Afro-American interdepartmental program applies to become department
By Yael Levin
March 18, 2013 10:37 pm
The original version of this article contained multiple errors and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.
Faculty members associated with the Afro-American Studies Interdepartmental Program are looking to become a department, but the university may lack sufficient resources to support the change.
The Afro-American Studies Interdepartmental Program submitted its proposal last month to the College of Letters and Science Faculty Executive Committee, a governing body for the College faculty, said Kyle McJunkin, the director of curriculum coordination.
The interdepartmental program has struggled with funding in the past, and becoming a department would increase the program’s budget, staff and visibility in the UCLA community, said Edmond Keller, a political science professor who serves on the advisory committee for the Afro-American studies program.
“The Afro-American interdepartmental program has been here since the 1970s, and it’s time for the program to take the next step,” said Darnell Hunt, the director of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies and a professor in the sociology department.
After the Faculty Executive Committee reviews the proposal, the dean of the Social Sciences Division will send it to the Office of Academic Planning and Budget, which assists the chancellor in determining the allocation of university funds. After fiscal analysis to determine whether UCLA has the resources to create the department, the office will determine whether to approve the proposal, said Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesman.
McJunkin said it is unlikely that the Committee will reject a proposal. Instead, he said they may ask for changes to a proposal, changes that may not always be possible.
The program is insufficiently funded and has had to rely on the Bunche Center for support, Hunt said. The permanent budget for the program is $56,714, according to the proposal.
If the program were to become a department, there could be more regularity for the courses the program offers, said Mark Sawyer, chairman of the Afro-American interdepartmental program and a political science professor.
Many students outside of the program take courses to fulfill general education requirements, and some of these courses are very popular, Hunt said. As a department, they would be able to accommodate more students, he said.
Keller said the program has failed to become a department in the past because of the university’s budget cuts.
The likelihood the program will achieve departmental status this time is uncertain, said Keller, who has been teaching at UCLA since 1989. In his time at the university, he said he has seen funding consistently go toward departments and programs with high enrollment.
The Afro-American interdepartmental program has tried to attract new students each year, but the program’s small budget makes it difficult to offer the classes those students need, Keller said.
Currently, there are 56 undergraduate students and 22 graduate students majoring in Afro-American studies, according to the proposal.
Jasmine Conrad, a fourth-year Afro-American studies student, said she has had trouble enrolling in the classes she needed for her major because they weren’t always offered. But, as a former English student, Conrad said she thinks the Afro-American studies program is just as valuable as full-fledged departments.
Tanika Smith, a fourth-year gender studies student who is taking two Afro-American studies courses this quarter, said she finds learning about the different marginalities African Americans have faced particularly interesting, as well as how African Americans are portrayed in the media.
She said this is the first time she has enrolled in Afro-American studies classes. The program does not offer as many courses as gender studies does, but she likes that the courses go more in-depth than any of her gender studies classes, Smith said.
To help the program succeed, many faculty members have volunteered their time serving on advisory committees and teaching courses, Sawyer said.
The Afro-American Studies Interdepartmental Program is one among a handful of other ethnic studies interdepartmental programs at UCLA, including the American Indian studies, Islamic studies and East Asian studies interdepartmental programs. McJunkin said none of the these ethnic studies programs have submitted proposals to become departments before.
The Asian American studies and the Chicana/o studies departments began as interdepartmental programs, like the Afro-American studies program, McJunkin said.
If the Faculty Executive Committee approves the Afro-American studies program’s proposal to become a department, it will be forwarded to the UCLA Academic Senate, McJunkin said. The entire process could take up to two years.
“Whether we get funding depends on competing interests,” Keller said. “We need strong institutional support to make this happen.”
Correction: After the Faculty Executive Committee reviews the proposal, the dean of the Social Sciences Division will send it to the Office of Academic Planning and Budget, which assists the chancellor in determining the allocation of university funds. Also, McJunkin said it is unlikely that the Committee will reject a proposal. Instead, he said they may ask for changes to a proposal, changes that may not always be possible.