Longstanding courses in the Chicano/a studies department have been canceled for the first time in their decades-long continuous offerings, due to a new tax on under-enrolled courses.
Students who enrolled in Ch.S. 390, the Alternative Chicano/a Press course that produces El Popo, or Ch.S. 486/A, a language course dedicated to the Nahuatl language, won’t be attending these legacy courses in the 2019 spring semester due to fears of being financially penalized for under-enrollment in each course.
Chicano/a studies Vice Chair Rosa RiVera-Furumoto explains that the Chicano/a studies department has not received their operating budget for the 2018-19 academic year, effectively hamstringing the abilities of faculty to effectively teach.
“Since the fall of 2018 we have not had a budget,” RiVera-Furumoto explained. “We are now in spring 2019 and we don’t know how much money we have to spend. That’s ridiculous. So that makes it extremely hard to run a department and to educate students, which is our job.”
According to RiVera-Furumoto, CSUN’s recent implementation of this new “tax” on under-enrolled classes would fall on the department to pay from their operating budget, the absence of which prevents them from accounting for costs like this.
“The notion of the taxing is if you run the class we’re gonna make your department pay for it,” RiVera-Furumoto said. “Without a budget we don’t even know that we can afford to pay for it.”
Even courses in the Chicano/a studies department that are over-enrolled, such as Ch.S. 430, The Chicano/a Child, and Ch.S. 445, History of the Chicano/a, don’t serve to offset courses that are under-enrolled.
“On the other hand when we’re over-enrolled,” RiVera-Furumoto continued, “which we often are in other classes, we’re not allowed to use that, those FTEs (Full Time Equivalent students) to balance.”
RiVera-Furumoto laments the cancellation of the Nahuatl course especially and thinks Stella Theodoulou, CSUN’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, needs to answer for this situation.
“I was devastated when I heard the news that the class was canceled as well,” RiVera-Furumoto said. “It’s just beyond belief. This is a policy of our acting provost, I think it’s important to say that. That’s her policy. So I think she needs to stand up and talk about why she’s doing that.”
Professor Fermin Herrera, who teaches the Nahuatl course, has been doing so at CSUN since 1971. He says this is the first time the course has been canceled in approximately 40 years and that the importance of having the course available for students really can’t be understated.
“First of all, Nahuatl has historically been the most widely spoken indigenous language of North America,” Herrera said. “Even a superficial knowledge of the language allows us to understand our linguistic circumstance today.”
Herrera says that much of what Spanish is has a strong foundation in Nahuatl, so much so that words from Nahuatl were traced into Spanish and that’s part of what makes it so important.
“If you listen to the way Mexicans south of the border or north of the border here in Southern California speak Spanish casually, what distinguishes that Spanish is the pervasive influence of Nahuatl,” Herrera said.
This is the only Nahuatl course in the entirety of the CSU system.
At the time of writing, the Nahuatl course had an enrollment of 10 students out of a cap of 15, or two-thirds.
By contrast, another of Herrera’s courses, Ch.S. 482, Language of the Barrio, has an enrollment percentage of 42.8 percent (15 enrolled out of 35 seats) and remains in session.
Professor Carlos Guerrero has been the adviser for Ch.S. 390, the Alternative Chicano/a Press El Popo, since the fall semester of 1992.
He says that while he was warned this course might be canceled, he wasn’t notified of its official cancellation until 20 minutes before their first meeting, by which time students enrolled in the course were already present in the classroom.
“It was kind of a little bit unsettling,” Guerrero recalled of the beginning of the semester. “First time in 26 years that we canceled the class … I don’t think the dean’s office knew what they were canceling. I don’t think they saw the history or the value of it.”
Guerrero says that while students don’t always know what they’re going to get out of the class until they’ve explored it, it provides those who join it an important platform to write from the perspective of the Chicanx community.
“I think students get a space to write about other types of communities,” Guerrero said. “From a Chicano perspective.”
Both Guerrero and Herrera say they believe their respective courses will be offered again in the fall of 2019. For now, though, CSUN will go without.
“It’s not about education,” RiVera-Furumoto said. “It’s not about meeting the needs of students. It’s just become very disturbing. It’s really like a system which is all about extracting. It’s about, it seems to be money. It’s just very disturbing. At the end of the day our mission is to educate students. How can anybody, how can you run your life, buy your food, pay your rent if you don’t have a budget? That’s crazy.”