Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Response from Women's Studies Regarding "Needs Attention" Memo


To: Vicki Ruiz, Dean of the School of Humanities
From: Jennifer Terry, Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies
Date: December 7, 2011
Re: Addendum to Budget Reduction Memo in Response to APG and EVC/P memo

This memo is the response by the Department of Women’s Studies to the memo sent to chairs and directors in the School of Humanities via email on November 15, 2011. Herein we address and correct several of the notable inaccuracies in that memo.

• Operating under the instructions we have repeatedly received from the upper-administration, we have concentrated on student credit hours, and in this category, our enrollments are comparable to or better than other units of the same size or larger than ours. We were never given a directive that we should concentrate specifically on increasing our number of majors nor any target number that would be deemed optimal for our number of FTEs. Of course, our goal has always been to increase our majors. We revised our curriculum in 2005 for that very reason. Because we have been told explicitly by the dean and by the EVC/P that student credit hours would be the measure of unit productivity, we have spent much energy over the past decade offering our large lecture courses that fulfill General Education requirements. That said, as of Spring 2011, we had twenty-eight students majoring in Women’s Studies, up from nineteen in Fall 2009. This increase occurred during a time when the department had sustained the loss of 2 of our 8 total FTE faculty, a 25% reduction. We have not been given the opportunity to replace these positions. However, with only 5 FTE ladder faculty members and 1 FTE Lecturer, we have steadily increased our majors and continue to do so. 

• We challenge the claim that Women’s Studies has “very low” undergraduate enrollment, since by the memo’s own measure, our undergraduate SCH taught by just 6.0 FTE faculty members exceed that of other units that are not on the “Needs Attention” list. The most recent data available (2009-2010) indicate our SCH were 5,441. In terms of faculty-to-student ratios, the AGP/EVC/P report only points to major numbers for English, History, and Film and Media Studies, not to SCH. The memo should have compared the faculty-to-student SCH of these units to those of Women’s Studies. We are confident that our SCH are comparable or better. Over the past ten years, Women’s Studies has had consistently strong enrollments overall.

• We contest the statement that Women’s Studies and the other IDPs have “trouble attracting and retaining chairs/directors.” Senior members of our department have willingly and effectively chaired the department each time a term comes up. Since the memo uses this false assertion in a discussion about the measure of quality, excellence, and productivity, we request that this point be redacted for the sake of accuracy.

• The memo speaks of “measures of quality and productivity” without clarity about how these measures are defined and applied. For example, Classics is appraised as having “clarity of purpose and focus” and an “exceptional number of SCH” to “outweigh the relatively low number of students [i.e. majors?] compared to the number of faculty.” By this measure, Women’s Studies should be lauded for its accomplishments, rather than relegated to a status of lacking coherence. As stated above, our SCH have been consistently robust for many years and our Department has been recognized nationally and internationally for its interdisciplinary breadth and cutting-edge curriculum focusing on transnational feminist studies.

• The memo makes reference to the NRC ratings as a key measure of “excellence” and “coherence.” We contend that the NRC ratings are narrow as is the memo’s reliance on them. This narrowness obscures – indeed makes invisible – the many contributions of our faculty to multiple disciplines and to innovative interdisciplinary scholarship nationally and internationally. Moreover, it prevents our colleagues from across the campus to see how members of the Women’s Studies department demonstrate “quality” and “excellence” by serving on the editorial boards of nationally and internationally acclaimed journals, serving as officers of professional organizations, and publishing in top university presses and journals. Over the past decade, our faculty members have been awarded large sums of extramural funding (for example, Jennifer Terry received a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation for $640,000 in 2006-2008). 

• The memo erroneously remarks that Women’s Studies and the other IDPs “do not have PhD programs,” remarkably overlooking the fact that, from its inception, all Women’s Studies faculty members have served as core faculty in the Culture and Theory PhD program. It then goes on to speak rather dismissively about the Culture and Theory PhD by erroneously asserting that the program was “supposed to provide access to graduate students for faculty in these [IDP] programs, but that does not seem to have worked.” This statement is patently false: our faculty members have taught seminars, conducted directed readings, and provided academic advising and dissertation supervision to Culture and Theory students. Each chair of Women’s Studies has served on the Executive Committee of the program and been integrally involved in curriculum development, admissions, and recruitment. In addition, we employ Culture and Theory students as TAs for our large undergraduate courses, providing them an opportunity to learn to teach in interdisciplinary classrooms with innovative tools suitable to learning in the 21st century. The key reason why the Culture and Theory program lost its initial momentum was the suspension of admissions during the third year of its very existence, a decision that was made by the then-director on the grounds that the Graduate Division would not commit funds to support a small cohort of new students. Putting a program on a starvation diet and then blaming it for not thriving is disingenuous to say the least. The Culture and Theory program is intellectually vital and viable. It has suffered from a lack of resources, not from a lack of faculty commitment. We request that the APG and EVC/P redact its memo in light of these facts.

• Our long-standing and vital Graduate Feminist Emphasis is mentioned in passing in the memo only to relegate it to a trivial status, given that it is not intelligible within the narrow grid recognized by the NRC. The GFE provides a coherent program of study for graduate students from other departments, who receive specialized training in feminist epistemology, methodology, and pedagogy. GFE students benefit from teaching experience in Women’s Studies courses, joining a vibrant interdisciplinary research community, and they are qualified for a wider range of job positions upon graduation than their peers in their home departments. Since its implementation in 1994, the GFE has been awarded to 112 PhD students from programs around the campus. Many of its recipients have gone on to acquire tenure-track positions in departments seeking expertise in women’s studies, gender studies, and feminist studies. We ask that the APG and EVC/P rectify this oversight.

• On the subject of programmatic coherence, as invoked in the memo to be a sign of quality and/or excellence, we question how “coherence” is being defined and measured. Our curriculum is carefully crafted and our courses are designed to meet the goals explicitly stated in our department’s mission statement, which itself incorporates much of what the University has stated to be its goals. Our expertise in feminist transnational studies has established our predominance, and we enjoy the reputation of being among the best departments of women’s studies in the country. Our last external review appraised the department for its stellar quality, stating, “UCI has put together an impressive ensemble of faculty and classes to produce a unique and highly promising, interdisciplinary course of study at the graduate as well as undergraduate level in Women’s Studies. The quality, rigor, and potential of the program are beyond question.” 

• We question why Women’s Studies and the other IDPs that enhance the diversity of the University are being singled out to bear the burden of this question of “[reassessing] the role of these units in our broader effort to leverage diminishing State resources.” Women’s Studies exists at every other UC campus that offers undergraduate education, and yet no other UC campus has focused so heavily on “reassessing” resources by targeting Women’s Studies or other interdisciplinary programs such as African American Studies and Asian American Studies – programs that fulfill the mission of the UC to provide an intellectual foundation for living in a diverse world. Over the past few years, Women’s Studies and each of the IDPs have been proactive in carefully trimming our already small budgets. Three years ago, Women’s Studies consolidated our staff with Comparative Literature and German and we were held up as a model of efficiency for doing so. We teach large numbers of students from all across the campus. We regularly host research colloquia with invited participants from other UC campuses and beyond, and we do so on a bare-bones budget. In the current need for a cost-benefit analysis of academic performance, we therefore question why the APG and EVC/P are targeting units that clearly have been doing so much with so few resources. Our vital contributions to the University and, indeed, to the larger contexts of California, the United States, and the rapidly diversifying world should be respected, not targeted for reduction. 

We offer these data and clarifications so that the APG and EVC/P may rectify unfounded claims upon which our department was assessed and placed in the “needs attention’ category. We request a re-evaluation of our standing on the basis of the accurate and up-to-date data included in this memo. Although the APG/EVC/P memorandum did not include instructions detailing the precise format of the appeal process, we submit this memo to you as the first step in such an appeal.

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