Wednesday, May 14, 2008

UC Budget Cuts

The Coalition of English Graduate Students, University of California,
For Immediate Release: May 14, 2008
Contact: Snehal Shingavi

UC Berkeley Hamstrung By Budget Cuts:
Ability to Provide Required Courses to Undergraduates Severely Affected

(Berkeley, CA) -- Statewide cuts to the budget of the University of California will have an immediate impact upon UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students. After a decade of incremental budget cuts, the university has very little ‘fat’ left to trim. As a result, vital areas of the university will now be affected, depleting the ability of core departments to provide basic instruction.

The impact of the cuts will be felt as early as this coming spring, when the English department alone may be forced to deny entry into required Reading & Composition classes, known as R&Cs, to as many as 300 undergraduates. R&C classes are already difficult to get into.

“The classes fill up lightning-fast because almost every student needs to complete the R&C requirement,” Ahmed Owainati, a Computer Science undergraduate, commented. “The only solution is to dedicate your Phase One enrollment to getting that coveted slot, despite the many other lower division requirements one might have, and even then nothing is guaranteed. I completed my first class in Fall '06, and did not get into the second until three semesters later in Spring '08, despite spending each Phase One in between trying to get into some R1B class.”

Although no clear information is available yet as to the total reduction in the number of R&C classes across the university, it is likely that some Class of 2009 seniors will be unable to graduate from the university as a result.

Christine Chang, a third year double major in Molecular & Cell Biology and Public Health, recounted her difficulties in completing the R&C requirement:

“Trying to enroll in a Reading & Composition course was a struggle,” she said. “After failing to receive a spot in an R1A class in the first semester I attempted to sign up, I was able to secure one in my second round, at the cost of a class I needed for my major. This semester I finally took my R1B. In the first few weeks, 40 students were crowded into a small classroom in hopes of getting a spot; many had to sit on the
floor. Approving the proposed budget cuts would mean that the UC will be requiring a class and simultaneously further hindering students from taking it.”

The impact of these cuts upon UC Berkeley’s English department is severe. The university has been forced to deny teaching appointments to graduate students and lecturers, which it relies upon to teach lower level English and foreign language classes. Now tied as the top graduate program in the country with Harvard and Yale, according to US News and World Report, the department may be forced to reduce support to its graduate students.

Students who rely upon teaching appointments for fee remission, health insurance, child-care, and access to research facilities will lose these basic services. Students who have already passed their qualifying exams may be forced to withdraw from the program.

Hillary Gravendyk, the recent recipient of the UC Berkeley Teaching Effectiveness Award and an English Department Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor award, said, “While I’m honored to have the University acknowledge me for my commitment to teaching, I’m frustrated and saddened that the proposed budget cuts would remove the opportunity for me to continue teaching at Berkeley for even one more semester. I rely on teaching for fee remissions and financial support; without that support my
ability to even complete the PhD could be compromised. It is ironic to be congratulated for teaching excellence by the same administration that is making it impossible for me to continue teaching.”

The University of California, responding to Governor Schwarzenegger’s statewide budget cuts, has mandated a 10% reduction to the Temporary Academic Salaries budget, used to pay for Graduate Student instruction and assistant lecturer positions. Across UC Berkeley’s campus, the same fiscal crisis will result in the widespread dismissal of lecturers. Departments that are particularly hard-hit include the prestigious English department, East Asian Languages and Cultures, French, German, and others.

Ian Duncan, Chair of the English Department at UC Berkeley, summed up the implications of the situation. “The projected cuts to the TAS budget pose a serious threat to our ability to sustain our PhD program in the long run. Most of our graduate students enter the program with the expectation that they will be able to support themselves with at least four years of teaching, since we are not able to provide the five-year fellowship packages offered by our peer-institution competitors (all of them wealthy private universities, such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford). At risk, in short, is nothing less than the core mission of the top-ranked English Department at the top-ranked public university in the country.”


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