Feeling The Cuts

How present budget proposals threaten the voice and interests of Cal ‘s API community

by denise wong

 On September 24, 2009, approximately 5,000 demonstrators stormed both Sproul Plaza and downtown Berkeley as part of a system-wide walkout against the Regents of the University of California’s mismanagement of the current budget crisis. Weeks of unprecedented student and faculty criticism towards the state and university administration culminated in this historic walkout. It also marked the first instance in these weeks of organizing and debate that the budget proposals’ impact on API students was openly discussed outside of API spaces.Lack of discussion on the budget cuts’ impact on APIs is the largest obstacle preventing APIs from creating a unified stance on this issue. The fact that students will be paying more for longer waitlists, larger classes, decreased resources and a generally lower quality education should not be an issue that garners apathy. Rally speakers and students alike have lauded the walkout’s success, likening it to the protests of the Free Speech Movement and declaring it the return of a long-dormant tradition of Berkeley activism; however, reported figures of attendance prove meager when compared to the sheer amount of API students whom the proposals will adversely impact. The amount of APIs at the walkout was obviously less than 5,000. APIs constitute about 45% of the student body, and the fact that our numbers alone could potentially effect real change but have not been utilized to their full potential is shameful.

It is imperative to examine the implications of these budget proposals’ effects on API students. These cuts would slice students’ bank accounts at the jugular for visibly lower-quality academic services, which is reason enough to take alarm. However, these cuts would also impact Berkeley in several different ways, making huge blows to not only APIs but API interests—that is, the values and goals that give direction to the API community and ensure that it transcends merely racially-based organizing. Here’s a summary of three major ways in which these budget cuts will directly impact API students and API interests:

1. Vindication for cutting classes, departments, and educational programs relevant to API interests
Historically, ethnic studies, the department that houses Berkeley’s Asian American studies program, has been continuously assailed by budget cuts. These cuts were often backed by an unfortunately pervasive and incorrect view that the discipline promotes racism and self-segregation by concentrating on race and racial history. Opposition to the department has existed since its inception, and has frequently materialized through budget cuts and hiring policies that inhibit the young department’s growth. According to department chair Beatriz Manz in a May 4, 2009 article in The Daily Californian, the department took an 8% budget blow this year. Given its highly contentious status, it is unsurprising that both Berkeley and UC administrators have frequently placed the department on the chopping block. Times of economic crisis make it easier for the administration to squelch ethnic studies and repress the expansion of Asian American studies curricula, despite an increasing number of API students.

These proposals threaten not only ethnic studies and Asian American studies, but also other classes relevant to APIs and API student development, such as language classes. The victory of the student movement to protect East Asian Language from the budget cuts in 2008 is rendered irrelevant with the current threat. According to a September 10 radio interview given by API Education and Languages NOW! members Andrew Leong and Amy Lee, the most current most pressing issue is job security for non-tenured lecturers, members of faculty most vulnerable to lay-offs. Asian language classes are taught by lecturers rather than tenured professors, rendering them most susceptible to cuts. Not only do lecturers work more hours and make less than professors, but they are also prohibited from striking due to union-negotiated contracts, according to Leong and Lee. It thus does not matter how many exponentially the API student body grows or how high the demand for language courses is. Shortages of lecturers indubitably translate into shortages of API language classes, especially those that have been continuously trivialized as “service courses,” marginal contributions to students’ holistic edifications.

2. Exclusion of lowand middle-income APIs from enrollingespecially in pre-professional fields such as business and engineering
It is already obvious that such dramatic tuition raises will price out API students from underserved, low-income communities, but similarly damaging are the differential fees levied on students in business and engineering. The notion that an additional $1,000 fee on business and engineering students would effectively preserve the character and diversity of Haas or the College of Engineering assumes the homogenization of these colleges’ student bodies. This dangerously insinuates the validity of the “model minority” myth when it comes to API students. The model minority myth, which erroneously proclaims that Asian Americans are somehow inherently genetically wired to succeed, is already an assumption that has deleteriously steered UC admission policies against API students. When UC President Mark Yudof was asked by Los Angeles Times about how Asian American students would be affected by the new UC admissions standard he off-handedly replied, “They’ll be fine.”In theory, this fee fortifies the existing “glass ceiling” that looms over APIs in professional fields by restricting the social mobility of APIs and other students of color from low-income backgrounds. Berkeley is consistently ranked among the top ten of business and engineering undergraduate programs, and is notably one of the few public universities that can boast such high rankings. Such fees will deny one of the most viable resources for social mobility to many low-income and now middle-income students of color, who are concomitantly unable to qualify for financial aid and afford mounting student fees.

“When you think about engineering and b-students, there are already students of color struggling to keep themselves in those majors,” said Jennifer Phung, External Relations Coordinator for REACH!, Berkeley’s Asian/Pacific Islander Recruitment and Retention Center. The high propensity for financial success is largely what attracts underserved APIs to pre-professional majors. Given the increasing costs of getting into college in the first place, the imposition of high differential fees would put underserved APIs at an even greater disadvantage to attain educational access and would further exacerbate their underrepresentation in various levels of these professional fields.

3. Smaller API progressive spaces, resulting in a silenced voice for API interests and issuesA less salient point in the ongoing dialogue in how budget cuts affect students of color is the decrease of students in the progressive community. Berkeley’s progressive communities are responsible for initiating and defending such academic programs as ethnic studies and Asian language courses (Tagalog, for example, began as a DeCal course), as well as spearheading efforts to recruit students of color
What has emerged from underprivileged API students’ abilities to achieve educational access at Berkeley is the student leadership that allows the API community to have a voice. Many of these involved students come from underserved communities in California, and the proposed decrease of in-state enrollment will indirectly quell this voice. This would occur through a variety of consequences: firstly, the college admissions process already favors wealthier students, and reduced spots for resident students make the jobs of low-income API applicants even harder. Secondly, despite the rhetoric surrounding this issue, this policy was not designed to benefit out-of-state and international students, but rather, to benefit those who can pay the exorbitant out-of-state tuition. It is in this way that these proposals also diminish the education of progressive out-of-state students; the mistreatment of immigrant workers, hindrances to API political power and the displacement of Chinatown and Manilatown residents occur not only in Oakland and San Francisco, but also in Philadelphia, Boston, Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. A reduction in in-state students who drive these progressive communities will result in less people from whom out-of-state students can learn. As the number one public university, Berkeley has an obligation to educate the world, and in straying from its roots, it does all of its students a huge disservice in allowing them to advance the communities from where they come, from wherever they may come.

It is as such that the proposed budget plans will affect all aspects of the API community, its students, and its interests. In the aftermath of the September 24 walkout, the question that hangs above everyone’s heads is what to do next. Nonetheless, the question of how the cuts will affect the API community must be widely addressed before tackling the question of how APIs can effectively solidify this movement.