Sunday, May 19

Submission: Petition to broaden vote on diversity requirement threatens UCLA College autonomy

Editor’s note: The following is an open letter to UCLA faculty that represents the opinion of more than 350 UCLA faculty members. It was submitted to the Daily Bruin by ecology and evolutionary biology professor Paul Barber.

Dear UCLA faculty,

We are writing on behalf of more than 350 UCLA faculty to express our deep concerns about unprecedented events within the Academic Senate. On November 20, 2014, the UCLA Legislative Assembly (LgA) voted to approve a proposal to require one 4-unit diversity-related course as part of the undergraduate curriculum in the College of Letters and Science. This echoed votes of the College faculty, the College Faculty Executive Committee and the Undergraduate Council, all of which approved the proposal. Typically, this Legislative Assembly vote is the final step in approving a curriculum change at UCLA.

However, a small group of active and emeritus professors within and outside of the College of Letters and Science have submitted a petition invoking a little known senate bylaw to force a fifth vote on this College curriculum change, but this time by the entire UCLA Senate faculty. A vote by the entire UCLA faculty on a curriculum matter that only concerns the College is extraordinary and threatens the autonomy of UCLA faculties to determine curricular offerings for their students. Disturbingly, the petitioners requested that their names be kept anonymous, and the senate leadership elected to preserve their anonymity. The petition and signatories were finally made public through a Freedom of Information Act request, and first published by the Daily Bruin Jan. 23. The Academic Senate subsequently released the petition.

The proposal to include a diversity course in the undergraduate curriculum in the College of Letters and Science was developed in recognition that our society and campus are becoming increasingly diverse, and the ability to negotiate and thrive in diverse communities, schools and workplaces is foundational knowledge for our students. The proposal was developed with faculty representation from all four College of Letters and Science divisions and undergraduate students. This curriculum change was discussed and debated for nearly a year and was adopted through an open, democratic process. The process was transparent, inclusive and a model of collegiality and shared governance.

The UCLA General Catalog states, “The College and each school with undergraduate programs establish their own degree requirements.” Thus, the functioning of UCLA faculties depends on their autonomy and sovereignty over their curricula. The petition to put a College curriculum decision to a vote of the entire UCLA faculty would strip College faculty of this fundamental right, setting a dangerous precedent.

The proposal to amend the undergraduate curriculum in the College of Letters and Science has been exhaustively debated and analyzed for its feasibility. Executive Vice Chancellor Scott Waugh has indicated that no element of the undergraduate curriculum will be adversely affected by the diversity requirement, either financially or time to degree. All UC campuses except UC Merced have an undergraduate diversity component to their undergraduate curriculum. The UCLA School of Arts and Architecture has already implemented a diversity course requirement for its undergraduates and the UCLA College of Letters and Science is capable of the same. Students have advocated for a diversity requirement for years. The College Faculty, Undergraduate Council and LgA have voted to approve the requirement. Senate faculty should let this decision stand.

We the undersigned respectfully request the following:

To the Academic Senate and Legislative Assembly: Matters before the Senate should be discussed openly and transparently. There is no justification or precedent for anonymous petition actions.

To the petitioners: UCLA faculties must have the autonomy to make curricular decisions that best serve their students without interference from other campus faculties. It is unnecessary and inappropriate to ask faculty from outside the College of Letters and Science to vote upon curriculum matters in the College. As such, we respectfully ask you to reconsider your position and accept the vote of the Legislative Assembly as final. However, if you assert your right to move forward with this extraordinary petition action, you should do so through open, public discourse so that you can fully articulate your opposition to the principle of curricular autonomy of UCLA academic faculties.

To all senate faculty: Whether or not you support an undergraduate diversity course requirement in the College of Letters and Science, we hope that you all strongly believe in the autonomy of your faculty and that your faculty should make curricular decisions for itself. As such, should this petition action proceed, we ask that you use your vote to express your unconditional support of the principle of autonomy of UCLA faculties by voting to uphold the decision of the College of Letters and Science faculty to amend our curriculum to include an undergraduate diversity course requirement.

A full list of signatures can be obtained at:

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