science curriculum, Dimensions of Culture, shuns the college's radical history. In addition to language about control, participation and hurt feelings within the college, the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition demands call for Marshall College to return to its, "… innovative approaches to curriculum, pedagogy, governance and meeting the needs of communities of color and the working class of UCSD and San Diego."

Indeed, Third College was born during waning moments of the American Civil Rights movement. More importantly, following the call for greater militancy in the wake of the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, cities burned. To their credit, the faculty, students and staff of UCSD chose in 1968 to create an enduring institution that would be dedicated to providing students with the intellectual tools and social skills championed by these martyrs and others.

Concurrently in California, César Chávez shared their views about intellectual considerations about history and the imperatives for social action:

"It is not enough to teach our young people to be successful … so they can realize their ambitions, so they can earn good livings, so they can accumulate the material things that this society bestows," Chavez wrote. "Those are worthwhile goals. But it is not enough to progress as individuals while our friends and neighbors are left behind."

In 2007, there is a lot to be mad about. Regrettably, the current debate is difficult to embrace because it does not appear to extend far beyond a collection of "he said-she said" statements, personal privilege and limited outcomes, regardless of who wins.

Other than the desire of two teaching assistants to have their one-year contracts renewed, the contest of ideas here does not appear to put anyone living or working in La Jolla at risk. Tenured faculty with competing ideals will continue to be tenured; students will, for the most part, graduate only minimally changed by lower division curriculum; the University of California will overlook this and other social debates on its path of least resistance. I sense the outrage in local doings on the La Jolla campus, but where is the demand for UCSD to serve the needs Chávez (and others) sought to address?

My complaint with the LZC's demands is that they aren't radical enough. This debate confirms an unflattering fact about the people who most often inhabit higher education - that its all academic. Suppose for a moment that the LZC gets everything that they "demand." Is it a start, an end, a diversion, or a pyrrhic victory during a faux revolution? None of the desperate lives read about in D.O.C. will have changed one single iota. I wish that the authors of the 2007 LZC demands were equally exercised about the victims of injustice for whom they can do something about right now.

It has been the responsibility of every provost since the founding of Marshall College to update and make relevant those ideals as part of the college's programs and overall philosophy. The LZC demands have helped the campus revisit those ideals and how they translate into meaningful action. The writers of the LZC demands 40 years ago spoke of the need to build a college that would change the entire institution. The current version gets the strident militancy part right, but lacks a call to blend a learned appreciation of the human condition with the institutional responsibility to push students, faculty, and staff to be the agents of that change.

Taking to heart the underlying issues raised by Angela Davis and the students of the original LZC in 1969, Third College sought to establish instruments of social change. Today, the intellectual agenda of the D.OC. courses rescued what had become a curriculum then named Societal Analysis - which was neither. By the 1980s and into the 1990s, the Third College core curriculum was little more than a collection of random courses without purpose or connection. Students chose from a couple dozen courses, and we hoped that they learned something about society and systematic thinking.

The faculty, students, staff and community that conceived D.O.C. had more in mind instigating conversation within La Jolla. Indeed, their vision was to create and teach America's discussion about race, class, gender, and power - a modern and complex Americentric view of western civilization. To effectively do so, they envisioned more than a curriculum, they re-imagined the institution in the true sense of its Land Grant heritage. For them, the institution must provide every participant with the "instruments" for personal and social change.

When D.O.C. was in its charter year, the dean of students at the time, Rafael Hernandez, helped establish the Partners-At-Learning tutoring class. P.A.L. is a four-unit course that trains and places students in inner city schools as tutors and mentors. Mae Brown, then the director of academic advising at Third College, almost single-handedly created a student exchange program between UCSD and two historically black colleges in Atlanta, Spelman and Morehouse Colleges. Following the elimination of affirmative action by the regents in 1995, the community of Marshall College sought to address the root problem driving the need for affirmative action: improving the quality of public education available to children in the inner city. Preuss School is what a university does: It is both a model and a remedy to a problem mostly talked about and lamented in contemporary American society and the modern curricula. With the support and leadership of an aroused group of Preuss School parents, the best and successful practices accelerating the educational future of the students attending Preuss School was transplanted two years ago to Gompers Charter Middle School deep in the hood. The Preuss educational model will be a major part of the curriculum and learning agenda at the new Lincoln High School opening this September in southeast San Diego.

An enormous amount of energy has been spent in the current debate over which ideas are better or worse. This debate over the future of D.O.C. must change from its negative, insular, and self-proclamation of pitiable victimhood. It is a parlor fight among a bunch of "haves" about how they and their ideas can get more air. I have yet to hear anyone demand that the UCSD shuttle run more often between UCSD and Gompers and Lincoln so that more UCSD students (and, hopefully, some faculty and staff) can have easier travel access to tutor and mentor at these historically tortured inner city schools. I wish the debate was more about how to use the financial and human resources of a great university to expand the social and economic franchise that everyone teaching, studying, or working at UCSD already enjoys or expects to enjoy.

Is D.O.C. relevant or radical enough? Like beauty, the answer is in the eye of the beholder and is essentially a measurement of their vision. It should be imminently clear to everyone, however, that the philosophy of Marshall College should be found in the deeds it requests its students to perform in the completion of degree requirements. Each quarter, TMC goes begging to encourage a couple dozen students to earn four units of credit serving as tutors at Gompers (12 miles away) or Preuss School (literally across the street.) It ought to be the case that a college with its long history of social activism would provoke more young people to greater civic participation.

The motto of Marshall College reflects the historic characteristics of a university that truly wishes to live out its land grant responsibilities. The expression Scholar and Citizen means more than participation in parlor politics in sunny La Jolla.

The framers of D.O.C. never saw the program's three core courses as a didactic exercise, but a catalyst to inspire students and faculty to see themselves as the agents of change often studied in their texts.

Maybe Emma Goldman had it right: "No real social change has ever been brought about without a revolution … Revolution is but thought carried into action."

There is much work to do inside and outside of the classroom.

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