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UCLA faculty to vote on implementing diversity requirement

By Kendal Mitchell

Oct. 29, 2014 3:14 a.m.

If faculty vote this week to implement a diversity course requirement, UCLA will become the second to last University of California campus to do so.

Among the nine UC campuses with undergraduate student bodies, seven have approved general education requirements in the last 25 years to teach students about structural inequalities and underrepresented groups in California and the U.S.

UCLA, founded in 1919 as a Southern Californian branch of UC Berkeley, has seen three other proposals for a diversity requirement since 1987. The UCLA Academic Senate College Faculty Executive Committee failed to pass all three past proposals.

In previous votes, some faculty members have said they think the requirement could burden students by forcing another mandatory class on them. But proponents of the measure have amended the policy, coming back this year with hope that the new requirement structure will work.

While UCLA’s diversity proposal has drawn criticism from professors, faculty on other UC campuses supported and drove the charge to implement a diversity requirement.

UC Berkeley’s Academic Senate passed the American Cultures requirement in 1989, said Victoria Robinson, director of the American Cultures Center. She said undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty supporters gained momentum for the requirement as they pushed to divest from apartheid South Africa.

Robinson added that she thinks campus leaders wanted to combat what they considered to be a Eurocentric bias on Berkeley’s campus in the 1980s.

“The faculty senate was led by older white men, yet the student demographic kept changing,” she said.

While debating the requirement, Robinson said UC Berkeley’s faculty disagreed about the structure and goals of the proposed course. The final vote ended up very close, with around 30 more votes in favor of the requirement, according to the UC Berkeley News Center.

For some campuses, it took a crisis to spur movement among faculty.

UC San Diego’s faculty wanted to use education to address a string of racially charged incidents, including a “Compton Cookout” party at a campus-affiliated fraternity in 2010, where attendees dressed as gang members, said Frank Powell, former chair of the UC San Diego Academic Senate.

UC San Diego’s faculty approved the diversity, equity and inclusion requirement with overwhelming support the same year, Powell said.

“It was one of the easiest and most satisfying (proposals) I’ve done as a chair,” Powell said. “Faculty knew it had to work.”.

He added he has not heard of any events, either on or off campus, with the same racially charged undertones as before its implementation.

UC Merced, founded in 2005 and the youngest UC campus in the system, is the only campus besides UCLA that has not approved a mandated diversity G.E.

Jack Vevea, chair of UC Merced’s Academic Senate undergraduate council, said he thinks a diversity requirement would have no effect at UC Merced because students are already immersed in diversity.

“At UC Merced, (I) have not seen diversity as a specific issue,” Vevea said.

Black and Hispanic students make up around 6 and 46 percent of the UC Merced’s undergraduate student population, respectively.

Vevea said he thinks Merced’s current G.E. system is similar to having a diversity requirement, since the guiding principle of “self and society” addresses the same issues covered by a diversity or ethnicity course.

“It would be very rare for students to take a class without addressing (the self and society) principle,” Vevea said.

Vevea said he thinks a diversity requirement might be worth discussing in the Academic Senate, but it has yet to come up.

Although most UCs have implemented diversity-related requirements, their curriculums are still growing with the student body. Students on other campuses continue to propose additional ways that students can fulfill the long-established diversity requirements at their universities.

Last spring, UC Riverside’s undergraduate student government submitted a proposal to create a new option for diversity requirement that would address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said Jose Wudka, chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate. UC Riverside’s faculty approved its initial diversity requirement in 1989.

The Committee on Educational Policy at UC Riverside is currently studying the gender studies proposal, which was signed by about 250 students, said Ken Baerenklau, the Academic Senate’s educational policy chair.

Robinson said she thinks there is room for improvement in the 25-year-old curriculum. She said she thinks faculty tend to focus on their research rather than spending enough time planning and developing the diversity requirement classes.

“The goal of these classes should not (be) to settle debates (of diversity) but to debate,” Robinson said.

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Kendal Mitchell
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