By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Cal Poly Pomona student Shelley Bruce, a double major in fine arts and gender ethnic multicultural studies, discusses how both programs may be eliminated.
Andrea Edwards has postponed graduation from Cal Poly Pomona — for the second time — because she can’t get the classes she needs. The 25-year-old student lives at home and takes care of her grandmother. She is unemployed and worries her financial aid will be cut before she can graduate.
The English major tried to enroll in a grammar course, but it was full. “Now I’ll have to wait until next year, because it’s only offered once or twice a year,” she sighs. “I’m very upset. I want to begin my career, but it seems impossible at the moment.”
For the fall semester, California State University campuses cut class sections by 7 percent statewide and cut lecturers and part-time faculty by 17 percent over the previous year. Classes are so crowded, say professors, they can’t give students the attention they deserve.
Ruben Vazquez, a third-year aerospace engineering major, is so frustrated that he organized a protest. About 700 students participated, along with some faculty members who held a “teach-in” to educate others about the dire budget situation in California.
“As a freshman, I was able to get the classes I needed,” says Vazquez, 20. “But now the math and physics classes I need are not available and I’m always on a waiting list. I’ve wasted an entire year without being able to move forward.”
Students are distressed throughout the campus, says Gwen Urey, president of the California Faculty Association chapter at Pomona. “Many classes were canceled because of cutbacks, so students have to wait. We have some first-year students and transfer students whose classes were canceled after the preregistration period, so now they can’t get into anything. They can’t get 12 units; they can’t get financial aid; and they can’t get health care benefits if they aren’t enrolled in 12 units. Some of them are feeling desperate and looking for any units to take — even if it won’t help them proceed toward graduation. And some can’t even get that.”
With 50 or more students on a waiting list, some CFA members fill their classrooms with as many students as the fire code permits. More students mean more work, but instructors have been told to take furlough days, so there’s less time. Most of the teaching positions that were cut were part-timers or “lecturers” without permanent status, so the administration claims that layoffs have not occurred.
“It does change the way one teaches,” says associate professor Bruce Brown, whose economics class has 76 students. “I used to have them write essays, but I now have so many students, I can’t do that. There are too many students to do presentations. Education becomes much more impersonal. Stronger students can handle the lack of personal attention, but I worry that the weaker students are being hurt by what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, entire departments are on the chopping block, says Urey, an urban planning professor. Faculty have been presented with a list of nearly 40 programs that might be eliminated and were told that 10 or 12 will be selected from the list.
Wendy Slatkin of the Art Department teaches classes for both the art history and fine arts programs, and recently discovered that both might be cut. “It’s a shame; we train our students at a very high level,” she laments. “Our art history students have gotten into very good graduate programs because we set very high standards for them. They are talking about cutting some very good programs.”
The college has cut so much in the way of ancillary support, says Professor Debbora Whitson, that it’s difficult to do her job.
“You go to the library, and it’s closed for a furlough day. You call the IT department because your equipment isn’t working, and you get a recording. You try to order equipment, and you get no answer. And, of course, there’s no money to travel for research,” says Whitson, who teaches international business and marketing classes. Everyone on the staff has different furlough days, she explains, so instructors never know whether services are available or not.
Morale is low and students are more irritable, observes Whitson. “You can see it reflected in their e-mail. Students want to vent. Some of the students are very angry.”
Shelley Bruce, 21, is more sad than angry. The fourth-year honors student is a double major in fine arts and gender ethnic multicultural studies. Both programs may be eliminated.
“I love my university and I love these programs,” says Bruce. “Students here are really united because they are passionate about education. They really care about what’s happening here. And what is happening here is absolutely devastating.”