November 13, 2002

Task Force Seeks Program Upgrade

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Members of the Ethnic Studies Task force are continuing to research ways to revitalize the American Indian Program, Asian-American Studies program, Latino Studies Program and Africana Studies & Research Center.

The task force stemmed from a January 2002 protest by the student-led Cornell University Coalition for Ethnic Studies (CUCES) against the administration’s alleged reluctance to implement change in the ethnic studies programs.

Since then, the task force engaged in fact-finding and research in order to craft a list of recommendations to the administration about the future of the programs.

“What we are currently working on is doing a series of evaluations on the ethnic studies programs, their history, where they are now and where they would like to go,” said Kandis Gibson ’04, a student member of the task force. “We are comparing the programs at Cornell to other programs throughout the country, especially on the East Coast.”

Prof. Shelley Wong, director of the Asian-American studies program and member of the task force, emphasized the amount of research required before the task force could formulate any clear recommendations.

“A large part of any task force is continuing that kind of fact-finding work. The thing task force meetings have been great for is finding the different needs of each of the programs,” said Wong.

“They are all structured differently and have very different needs. One thing we have arrived at is that all of the units require more support.”

Currently only Africana studies is a major at Cornell and also offers a Master’s degree. The other three programs are currently concentrations or minors.

Gibson emphasized students’ desire to see the other three programs also expanded to full departments.

“As a student I would like to [see] the programs become departments and that they have enough faculty to mount a serious department that can offer courses relevant to the world today,” Gibson said. “I won’t say the courses offered today are outdated, but they are very limited.”

Prof. Jane Mt Pleasant, director of the American Indian Program and member of the task force, acknowledged the need for change within the programs.

“I think the intention is to have a series of recommendations from the task force to the administration,” Mt Pleasant said.

However, the financial funding that the programs receive from the University is not one of the major issues of contention among the task force. Both Mt Pleasant and Gibson stated that the current funding still allowed room for improvement within the programs.

“The programs currently compared to other departments on campus are funded the same. They don’t need better funding, but different funding,” said Gibson. “In 30 years, Africana Studies has never once had a major campaign for them. They have had no major repairs on the building or any significant expansion.”

Indeed Wong, Mt Pleasant and Gibson all agreed that the most pressing need in all of the programs was an increase in interest and some action to instigate changes within the departments.

“Something needs to be done to revolutionize the programs, to change them,” said Gibson.

“Either a program that the students create or the University needing to hire a grant writer. The students … see all of the huge donations made to the school, $50 million to rename a building after someone and feel that there is a lot of money there — available. There’s no reason something like that cannot be done for Africana Studies or any of the other programs.”

Archived article by Gautham Nagesh