Rough Cuts

Posted March 11, 2010 in News

With a budget shortfall of at least $11.2 billion, California’s fiscal problems have been trickling down since the signing of the 2008-2009 budget two years ago. Over the past years college students have been feeling the pain of increasing tuition and decreasing availability and the closing of educational programs across California’s public school system. On March 4, students—and even faculty members—from campuses throughout all of California, from San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Davis to Cal Poly Pomona and UC Irvine and San Diego, staged rallies and protests in an attempt to get Sacramento’s attention. While many voices rang loud throughout the state on this Day of Action, many voices have been speaking all year long.


Like many campuses, Cal Poly Pomona faces unprecedented budget cuts that could result in the restructuring of all of its educational departments. “All programs, all departments, all divisions on campus are being evaluated in response to the historic budget crisis facing public higher education in California,” says Tim Lynch, Cal Poly Pomona’s senior media communications coordinator. “The goal of this evaluation process, which began last fall, is to maintain the excellence of our academic offerings by focusing our diminishing resources on a reduced number of vital programs.”


Among these departments, which have had to fight for their programs before, is the art department, which is battling to hold on to its fine arts and art history programs—a move supported by the Pomona Arts Colony. “We have had petition signings, a Facebook page and are working with the union,” says Barbara Thomason, a full-time lecturer in the art department. “We are keeping students apprised of the developing situation.”


Like many students, Jessica Holcomb, a fine arts and graphic design double-major and art history minor at Cal Poly, feels the frustrations of the constricting budget. “Due to budget cuts, classes are only offered once a quarter—or, in some cases, once a year—and most of the time the one class offered is only offered at the same time as the other core class you must get done,” she says. “It is almost impossible to get into any of the classes you absolutely need.”


Holcomb, like many students in the past, is facing a possible delay in graduation because of conflicting course schedules due to the decreasing availability of funds. “This is not an encouraging time to get an education, and my department is just one of the 35 departments getting cut,” she says.


The departments under review are being evaluated based on information provided by the departments and their history with the university. “Programs have provided information on qualitative indicators including uniqueness, centrality to mission, future growth, graduate placement . . . [etc.]. This was supplemented by quantitative information from university records on the number of students, degrees awarded, full-time equivalent students, enrollments in advanced courses, etc., as well as the trends in these numbers over the past several years. On the basis of this information, programs were identified as candidates for change or closure,” says Lynch. “The program evaluation process is meant to address our immense budget challenges while remaining true to the university’s mission and values.”


In 2005, Cal Poly attempted a Prioritization and Recovery Initiative that was meant to improve the efficiency of its programs across the board and would result in a cut in costs. But, five years ago, the Academic Senate ruled against the initiative. This time, departments might not be so lucky—which has prompted the department to speak up.


“The art department has consistently proven its value to the university through the offering and participation of unique artistic experiences . . . We have a history of successful graduates,” says Babette Mayor, professor and chair of the department. “The fine arts program is completely aligned with the university’s mission and was in fact created as part of a university-wide initiative to bring arts and humanities education—and, therefore, humanistic balance, breadth and creativity—to what would otherwise remain a technical school.” 


“[The cutting of art programs] would be like killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” Thomason says.


But, despite the many voices speaking up across the state, for now public schools are losing vital state funds. While the cutting of programs seems to be a drastic measure, with recommendations being made to the Academic Senate in the spring, only time will tell which way this university will sway.


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