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Mis-Prioritization of Diversity Leading to Cuts

More than 200 students, faculty and staff gathered at the University of Maine’s Fogler Library to publicize their opposition to the cuts. Dr. Ray Pelletier, chairman of the department of modern languages and classics, said the anticipated cuts that may curtail his department were not well thought out. “I don’t think they understand the harm this will cause,” he said during the rally, according to the Bangor Daily News.

 I hope Pelletier is correct. But it appears he may not be. University of Maine power brokers are proposing to solve their fiscal problems through consciously and deliberately peeling off the margins of its academic institution. 

 Diversity initiatives reside on these margins, as they do at most colleges and universities across the nation.  Therefore, this act may be part of a disturbing and growing trend of cutting back (or even not expanding) diversity under the guise of fiscal austerity measures. This is occurring in part because diversity initiatives are deemed by most administrators and even faculty to be a desire or want more so than a fundamental necessity. 

 This widespread conception (or rather misconception of the role of) of diversity shows its ugly head most acutely in times of fiscal crisis when funds for “excess wants” are eliminated or limited, while fundamental needs retain their funding. Priorities are envisaged and observed, and determine funding allocations or reductions. Diversity is seen as a prioritized desire and not a prioritized basis of existence, which makes its programs susceptible to cuts.  This misprioritization of diversity and its consequent diminution of fiscal support appear to be occurring at the University of Maine.

 UM’s Academic Program Prioritization Working Group reviewed academic programs for seven months to determine the school’s priorities. It recently released a report advocating cuts in women’s studies, foreign languages, public administration and performing arts, among other departments and programs.  In total, the proposed cuts would abolish 80 faculty positions by 2014 and lessen the number of undergraduate majors and master’s degrees.

 “We are making these decisions that are painful but we feel we must make some priority decisions,” University of Maine Provost Susan Hunter, who chaired the Academic Program Prioritization Working Group, said to the Bangor Daily News.

 The process that yielded these priority decisions was “very much top down,” said Dr. Francois Amar, a chemistry professor and member of the working group, according the Bangor Daily News.

 To me, diverse perspectives, individuals, courses and most importantly programs and departments — such as women’s studies — should be regarded as an indispensable necessity of all colleges and universities.  They should be centered in the academy. 

 Disciplines like women’s studies, queer studies, African-American studies, Latino studies, Native American studies, foreign languages and Asian studies should not and can not be funded, underfunded and eliminated based on the fiscal atmosphere of the times.  But they will continue to be as long as they are segregated on the margins of the academy; as long as academics perceive them to be and relegate them as appetizers and desserts instead of main and vital dishes of everyday healthy student consumption.

 Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta.

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