Special to the Daily Sundial
CSUN has among the worst graduation rates in the entire CSU system. This is a shameful and negative history, stigmatizing this campus. Faculty members are directly responsible for this legacy of embarrassingly low graduation rates.
For far too long, many sectors within senior faculty have exhibited a distinct disdain for students at CSUN. They remain in total denial to their responsibility to students.
The litany of lame excuses are boorish and elitist, students are mainly commuters, they attended LAUSD schools, they do not read enough, they work long hours, they are under-achievers and/or they do not go to the library. These excuses are only offered to make the abject failure of faculty to assume direct responsibility for the graduation rate crisis, and their personal failure to invest directly in student learning and success.
President Koester has consistently reminded recalcitrant faculty that the socio-economic demographic profile of CSUN students is similar to virtually all other campuses in Southern California.
Faculty control the classroom, have research and writing knowledge that, at least in theory, should be transferred to their students, and are role models who could be pro-active toward addressing student learning skills.
The legacy on this campus is the opposite. Significant sectors of the faculty are mainly concerned with department and college intrigue, salary and promotion, protecting narrow interests, and limiting involvement with students.
This history is correlated to the regressive classism, elitism and racism inherent in a “culture of the acceptance of failure.”
President Koester and Provost Hellenbrand are, in reality, in a struggle to change the culture of the faculty on this campus. To her credit, the president, since her second year, has made the graduation rate crisis one of the top priorities at CSUN. She’s been here five years and the rates have only budged from 2.45 percent to slightly over 3.5 percent, until the last 18 months. This is not an exemplary level of improvement.
There’s a reason for the number of new initiatives they are attempting to implement, with only limited success: the historical disconnect between senior faculty and student achievement.
The Learning Centered University, Service Learning, Student-Oriented Teaching are all part of a diplomatic “soft sell,” which is directed at a resistant and recalcitrant faculty in denial of its direct role in this disastrous graduate rate crisis.
I fully endorse and support these and other initiatives. My personal philosophy is that students are my most important client at CSUN. Publishing, service to the university, and other aspects of my professional responsibilities are secondary to adhering to a “student first” orientation to the classroom, mentoring and being a responsive faculty member. Unfortunately, I have arrived at the understanding that few of my senior peers share this vision.
No one should universalize or blame all faculty. However, the historical reality is that the exceptions are not the rule in relation to resistance in accepting responsibility. The shameful reality of faculty observations I have directly experienced on this campus offers a different perception.
I have witnessed examples of racist or demeaning comments, which I have personally encountered, including being called an “affirmative action hire.”
Numerous minority faculty have fled CSUN in the seven years I’ve been in my tenured position. One department is notable for having five faculty members leave in a seven-year period. They were all minorities and women. Yet senior administration continues to claim each was an individual instance, in total denial of the structural racism inherent in this situation.
Some sectors in the faculty do care about students. Mainly, lower rank faculty “just go for it” by assisting students, while trying valiantly to ignore attempts of repressive acculturation by senior peers. I’m fortunate that both of my departments, Chincana/o Studies and Urban Studies, are pro-active in relation to student services. The other ethnic studies departments, the Women’s Studies and Library Departments are other notable exceptions, all of which are highly effective in assisting students.
Unfortunately, this small infrastructure, along with mainly isolated lower-ranking faculty, is wholly insufficient in relation to the monumental task of transforming a regressive and reactionary culture that is ingrained in CSUN’s senior faculty ranks.
In essence, what the president and the provost are attempting to achieve is a dramatic change in that very culture. They are desperately trying to influence lower ranking faculty to reject a culture of elitism and distance toward students. This is their only avenue to address the shame of this campus’ legacy. If they do not succeed, and the normative acculturation by older faculty overwhelms these efforts, there is a minimal chance that dramatic improvement in graduation rates and a student-first philosophy will prevail in the future.
The strategy to address graduation rates is a battle against the old guard among faculty at CSUN. The president and provost are confronting a history of acculturation that has consistently devalued students. If their strategy does not succeed, the students lose, yet again, at CSUN.
David Diaz is an assistant professor in the Urban Studies and Planning Department.