Board of Trustees votes to eliminate Africana studies major, retains career and technical education

Cassie Buchman, News Editor

The Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the Africana studies major to retain career and technical education and said they would continue to monitor the philosophy major at its meeting Friday.

Students currently majoring in Africana studies will be able to continue in the program until they graduate. The minor and general education courses will still be available.

Also voted to be eliminated was the bachelor’s in adult and community education, though that had already been put on hiatus by the Department of Secondary Education.

The philosophy major was originally scheduled on the board report to be considered for elimination, but following an agreement made between the philosophy department and university administration, this recommendation was withdrawn.

This agreement includes the program getting 20 majors by 2020 and reducing faculty from seven members to four through attrition by 2019.

The board did not take action on philosophy at Friday’s meeting. Philosophy was the only program whose elimination would lead to faculty layoffs.

Seven programs were originally recommended for elimination by vitalization project Workgroup No. 7, which looked at academic programs. This was later dropped to four programs being formally considered by university officials.

Before the board voted on its action items, public comment was taken from the audience.

Julie Chadd, a career and technical education professor, spoke on behalf of the career and technical education program, saying it is “in-demand” as far as the workforce is concerned.

“It’s just a matter  of trying to find the best way to market that program to high school, community college students,” she said.

Her concern, Chadd said, is that by eliminating career and technical education, the board would also be losing free marketing, with having high school teachers who graduated from the program talking to their students about Eastern on a daily basis.

The board ended up voting 5-3 in favor of keeping the career and technical education major.

During public comments, biological sciences professor Billy Hung said though he is a scientist he firmly believes in the value of the liberal arts and how they fulfill a person’s character and passion for learning.

“In your deliberation and consideration of a difficult matter, I urge you to keep in mind the value of individual programs,” he said. “They may not bring majors. They may not bring many students. But the value that they bring to the campus that is the liberal arts college curriculum can not be overstated.”

English professor Jeannie Ludlow, coordinator of the women’s studies program, asked the board to consider the idea that efficiency is not always effective.

“The push has been to cut and to be more efficient and to tighten up, and to be honest we all walk around feeling like we’re wearing really tight corsets all the time,” she said.

Ludlow said though students may not major in Africana studies, when they see the program online, they will see that a student of color will be valued in class.

“If we can’t build a space with Africana studies on campus to help those students feel more comfortable, we are sure not going to be able to build it if we take it off the table,” she said. “Subtracting the equation sends a very clear message, and that message is not come here and you will succeed.”

During the meeting, Provost Blair Lord presented the reasons for the administration’s elimination recommendation for Africana studies.

This included its low enrollments of majors, though it had “substantial enrollment in general education coursework,” Lord said.

According to the board report, there were seven students enrolled in the Africana Studies major in fall 2016.

The minor and general education courses for Africana studies will continue on as a part of the curriculum.

According to a board report attached to the meeting’s agenda, the Africana studies program has associated with the Latin American, Asian and women’s studies minors to consider how to consolidate current offerings, focusing on develop a broader program in an area such as multicultural studies.

“Programs evolve to meet the needs of the current student body, and this change could achieve this,” it said in the board report. “At this time, however, continuation of the existing Africana Studies programs is not warranted.”

The board of trustees voted 6-2 to eliminate the Africana studies major.

Jan Spivey Gilchrist was one of the trustees who voted no to eliminating the program.

“When a young person is begging to learn something, even if it’s a small amount, it needs more publicity,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be eliminated.”

She said she would never vote down the major, even though classes would still be offered.

“(African-Americans) actually built this country with everybody else,” she said. “Everybody matters. This is a country of immigrants, so everybody matters equally. This class—I couldn’t vote against it.”

Eastern President David Glassman said because there are few students taking Africana studies as a major, it was felt that the major “was not essential for the university.”

It was not particularly an issue of finances, he added.

The Illinois Board of Higher Education reviews all low-enrolled courses or programs at universities, with the expectation that programs should have at least forty majors, seven of which should graduate each year, Glassman said.

“This is the goal, so if we have programs that have 10 or 12 students and one or two graduate per year, we’re not following the guidelines from the Illinois Board of Higher Education,” Glassman said.

The elimination of the major, Glassman said, would give faculty time to refocus on the broader major they are working on.

Several faculty members showed up to the board meeting with signs protesting the elimination of the Africana studies program.

History professor Sace Elder said they decided to do this because decisions were being made in the interest of efficiency, with the result of treating education as if it is a commodity.

“Africana studies is needed on campus,” she said. “It’s not just about what majors are here; it’s what we offer our students, and our students of color do not see themselves reflected in their curriculum or in their faculty.”

Elder said taking away Africana studies would mean taking away one of the programs that represents students of color.

Ludlow also had a sign that said “Keep cutting around the edges; soon, you’ll cut out the heart,” a quote she attributed to State Rep. Katie Stewart, (D-Edwardsville).

“All of this cutting—we’re cutting these things to make ourselves more efficient,” Ludlow said. “Well, if you keep cutting into the body, eventually you’re going to hit the heart, and when you hit the heart, the body dies.”

 

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]