Budget Cuts Force San Francisco State To Make Tough Decisions
Talk of closing engineering school sparks debate, illustrates severity of problem
By Lydia Lum
Because of state budget cuts, San Francisco State University is poised to eliminate some academic majors and make it tougher for students, many of them minorities and economically disadvantaged, to earn degrees in prestigious fields.
And while universities in many states are axing faculty and programs, San Francisco State’s recent consideration over whether to close its engineering school illustrates the severity of budget problems.
Officials are trying to bridge a $22 million gap. Engineering has been spared, but the fact closure was even discussed “gives you an idea of how serious things are these days,” says Dr. John Gemello, SFSU vice president for academic affairs and provost.
Indeed, engineering is not an outdated, obscure subject. At SFSU, engineering enrollment has grown 50 percent since the 2001 spring semester to its current 700 students. An additional 648 undergraduates have been admitted for the fall semester. Among SFSU departments, engineering is medium-size with 17 tenure-track faculty, while large ones like biology have 50, Gemello says.
Glen Cassis, treasurer of the National Association of Precollege Directors, isn’t familiar with SFSU’s situation, but does consider their debates over engineering “extremely extreme.” His group’s aim is to increase the pool of students, especially minorities, pursuing math, engineering and technology-related subjects. Cassis believes that even the thought of eliminating engineering at a comprehensive university sends students a bad message.
SFSU engineering graduate Kent Shephard agrees. An African American manager of a design center for a semiconductor manufacturer, Shephard was among throngs of alumni who lobbied the administration to save the program. “There’s a mixed message being sent,” he says. “Corporations don’t have enough science and math professionals, so they are outsourcing work overseas as well as bringing in professionals from overseas. It’s on the TV news every night. Then, to have universities turn around and cut engineering doesn’t make a lot of sense. Students won’t enroll in programs they believe won’t help them get jobs.”
SFSU’s undergraduate enrollment was 21,892 last fall. Asians made up 41.7 percent, while Whites were 30.6 percent, Hispanics 15.2 percent, Blacks 7.1 percent and Americans Indians 1 percent. The rest were from overseas or declined to specify ethnicity. About half the graduate students were ethnic minorities. Many SFSU students cannot consider other area universities. Stanford and Santa Clara, both private, are much more expensive. Sixty miles south of San Francisco, San Jose State University is too far for working students or those with children. The University of California, Berkeley is academically selective.
At Black Issues’ press time, SFSU officials planned to phase out undergraduate programs in interdisciplinary social science; social work; industrial technology; and dance; as well as graduate programs in family and consumer sciences; gerontology; recreation and leisure studies; and kinesiology. All Russian programs would be phased out, too. Most of the targeted programs have lower enrollments than those avoiding the chopping block.
“We aren’t finding programs that aren’t good,” Gemello says. “The programs we’re canceling are good ones fulfilling our mission statement and producing graduates. There’s no waste and fraud.”
An especially difficult decision is canceling the bachelor’s in social work, he adds. Through internships, those students do a lot of valuable community work.
Officials also plan to make the master’s programs in business and engineering self-supporting, meaning student fees will multiply several times. Fees were $1,345 during the spring semester that just ended. And despite the growth and obvious interest in engineering, no degree programs will be added in that department, Gemello says. Engineering majors now include electrical, mechanical, civil and computer.
Once cuts are finalized, school officials expect to phase out programs within a few years. Students already enrolled in those majors could finish. But officials have notified those admitted for this fall semester that no new students will enter those programs. Ironically, this fall’s freshman enrollment may set a record, partly because of class reductions at UC schools. SFSU officials say 2,900 have plans to enter as freshmen.
SFSU has more than 1,600 faculty members and lecturers. All tenured and tenure-track faculty would be retained, but some of them may be moved to other departments. Many adjunct faculty would be let go.
The proposal also calls for reducing SFSU’s matching funds for work-study students by $573,000, meaning those students are more likely to resort to loans.
SFSU’s Academic Senate will consider all of the proposed cuts during the fall semester before final decisions are made. However, anything that is saved will result in another program’s closure to meet the budget gap.
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