Friday, May 11, 2007

DOC as Robust as Ever? You decide…

DOC as Robust as Ever? You decide…
A message from the Lumumba-Zapata Coalition /

In a recent UCSD Guardian article by Professor Michael Schudson, he claimed that DOC was “as robust as ever.” The Lumumba-Zapata Coalition disagrees. We believe that DOC has experienced a sharp decline in both its commitment to addressing structural inequality, as well as its reputation for providing students with a stimulating and challenging education. We feel there is a positive correlation between having a point of view and quality of education, as a clear sense of mission translates into coherent teaching that students can respond to as they see fit. In the past, DOC used to provide students with the opportunity to respond intelligently to complex social issues that involve race, class, gender and sexuality in the United States. We seek to reinvigorate DOC so that it returns to an intellectually solid program that foregrounds the experiences of marginalized groups in U.S. society.

Faculty Changes

In the past, DOC used to mainly employ tenured faculty to teach as lecturers in the program. Now the majority of DOC lecturers are not tenured faculty. While it is true that many of UCSD’s writing programs have difficulty in attracting tenured faculty to teach, DOC has had particular problems in recruiting and retaining tenured faculty who are experts in ethnic studies, literature, critical race theory and social movements, which have formed the disciplinary strengths of the program during most of its existence. (Notably, many of these faculty are also people of color.) One of the main reasons for this is the fact that UCSD scholars who are logical choices to teach in the program feel that it has moved away from its original mission, and that it is unfriendly to professors, lecturers and teaching assistants who seek to maintain the integrity of the program. Since 2002, DOC’s history of pushing out professors, lecturers and teaching assistants who share this concern has contributed significantly to creating this perception amongst faculty. Evidence for this is the fact that next fall, DOC will not have a single tenured faculty member teaching. Instead, it will employ one permanent lecturer and two current TAs. Ironically, due to the LZC’s efforts to revitalize DOC, respected faculty in the departments of Ethnic Studies and Literature—places from where DOC used to draw many of its most distinguished senior faculty members—are now expressing interest in teaching and participating in DOC because they see the opportunity to reverse trends that have either pushed them out of the program, or have kept them away for years. The LZC public critique of the direction of DOC has generated renewed interest in a program that many faculty have considered hostile to their research interests, pedagogical approach and expertise. We should also make it clear that the LZC has no problem with the research areas and expertise of faculty who have recently taught in DOC—including military history, political philosophy, and the sociology of female executives—only that all too frequently they are not related to social justice or marginality in U.S. society, which are the primary concerns of DOC.

DOC 1: Critical Concepts

In the past, DOC 1 used to teach concepts such as structural racism and inequality, identity formation and liberal individualism, hegemony, ideology, intersectionality and power in a systematic way, which provided students with a critical vocabulary and the tools to critique U.S. society and understand marginalized positionalities. While it is true that the DOC syllabus contains many articles that address these issues, they are no longer the intellectual frame for the course. The justification recently stated in the Guardian is that these concepts were too “theoretical,” an idea that not only trivializes students’ ability to learn, but also trivializes the importance of the issues DOC has traditionally taken as its point of departure for its analysis of U.S. society. In addition, in response to pressure to teach “both sides” of controversial issues in a “politically neutral” way, some lecturers have taught hateful articles from the Family Research Council, and attacks on multicultural education in an uncritical way. The LZC wants TMC to maintain its position as a college of excellence within a university as distinguished as UCSD, and this depends upon maintaining a rigorous approach to undergraduate education that is not afraid to make people uncomfortable when they are confronted with homophobia, racism, gender discrimination and class privilege. We seek to ensure that the reputation of the TMC is reflected in the substance of its core curriculum, and in the quality of its pedagogy, which is rooted in a clear understanding of the importance of a critical multicultural education that isn’t ashamed to offer a systematic analysis of structural inequality and its effects.

DOC 2: Conceptions of Justice

In the past, DOC 2 used to provide an innovative and challenging analysis of the idea of justice in U.S. society. By juxtaposing Supreme Court cases and the founding documents of the United States with key articles by distinguished critical race scholars, and including material that covered social justice, economic and cultural rights, as well as the criminal justice and prison systems, DOC presented students with the opportunity to grasp the complex relationships between social justice, law, and structural inequality, traditionally the purview of DOC. Included in this analysis was a discussion of the genocide of Native Americans and the violence and legacy of slavery, both of which are fundamental to any understanding of the roots of American justice. In recent years, DOC has radically turned away from such an academically rigorous examination of justice in U.S. society. Now DOC 2 is more akin to a traditional high school civics class that does not challenge students to think critically about the concept of justice. Instead, students are asked to read, write and take exams almost solely on Supreme Court cases, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The course’s current focus is on levels of scrutiny that the Supreme Court uses when deciding cases and when and how the Supreme Court uses precedent. A once dynamic course is now taught primarily as a constitutional law course that is very narrowly tailored to the internal workings of the Supreme Court. The LZC desires that DOC return to a much broader vision of justice, which is in accordance with TMC’s stated commitment to social justice. In addition, the LZC is particularly concerned with DOC’s gradual drift away from discussing affirmative action. In the past, affirmative action played a central role in the DOC curriculum because of its importance to questions of structural inequality and injustice in U.S. society. While it is still included in the current syllabus, students are no longer asked to write about affirmative action, the academic context from critical race theory is no longer provided in the curriculum or in lectures, and most ironically, Thurgood Marshall’s dissent in the Bakke case is no longer included in the course reader. The LZC does not understand why Marshall’s important dissent would be excised from the foundational course at the college bearing his name. Such an omission is indicative of a shift away from asking students to seriously consider respected opinions in favor of affirmative action and racial justice.

DOC 3: Multiethnic Perspectives

In the past, DOC 3 used to focus on multiethnic literature and film of the United States, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between cultural production and social change. For this reason, DOC 3 featured texts from the 1930s and 1960s, and considered multiethnic postmodern texts as a response to the inequalities of the 1980 and 90s. These texts were situated within their socio-historical context, and developing the close reading skills of students was complimented by modeling expert textual analysis in lectures. Now DOC 3 is an incoherent mix of fairly unrelated primary and secondary texts written after World War II. The course lacks a clear framework and is no longer organized and taught by faculty from the literature or ethnic studies department as in years past. In addition, the course has largely replaced texts by marginalized groups to texts about marginalized groups—Tommy Lee Jones has replaced Spike Lee; instead of reading Tricia Rose on the origins of hip-hop, students read an article from Spin magazine about the impact of hip-hop on whites;.Tim O'Brien’s The Things They Carried is covered, but Viet Nam and Aztlan is no longer in the curriculum. Students are required to read Atwood, Cheever, Vonnegut, and Salinger, but Alice Walker is optional, and often never mentioned in lectures. As the course’s content has shifted, the quality of instruction and the course’s organization has also declined significantly. In recent years, two literature faculty and one lecturer from the literature department have been pushed out of the program, and the course was radically redesigned in 2006 by people with little experience teaching and writing about such material. In addition, many of the recent DOC 3 lecturers have consistently de-contextualized and de-historicized the texts, so that students are unable to think through the relationships between cultural production, history and social change. The result is that instead of primarily studying primary and secondary texts by Black, Chicano, Asian American and Native American writers and filmmakers, which offered representations of marginalized groups and their relation—and often challenges—to mainstream society, DOC 3 is now a hodgepodge of texts and topics that bear little relation to each other or any organizing theme. Such a change not only takes away from the overall quality of the course, but most importantly, it seriously compromises TMC’s commitment to promoting diversity and social equality, which DOC has always attempted to do at the academic level.