Friday, 16 October 2009

CSM, Please Don't Kill Geography

The San Mateo Community College District is attempting to pit Department against Department and professor against professor as the College of San Mateo is forced to cut programs and slash their budget by 22%. But the professors are refusing to play the game. Rather, a show of solidarity against this desperate race to the bottom was their overwhelming response at the Joint Faculty/Staff/Administration Emergency Meeting that convened on CSM's campus, Friday.

The job market worsens and California's Legislature sits on its hands while the state of education in one of the richest states in the world grows increasingly more grave. As an adjunct (part-time) professor at the College of San Mateo, I am smack in the middle of the worst of it. State budget cuts have necessitated, trickle-down style, major cuts at SMCCD, to the tune of $6 million. The District offices began with "suggested" cuts to a preliminary group of programs and courses--then requested that faculty ammend and add to the list to reach the target goal of culling $1.8 million from faculty funding.

Guess who was on that preliminary list?

Yep. SMCCD is trying to kill Geography.

American geographic ignorance is the butt of jokes around the world and this is what they give us. Even fewer educated people. The mother of many of the world's great sciences is being murdered--and she's not alone. Some of her children may die along with her: Anthropology, Humanities, and every foreign language Department other than Spanish may be the most jarring of the other programs on what faculty are unaffectionately calling "The List", but the losses don't stop there. And every one of them is dire and heart-breaking.

If you want your program to stay, the District told us, you need to find another program to cut in its place. The long-term repurcussions on both the structure of the college and the relationships within and between college departments carry the potential for tearing the school apart. It's the old colonial "divide and conquer" strategy that we are suffering from even today--Shia vs. Sunni, Hindu vs. Muslim, tribe vs. tribe--in regions all over the world.

But professors don't get to be professors by turning a blind eye to the world. The assembled were all viscerally aware of the strategy. And its implications.

During the meeting, faculty were each given 3-5 minutes in which to educate their peers on the need for keeping their departments intact. Some of the presentations were formal and well-prepared. Others were off-the-cuff, read from notes scribbled minutes before standing to speak. Every one of the speakers had something vital to share, and each presentation added to and informed those that went before. There was a strong sense of collegiality, of solidarity, of shared dedication to our group mission: that of educating and empowering our community. By the time all of the assembled had finished, the group was no longer feeling frightened and defeated--they were inspired, angry, and ready to take down or climb over whatever obsticles the District might try to throw in their path.

After all, the group agreed, without faculty and transfer courses the students need, there will be no students. And without students, the campus is nothing but a beautiful shell. The Board of Trustees voted to fund the construction of a new fitness center on campus. I suppose it might anchor the beginnings of a great resort. That seems to be where we're headed, at this rate.

But that wasn't why this campus was built. It was founded on the promise of a brighter future for the citizens of this region, this state, and the world. It was build to serve the diverse, dedicated students who come to CSM seeking a quality education and the opportunities that education can offer.

The assembled faculty felt that yes, funding will likely return, eventually. It may be five years, it may be ten, but it will return. Philosophy professor Dave Danielson reminded everyone that when it does, we need a viable structure to return to. Hacking and slashing at selected departments and eliminating whole programs would not leave us many options, in the long-term.

One professor of Chinese studies described the anger she had felt as she sat down at her computer Thursday night to write out what she wanted to say. But, she said, "I calmed down once I got here because I realized I am not alone--we are all in this together."

"This is like a bad harvest year," she said. "And CSM wants to kill its children for food."

As for Geography, I must admit, I'm frustrated beyond measure that I have to spend so much time justifying the importance of a discipline that is so incredibly vital to our Pacific Rim state, now more than ever. Such is the Geographer's lot in America. Sad but true.

I would love to hear your reactions. Even better, email your reactions to the SMCCD Board of Trustees. They need to know what you think of these cuts. They cannot sit in isolation--they are beholden to the community at large and they need to know the reactions of the community they serve. Tell them how you feel.

While you're at it, please remind them not to kill Geography.