maulana karenga

Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair of the Department of Africana Studies, Cal State University Long Beach

*Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) was recently blindsided by a student led protest in opposition to the pending elimination of several Africana Studies courses, among other multicultural offerings.

Due to budget constraints, the university is taking a page from the norm, and toe-tagging various low-level courses of minor popularity and reputability. The liberal arts division has already undergone severe cutbacks, among other disciplines. The rally, essentially, was a line drawn in the sand. It also flies in the teeth of Liberal Arts Dean David Wallace, the alleged catalyst behind Africana Studies’ woes. Wallace’s proposal to reduce the department into a program—which remains undecided—is stoking the flame of controversy among students and faculty.

With haste, more than 50 protestors invaded the campus (their starting point was the Southwest Terrace of University Union, a social hotspot). Their wardrobe selections varied: some wearing African garb, others dawning naturals, as well as medallions shaped like the African continent, and a handful of participants sported baseball caps featuring, in bold, the letter “X.” It was classic 60’s indulgence.

The protest was in conjunction with Africana Studies Day, orchestrated by the Africana Studies Student Association (ASSA) and African Student Union (ASU). The festivities began with a teach-in, which featured ample lecture, reflection, and lobbying from California Faculty Association’s Los Angeles Chapter President Melina Abdullah as well as Africana studies professors, students, alumni and various keynote speakers.

The ASSA’s newly elected president Brittany Brooks, who helped to coordinate the day’s events, says it’s crucial that students have access to Black studies courses so they can stay in touch with their beginnings.

“I want to be able to engage in conversation and say my people did this [and] African Americans did that, she added. “I don’t want to be informed by word of mouth or hear about other cultures and not know anything about my own. It’s important. If you don’t know who you really are, how you know what you can do and what your people have done? You grow from that and build character. That’s what we’re all fighting for.”

Dean Wallace’s proposal has raised many questions, including inquiry from Africana Studies Chair Maulana Karenga. The creator of Kwanza says that a fast one is being pulled on many academic programs (multicultural studies in particular), while other departments have remained in the clear.

“They argue that it’s financial,” he told the audience during his portion of the lecture period. “They find money for what they want. There’s money for baseball, there’s money for basketball … We have to support diversity.”

He added, “ [Black Studies] is a contribution to Black people correcting our history. Its a contribution to preventing the progressive Europeanization of humankind. It’s a contribution to the university realizing its own claim of diversity. Hell, we got diversity in the catalogs and that’s good. Now it’s time to stop talking and to start walking .”

Dr. Uche Ugwueze explained that students of a multicultural background are more inclined to see the world through a broader lens.

“Students need to learn about other people in other parts of the world instead of learning about one-eighth of the world (Caucasians), she went on to say. “Our department teaches the history, culture and world views of everyone of African descent all over the world,”

Dr Ugweuze is a professor of freshman composition and African literature at CSULB. She added, “Learning about African people not only makes the students aware of their history it gives them an idea of the historical and social implications of learning about African people. It also transforms students into world citizens.”

In order to preserve departmental status, the ASD is required to retain six tenured faculty at minimum. However, the current number is three. This slight wrinkle puts the overall cause even further behind the eight ball.

Karenga says that in the past eight years, no additional faculty have been hired under the Africana studies department. The cuts to multicultural studies, he contends, spits in the face of a well-rounded education.

“Quality education by definition is multicultural education,” Karenga said. “One of the fundamental aims in CSULB is to promote diversity,”

Across town, students find themselves in a similar dilemma. They, along with faculty, have joined forces to fight against numerous cuts made to a variety of vocational courses at Long Beach City College (LBCC). More than 100 protestors gathered downtown (Long Beach) recently, to rally against the eliminations, which include auto body technology, aviation maintenance, audio production, interior design, welding, automotive technology, real estate, photography, air conditioning/refrigeration /heating, diesel mechanics and carpentry.

According to a report by The Press Telegram, the cuts were made in January by LBCC’s Board of Trustees. Only one of the five members voted to keep the classes in tact, while the majority voted to shut them down. School officials claim that discontinuing these programs will save around $3.2 million, which will in turn offset a $6.4 million structural deficit left from state funding cuts.

Student Trustee Jason Troia demands that recalls be given to the four who voted in favor of the cuts—board President Roberto Uranga, Vice President Jeffrey Kellogg, Douglas Otto and Thomas Clark. Troia believes the cuts will have a disastrous impact on Long Beach, one that includes less access to education for minority groups and veterans, the Press Telegram reports.

“Eighty-five to 90 percent are minorities and they represent the demographics of Long Beach in far greater ways than any of the other programs do,” he says.

College officials say the student protesters have either been misled or refuse to engage in conversation.

“I certainly understand their concern about the programs that have been cut at Long Beach City College and I respect their right to raise their voices on the issue, and I certainly commend them for coming together and having a peaceful demonstration,” LBCC Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley told the Press Telegram recently. “I certainly have reached out to them several times. Unfortunately, they have not responded. ”

Oakley said many of the courses in the discontinued programs will be transferred to other degree or certificate programs. More modern courses, like alternative fuels and cyber security, will also be added, he said.

“We are continuing to teach those skills, like welding, to students in different programs, and including new programs that will incorporate those skills,” Oakley said. “We are going to continue to teach many of these skills. They will just be packaged different and part of other programs. ”

According to CSULB Associate Vice President of Legislative and External Relations Terri Carbaugh, student and faculty should not overreact in the event that a downgrade (of the Africana Studies Department) takes effect.

“Our end goal is to really stabilize the program until we can somehow grow enrollments and maintain faculty,” she told Angela Ratzlaff, news editor of the Daily 49er, the school’s paper. “If the department becomes a program, students will still be able to major and minor in Africana studies.”

Dean Wallace says that a “downgrade” would not be permanent and could change provided more students show interest in the courses.

“Every department in the college is going through curriculum review,” he explained during the interview with Ratzlaff. “Philosophy took a much bigger cut.”

As of now, Africana Studies remains unscathed by cuts. But even if the proposal passes, Carbaugh says, other departments have experienced the same treatment. The religious studies department had five courses cut for spring 2013, and philosophy had nine courses cut.

“President Alexander intends to retain Africana studies knowledge on our campus and provide related instruction and degrees for our students,” she assures. “Dean Wallace’s efforts help provide a safety net for this field of study. As enrollments in Africana studies increase, returning to departmental status is very feasible.”