Thurgood Marshall College (TMC) at UCSD has historically been a site of critical pedagogy that challenged the status quo and advocated racial equity and social justice on campus and within the San Diego community. In recent years, the college has taken significant steps away from honoring those commitments, which is particularly evident in the management of its undergraduate core sequence, the Dimensions of Culture program (DOC). Originally conceived as a critique of mainstream U.S. society in the early 1990s, for many years the course provided a critical lens through which students were challenged to consider issues of class, race, gender and sexuality in contemporary culture and U.S. history. Over the past seven years—and especially since 2005—DOC has lost its critical edge and become largely incoherent, placing little emphasis on the historic ideals of the college and the stated mission of the DOC program. In response, the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition (LZC), named in honor of the student, faculty and community movement that was fundamental to the founding of TMC in the 1960s, and which included such notable scholars as Angela Davis, Herbert Marcuse and Carlos Blanco, is currently campaigning to make significant changes to how the DOC program operates and what is taught in the curriculum. On April 13th, the LZC presented the attached list of demands to the Provost of TMC and asked for a public meeting in two weeks time to discuss them. Two weeks later, and after further consultation, the Provost refuses to hold such a meeting.
Faculty members, lecturers and teaching assistants who have criticized the disturbing trends at TMC and in the DOC program have been systematically removed through strong-armed harassment and intimidation techniques designed to stifle dissent and chill campus debate about DOC and TMC in general. The most recent example of this occurred just this Tuesday when two long-time TAs were dismissed from the program. The one-year contracts of Benjamin Balthaser and Scott Boehm have not been renewed for the upcoming academic year after a series of unprecedented interviews for current TAs that we have strong reason to believe were manufactured to push out them out of the program.
During their interviews, they were told that they were “undermining” the program by their involvement in the academic and political life of UCSD, and that their teaching performance had nothing to do with their dismissal. In fact, both are experienced TAs with outstanding evaluations, and Boehm received one of two teaching awards from the program last year. This is a clear violation of the rights of teaching assistants and graduate students to engage in free speech and debate on a university campus. The DOC administration is using strong-armed intimidation techniques to silence widely felt dissent about the direction of the DOC program and TMC as a whole.
Balthaser and Boehm are founding members of the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition, which in addition to addressing problems with TMC and DOC is now also protesting their unjust treatment upon the grounds that it is a clear violation of their free speech rights as members of a university community. In order to achieve our goals and to put pressure on the Provost to hold a public meeting with the LZC about TMC and DOC, we are sending you this letter hoping that you will offer your support.
The following organizations have already endorsed our efforts:
UCSD Office of Instructional Support and Instructional Services (OASIS)
UCSD Cross Cultural Center
UCSD Chicano/Latino Concilio
UCSD Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanola de Aztlán (MEChA)
UCSD Black Student Union
UCSD Asian and Pacific Islander Student Alliance
UCSD Muslim Student Association
UCSD Raza Graduate Student Association
UCSD Kaibigang Pilipino
UCSD Native American Alumni Association
UCSD Students with Disabilities Coalition
UCSD Students and Scholars Mobilized Against Repressive Times (SMART)
Project YANO (Youth and Non-Military Opportunities)
There are several ways that you can help make our campaign a success:
1) Please read the attached list of demands and circulate them and this letter among colleagues and fellow students that you think would be supportive. This is not an isolated issue specific to UCSD, but a dangerous precedent for all college campuses. Help us spread the word!
2) If you would like to endorse the demands as an individual, please copy and paste the following into an e-mail message with “LZC Endorsement” in the subject line and send it along with any additional personal comments to our coalition firstname.lastname@example.org, to the TMC Provost email@example.com, and to the UCSD Associate Vice-Chancellor of Undergraduate Education firstname.lastname@example.org:
“I endorse the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition’s list of demands, and ask that the Provost of Thurgood Marshall College agree to their request for a public meeting about recent changes to the Dimensions of Culture program. I also condemn the intimidation, harassment and dismissal of teaching assistants who raise questions about the direction of the program, which is antithetical to the goals of higher education, and a serious violation of free speech rights and academic freedom as understood in its broadest sense. On those grounds, I advocate for the immediate reinstatement of Benjamin Balthaser and Scott Boehm as teaching assistants in the DOC program.”
3) If you are part of an organization that might want to endorse the LZC demands, please circulate them among your members and consider drafting a statement stating why the organization chooses to endorse them. Please e-mail such endorsements to email@example.com, to the TMC Provost firstname.lastname@example.org, and the UCSD Associate Vice-Chancellor of Undergraduate Education email@example.com
4) Call or e-mail any or all of the following people in order to voice your concerns:
Alan Havis, Thurgood Marshall College Provost
Mark Appelbaum, UCSD Associate Vice-Chancellor of Undergraduate Education
Marye Anne Fox, UCSD Chancellor
5) Participate in our teach-in/demonstration May 3rd at 11:45am in front of the TMC administration building! Join us to learn more about the history of TMC and the gradual dismantling of DOC, while voicing your dissent about the current direction of the program.
6) Join the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition! Send us an e-mail message with “LZC Interested” in the subject line. In your message please include your contact information, your campus/department/student organization affiliation and let us know you’d like to get involved in our campaign.
Thank you for your support of this campaign. We appreciate your commitment to protecting academic freedom, promoting equitable universities and working towards social justice in higher education. The LZC needs your support in order to ensure UCSD is a campus where such ideals can be realized—or at the very least—discussed without the threat of disciplinary action.
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