CHASS to sustain 11% budget cut that will result in less student support, less staff and less funding for research and graduate students

Archive /The Highlander

“What matters more is … making sure UCLA is funded at 11,500 bucks a year (per student), making sure that Berkeley has its funding untouched. Instead, we’re going to cut the most racially diverse campuses, we’re going to cut Riverside, we’re going to cut the brown campus. It is absolutely and clearly a way of saying, ‘Whatever it is you’re teaching matters less than what is being taught at UC Berkeley. And the people that you’re teaching matter less than people being taught at UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz,’” said UCR Department Chair of Hispanic Studies Jacques Lezra of the budget cuts the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (CHASS) can expect for the following two years.  

The department heads and program directors of CHASS are anticipating faculty shortages and a reduction in resources for undergraduates and graduate students alike in the face of a permanent 11% budget cut. An open letter to UC President Michael Drake and the UC Board of Regents signed by department chairs across the college states that “this abandonment by the president’s office and the Board of Regents is a demoralizing example of structural racism.”

Financial Planning & Analysis released the Final Budget Reduction Decisions that will be in effect during a two-year period, from fall 2020-21 to fall 2021-22. Although the budget cut of 11% is unilateral across several different organizations, CHASS is incurring one of the largest diminutions in dollar amount. CHASS currently has an adjusted core base of $93,920,172 and will incur a budget cut dollar amount of $10,331,219. It comes second only to the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS), which has a budget cut amount of $11,506,122 in comparison to a core base budget of $104,601,112.

However, while CNAS has 6,173 undergraduate students, CHASS is the biggest college in UCR, boasting a selection of over 60 majors and more than 10,000 students

The open letter states that 98% of CHASS’s overall budget is composed of salaries and benefits. In an interview with The Highlander, Melissa Wilcox, professor and department chair of religious studies, stated that an 11% budget cut will result in an inevitable reduction of staff and teaching assistants as CHASS will no longer have the budget to sustain people on payroll.

CHASS is only able to guarantee three years of graduate funding, so graduate students must rely on teaching assistantships for the remainder of their graduate schooling, which can range anywhere from four to eight years. “There are no contracts in place … This is direct financial impact now, not next year, not in the future. People will have to take out loans or leave their graduate program altogether.” 

She went on to state that, “What led to this letter is all of us, looking around at each other thinking about all the people that we work with, whose paychecks CHASS pays, and thinking, 1 in 11. One in 11 of those people is gone.” 

According to Steven Helfand, professor and chair of economics, this could mean that the number of lecturers is reduced and the size of sections is increased. However, department chairs have been asked to plan for different size budget cuts. He added that as the size of the budget cut rises, more lecturers will lose work and some graduate students won’t find work as TAs.

For the remaining faculty, Wilcox explained it was a possibility that they’d be forced to undertake the services usually reserved for staff, which would mean less time for students and less time for research. Lezra added that faculty would feel an immediate effect on their research, as they would not have funding to travel to conferences, buy books or invite guest speakers. 

In addition, both Lezra and Wilcox mentioned that they expect to see top faculty leave their positions to pursue employment in other universities. She stated that for tenured professors or highly lauded professors, it will be discouraging for UCR to continue to be underfunded, calling it “disillusioning” and an “ongoing disinvestment” from the university. Wilcox added that it is “constant increasing pressure” as they are forced to do things they were not hired to do.

“I know of people in my department, who say, ‘Well, I’m going to start looking for jobs at universities where they’re not doing this, at universities where they’re not putting the burden of the structural cuts on the weakest,’” said Lezra.

Faculty and TAs will not be the only ones to feel the blow of a lighter pocket — the impact will reverberate across the undergraduate student body. Lezra stated that the department has been asked to map out a 5% and 10% cut to the teaching budget — according to him, introductory language classes, which are a requirement to graduate, will most likely be cut first. “It builds up a huge pile of students who cannot get into classes and what will they do? It is not clear. What it is is a clear way of marginalizing our students.”

Yunhee Min, who is the chair of the Art Department, had similar sentiments. According to her, the cut will impact the classes offered not only for art majors, but for students across campus. And the lack of student support wouldn’t stop there. Lezra, Min and Wilcox stated that undergraduate students can expect to see a drastic decrease of resources for students. In addition to undertaking services usually handled by staff, Wilcox said that faculty may have to teach more classes, which would drastically decrease the individual time professors have for students. Min also said that class support structures and resources, such as studio access and lab assistance, would be harder to access. Lezra stated that guest speakers, undergraduate forums and undergraduate scholarships will most likely disappear. 

“Section sizes will rise, and this will affect the quality of undergraduate education,” said Helfand. He said that for his department specifically, numbers for sections are higher than they are in other social sciences; his department’s multi-year effort to bring section sizes in line with other departments may be reversed.

The open letter states that UCR has made a step toward progress with the recent re-benching decision that will bring the funding of UCR and other underfunded campuses to within 95% of the systemwide per-student average by 2024. According to a 2017 Accountability Report release by the University of California, “re-benching distributes state funds on an equal per-weighted-student basis across the campuses and ensures that students are supported equally by the state regardless of campus.”

“But as with redlined neighborhoods, the damage to UCR’s resources from decades of neglect cannot be reversed simply by bringing our support from the system up to an amount that is only slightly below average rather than grossly below average, nor will the phased-in implementation of this plan help us avoid devastation in the present moment,” states the open letter. 

Lezra stated that the university distributes state funds to its campuses, allocating $8,500 per UCR student, whereas UCLA gets a student allocation of $11,500 per student. The open letter states that despite the disparity in funding allocation, UCR’s student to faculty ratio is higher than the UC system average, and the student to staff ratio is 38% higher. 

“Re-benching is spread out over four years, and it is not complete equity, it’s a 95% average. Instead of total inequity, it is just a little inequity. It is too little and way too late,” said Wilcox.

This history of systematic underfunding is registered in that buildings at UCR aren’t as good as UCLA’s buildings and laboratory facilities for faculty aren’t as good, said Lezra. During her interview, Wilcox stated that the only way to resolve these disparities is to restore CHASS’s budget, and hope that President Drake and the UC Board of Regents will consider funding different UC campuses, as campuses like UCR are sustaining 20% budget cuts in some departments while other UC campuses are only experiencing a 2% cut.

“You would need to be doing reparations, you need to be bringing us not just level two, but substantially increasing the investment above and beyond what UCLA, Berkeley and other campuses are getting in order to make up for the history of structural racism that has gone into the exclusion of UCR,” said Lezra. 

“It will take years for that kind of reparative funding to bring us to where we should be. Years of over-investing in UCR to bring us to the kind of funding that the state gives campuses with primarily white student bodies, or primarily student bodies that are from families that are already college educated.”

Wilcox encouraged undergraduates to show support for their professors by adding their name to the petition if they felt comfortable and Lezra stated in his individual interview that students should make their voices heard because anything that impacted professors extended to them.

“We are shoulder to shoulder with you. When our numbers are cut, it affects you when your education is diminished, or deprecated, or devalued. Yes, UCR is a great engine of social mobility … (but this is) a catastrophe for the state that the researchers and faculty in this situation would have to be leaving to go to other places. And that fact would absolutely put a brake on social mobility,” he concluded.

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