When most people think of Black History Month, they usually think of names and events such as MLK, Malcolm X and the Million Man March. However, the history behind these names hits closer to home than many would think. This university was the center of many historic events that still affect us to this day – the most notable being the creation of the Black Studies Dept.
During October 1968, history was made on this campus. Members of the black community and its allies occupied and took over North Hall demanding change on campus. The needs of the student body were not being addressed, so the community took direct action. By taking over the building, the students were able to institute the Black Studies Dept., the Center for Black Studies and the Black Studies Library. From this victory, other disciplines such as Asian Studies and Chicano Studies were created. This was the first Black Studies Dept. in the country. This school set the precedent for all other schools to follow and emulate.
In 1999 the university celebrated the 30-year anniversary of this great achievement by having a symbolic march back to North Hall. However, as the university was celebrating this accomplishment, one major concept was being forgotten. The administration on this campus was systematically trying to eliminate the very same department they were celebrating. How could this happen?
There had been an attempt by the university to eliminate the need for an ethnic studies requirement for the curriculum. After this motion failed due to student and faculty protest, the university decided to go about the situation in a much different manner. The university is in the process of the deconstruction of the specified ethnic studies departments so that they can all be classified under one general ethnic studies genre. From there the university can slowly eliminate the general ethnic studies department. The obvious question is: How can the university do this?
It is much easier than one would think. Through implementing inadequate faculty and under-funding the department, the Black Studies Dept. is now on the brink of extinction. There have been the same five chairs leading the department in the past six years. When you ask about faculty, you receive the same names over and over again: Madison, McAuley, Banks, Robinson and Duran. When the other members of the faculty are brought up, all you get is a deep sigh followed by a look of disappointment. People who have majored in English are teaching black studies courses. These are people who have no business teaching a subject in which they have little or no specialized training. If this was happening with the Engineering Dept. or the Physics Dept., the chancellor would be the first to step in and end the madness. Instead I personally sat and watched Chancellor Yang applaud the new unqualified staff being introduced at the beginning of the year.
As far as funding goes, when it comes to money, the university is the epitome of a contradiction. The entire university system claims to be in a financial crisis. But this can’t be – our campus is in the process of making a $300 million nanoscience building. This problem goes as far as the UC Regents. Just last Friday the UC Regents gave out $2.4 million in bonuses to administrators for simply doing the job they are being paid to do. Yet when the Black Studies Dept. asks for money to hire qualified faculty, the first reason Chancellor Yang gives for not providing it is a lack of funds.
If we do not take back our university, one day we will look back at the struggle, hard work and sacrifice and see it all disappear. All those actions will no longer be a part of our history; they will be just history. The student body has simply watched as what was once the crown jewel of this campus be turned into nothing more than a laughing stock. If we wish to see this nonsense come to an end, the students must create their own history and put a stop to it. This campus does not belong to President Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger or Chancellor Yang. So don’t take Black History Month as a to sit back and reflect; take it on and use it as an inspiration to go to our administration and make history for yourself, our generation and for the benefit of all people.
Tim Finney is the liaison on behalf of the Black Students Union and a sophomore business economics major.