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SFSU’s College of Ethnic Studies faces possible cuts

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Students at San Francisco State University gather on Tuesday to organize a list of demands to present to university president Leslie Wong regarding purported cuts in funding for the College of Ethnic Studies. (Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco State University’s nationally celebrated College of Ethnic Studies could lose about 40 percent of its operating budget and half of its teachers because reserve money that helped fund the college in recent years has dried up.

So say college faculty members, who have compiled a list of demands for SFSU’s administration that include not only restoring but also increasing funding for ethnic studies in the coming school years.

News of the reduction in funds trickled out this month after department chairs began informing lecturers that less money for the college could result in cuts to classes, prompting an outcry from students and college supporters.

Jonathan Morales, a spokesman for SFSU, said the university’s 2016-17 budget has not been finalized and there is no plan to reduce the budget allocation for any college next year as well.

However, he said reserve funds that were previously used to supplement overspending by the College of Ethnic Studies have been depleted, and the university cannot afford to fund the college to such an extent.

“We understand why this feels like a reduction in funds, but what is happening is that the university is no longer able to cover the college’s expenses beyond its budget allocation,” Morales said.

Administrators expect the allocation in funds for each college will be similar to this year’s budget. Morales added there have been no cuts to any college’s budget since 2009-10.

But Andrew Jolivette, chair of the American Indian Studies Department — one of five departments in the College of Ethnic Studies — said the college has, in fact, seen around a 17 percent reduction in its overall budget in the last seven years. The latest reduction amounts to $500,000 of the college’s $4 million budget, Jolivette said, and the loss could force the college to suspend its graduate programs and eliminate lectures.

“The bottom line is that it is basically a backhanded way of dismantling the college,” he said.

Much like the way student protests led to the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies nearly a half-century ago, supporters of the college are already rallying in favor of maintaining the necessary funding for the college, said Amy Casselman, a lecturer for the college.

“We are absolutely not going to passively accept this,” Casselman said. “We are going to fight this tooth and nail for sure.”

Ethnic studies play a significant role in San Francisco education. In 1969, the longest student-led strike in U.S. history prompted SFSU to offer the nation’s first-ever College of Ethnic Studies.

Separately, in 2014, the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved the expansion of ethnic studies classes to all high schools. The district was also directed by the board to explore ethnic studies as a high school graduation requirement.

At SFSU, some ethnic studies courses are already required to graduate, Casselman said.

“This is going to impact not just ethnic studies students, it’s going to impact everybody who relies on these courses in order to be able to graduate,” Casselman said of the possible cuts.

Meanwhile, SFSU President Leslie Wong will attend a public meeting Thursday morning to discuss the College of Ethnic Studies, administrators said.