Forum discusses reductions to Liberal Arts ethnic centers

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Both polite questions and angry accusations marked a College of Liberal Arts open forum Tuesday night, when students and college deans met to discuss a $1 million recommended cut to various ethnic and identity studies centers. The Liberal Arts Council and the Senate of College Councils co-sponsored the COLA State of the College Address for students to exchange dialogue with the college’s administration regarding last November’s budget cuts proposal. Many Student Government and Senate representatives attended, as well as members of The Students Speak, a group formed in November in reaction to the cuts that they say will negatively impact students. “It’s outrageous that we have to fight to keep ethnic studies alive, something that we had to fight to get here in the first place,” said Leticia Silva, a Latin American studies senior. The Academic Planning and Advisory Committee proposed the cuts to 14 centers and institutes, with the Centers for African and African American, Middle Eastern, Mexican American and Latin American studies receiving the largest blows. The proposal is the first of a series of steps that Dean Randy Diehl said will be complete later in the semester after the deans have taken input from students and faculty. Diehl said at the time the cuts were initially proposed, administrators had just learned that a proposed $90 million liberal arts building would not receive funding from the Board of Regents and the state. The college had to choose between the building or a budget re-evaluation. “We could scuttle the building project or develop an alternative way to fund the building, and we decided to go with the latter,” he said. Diehl said the new building is “critical to the future” of the College of Liberal Arts, and it is important to build it now because costs are low. Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Richard Flores said in December that without the pending 10-percent cut from the State Legislature, the $3.5 million cut that includes the centers’ cuts would be unnecessary. The college is still trying to determine how to cut the other $2.5 million. A recent evaluation determined the Center for European Studies, which got increased funding in the first proposal, will also have its budget reduced. Liberal Arts Council President Carl Thorne-Thomsen said he thought the forum was a success because it allowed students to give input to the deans. “We certainly understand how students might have felt that they haven’t had a say in some in these decisions, [so] it’s pretty reassuring to know that they are coming out to listen,” Thorne-Thomsen said. The Students Speak spokesperson Bernardino Villasenor said the forum was great in terms of getting students to come out, and he is hoping the student input will have more of an impact. The Students Speak invited the deans to come to its public forum Feb. 1 to hear from more concerned students. Villasenor said their forum will be the beginning of actions they will take this legislative session. “We are completely against these cuts and we are going to try to keep them from happening here,” he said. “That means we are going to have to evolve our fight and go to the Legislature, and we will do that.”