The ongoing budget crisis in California has necessitated major academic reform on every level of education to save money and eliminate debt. As a result, some schools have been forced to lay off faculty, eliminate various courses, scale back on financial aid, and retool curriculum guidelines.

Recently, two separate protest rallies led by the students and faculty of Long Beach State (CSULB), and Long Beach City College (LBCC), were held in response to proposed cuts of various class offerings and academic programs.

CSULB’s Liberal Arts Dean David Wallace has become the object of controversy and finger-pointing on campus for his proposal to downgrade the school’s Africana Studies Department into a program.

At the same time, Long Beach City College (LBCC) has cut 11 vocational and trade certificate programs, which resulted in the elimination of several instructors.

These developments at LBCC have fueled speculation that minority students–who account for the highest enrollment in the vocational courses–are being muscled out of their choice of study, or discouraged from advancing their education altogether, says LBCC Student Trustee Jason Troia.

School officials, including Long Beach Community College District Board President Roberto Uranga and the Board of Trustees for the college, recently held an open forum for teachers and students to express their concerns, as well as outline the purpose and fiscal implications of the cutbacks.

Lynn Shaw, Ph.D., president of the faculty union at LBCC, told the board that withdrawing certificate programs that attract minorities could decrease the diversity of the student body.

“This layoff is of great concern to faculty because it impacts all aspects of college life,” she said. “[It’s] a painful and devastating blow to faculty and our students. Seven of these faculty are ethnically diverse and this is especially relevant as we work to make our faculty reflect the diversity of our students. That’s almost half, or 47 percent.”

Shaw added, “These layoff hurt everyone at the college but especially hurts the students. (They) will have few programs to choose from. I know faculty and the community want a college that is rich in career and technical education, and all of the 11 discontinued program are career and technical education.”

President Uranga countered by stressing the importance of students receiving a well-rounded education, instead of, as he put it, “just knowing how to cut wood and sheet metal.”

“I grew up in East Los Angeles, and I went to school in East L.A.,” he explained. “I was trapped in those days. I was in a position where I couldn’t take any math or any English (courses), because I was trapped in vocational programs.”

Uranga continued, “To this day, it irks me when people say not all (people) are made to be college students. That’s B.S. Every student who wants to pursue a college education can and should not be directed to vocational classes. Anybody and everybody can be a technician, but those individuals who know how to read and write and add will be the boss. All you need is the will.”

Student Trustee Troia contends that Uranga’s outlook is one-sided and “disrespectful” to those who value blue-collar work. He also says that devaluing vocational programs sends the message that certain professions are more important than others.

“A certain type of student shouldn’t be prioritized over another,” he said during in interview. “It came off as him [Uranga] saying that Long Beach City College is in the business of social engineering, and that we need to force our minority students into academics especially math and English and science. I think it’s horrible.

Troia claims that LBCC’s administrative board originally cited their decision to cut vocational studies as a way to decrease costs in the wake of severe budget constraints. “However, the education code stipulates that you cannot cut a tenured faculty member because you don’t have enough money to pay their salary,” Troia notes.

“They said that they wanted to reallocate the money to better serve the needs of other students. So they’re cutting a couple thousand students from reaching their goals to dump the money into other students who are more desirable; who have more desirable goals. They are prioritizing students. They are saying your goals are more important because they’re aligned with our own.”

Troia also accuses LBCC’s administration of falsifying vocational student data, including the number of degrees and certificates granted to enrollees, program success rates, course completion rates, and the cost of the programs.

“They maintain throughout the process that (combined) all of the 11 programs have only granted 83 degrees and certificates out of 2,500 students who have entered those programs,” he explained. “That seemed like such a ridiculous number to me that it warranted a little investigation on my end. And I came to find out that aviation maintenance alone granted 140 degrees and certificates last year. It made absolutely no sense. I’ve since learned that they were only counting certain degrees and certificates. Only the ones that get credit under the Student Success Act (state recognized certificates). Most of the certificates we grant [vocational] aren’t state recognized.”

The Student Success Act ties funding to the number of associate degrees completed per year by each student at the college.

“It’s at the heart of why LBCC is doing this,” Troia maintains. “It’s basically to quit offering degrees and certificates they don’t get credit for so they can force students who have an interest in the trades into studying things the school can get more clout from.”

Elroy Oakley, superintendent-president of LBBCD, says that despite Troia’s claims of data tampering, no evidence has been presented to justify the accusations.

“We have asked Mr. Troia to provide us with the information,” said Oakley during an interview. “He has never provided us with any of this data or any information. It’s hard to refute his claims, if he doesn’t give me (information).”

Oakley added, “We have tried to balance all cuts here. It’s not an issue of valuing one course or another. We value diversity. Long Beach City College is 60 percent minorities. Any student who attends the college is required to take English, math, and science courses. It’s part of the core curriculum. It’s not an either or situation. Core classes are part of every degree program. And although we are eliminating 11 courses, nearly 90 percent still remain.”

Oakley said that students currently enrolled in the eliminated programs will be allowed to finish out their studies during the summer, if time permits. Alternatively, LBCC has partnered with Orange Coast College so that aviation maintenance and auto engineering students may finish out their studies there. Additionally, students at LBCC will have access to new-age vocational options, including a cyber (homeland) security program, which teaches the covert, technological methods our government employs to protect the country.

On the other side of town at Long Beach State, the African Studies Department also faces drastic restructuring. An unspecified number of the courses in this discipline are in danger of elimination, pending a decision from CSULB’s administrative board. School officials contend that their decision to downgrade Africana Studies from a department to a program is two-pronged. First, due to limitations in funding, courses with the lowest enrollment rates are facing elimination.

The change from department to program comes because all departments must retain a minimum of six tenured faculty. Africana Studies, however, has only gained three additional professors since 2005, says CSULB’s Chair of Africana Studies Maulana Karenga, the fourth and final faculty member.

“The cuts to multicultural studies spit in the face of a well-rounded education,” he declared during a roundtable discussion at the university. “They argue that it’s financial. They find money for what they want. There’s money for baseball; there’s money for basketball … We have to support diversity.”

He added, “[Black Studies] is a contribution to Black people correcting our history. It’s a contribution to preventing the progressive Europeanization of humankind. It’s a contribution to the university realizing its own claim of diversity. Hell, we got diversity in the catalogs, and that’s good. Now it’s time to stop talking and to start walking.”

Terri Carbaugh, says that many factors play into department interventions, and that money is only part of a much larger picture.

“Enrollments (student demand) are not the sole driver, but are a key driver in budgetary decision making, which includes hiring new faculty,” she explained in an email. “As enrollments in Africana Studies increase, returning to departmental status is very feasible.”

Carbaugh also wrote, “In response to declining fiscal resources and enrollments, [Dean] Wallace initiated a College of Liberal Arts curricular review of every department and program.

CSULB’s and LBCC’s tug of war between students and faculty wants and needs and school realities is a trend that is spreading among campuses throughout the nation as financial resources are lost.

However, no matter the outcome, Troia says, “minorities should be on high alert.”