If the University of Texas at San Antonio is serious about becoming the third top-tier institution in the state in the next decade — a pledge made in September by UT Chancellor Mark Yudof — UTSA adjunct professor Fredrick Williams thinks it’s moving in the wrong direction because of what he says is willful neglect of the African American Studies program.
According to Williams and other professors and students, administrators in the program’s parent department, Political Science and Geography, are failing to support it. Classes have been cancelled for next semester and the department has not hired a Ph.D. to lead the program.
“It is a shame that even in these times a program such as the AAS minor is allowed to wither on the vine,” said Margaret Richardson, UTSA graduate student and chair of Students Committed to Change. “I am appalled at the obvious disregard for the students who want these classes.”
According to PSG Department Chair Mansour El-Kikhia, the reason classes have been cancelled is because a full-time AAS professor has not been found, despite a four-year search.
“I am doing my best and the university is doing their best to find professors to teach these courses,” said El-Kikhia, “If I could find the professors to teach, I’d love for `AAS` to be a major, not a minor.”
One of the cancelled classes is POL 3203, African American Political Thought, which Williams has taught for the last four years. El-Kikhia relieved him of his spring 2008 duties because Williams has a master’s degree, not a Ph.D. El-Kikhia says the department now wants to target doctorates to teach upper-level courses, a move to help encourage tier-one status.
“It’s bullshit,” said Williams during a SCC meeting held at his home last weekend. “I’ve taught the class for four years; what do you mean I need a Ph.D.? `Dr. El-Kikhia` would rather cancel the class then have the person who started the class keep teaching it. What kind of sense does that make?”
In 2000, says Williams, Dr. Richard Gambitta, then-chair of the Political Science Department, asked him to help develop an AAS minor at UTSA. Along with other instructors, including tenured professor Dr. Rudy Rosales, Williams agreed to write course outlines for the program, which was ultimately placed under Gambitta’s department. Now Williams and Rosales believe adding AAS to the Poli-Sci department was harmful.
“The AAS program doesn’t necessarily belong there,” Rosales said. “It should be standing on its own like Mexican-American Studies. What we need is for the university to step up and meet their responsibility. If we really believe we can be a tier-one we have to be a diverse institution.”
According to David Gabler, UTSA assistant vice president for communications, the university is doing just that by implementing an
Inclusiveness Task Force to take a comprehensive look at the academic degree programs in minority studies and determine how they can best serve the students and faculty. Gabler says results will be reported back to interim provost Dr. Julius Gribou, although a timeline for completion of the study has not been set.
Students wonder what they are supposed to do in the meantime.
“If they want to make long-term decisions, that’s fine, but what about students like myself who are graduating in the next year and a half?” asked Mame Kwayie, a public-relations major who is minoring in AAS. “I want to have the AAS minor on my degree, but I’m concerned because the classes that I need aren’t being offered.”
El-Kikhia adds that not only is UTSA short a qualified instructor, there just isn’t enough interest from students for AAS classes. Currently, eight students are minoring in AAS. Enrollment at UTSA is 28,000. Next sememster, 18 courses will be offered that count toward the 18 hours needed to earn the AAS minor.
Whether anyone is minoring in AAS is not the issue, say students. “People want to take these classes even if they aren’t planning to get the minor,” said Kalia Malone, a history major minoring in AAS. “Sometimes students just want to learn about the Harlem Renaissance.”
The students also argue that if enrollment in these classes is low, it’s the responsibility of the department to better promote the program. This semester, all AAS classes met the minimum 20-student requirement to keep the course open with the exception of a Topics in African American Studies course, a class that met with only 11 students.
Still, with inconsistencies in scheduling and miscommunication from academic advisors, students ask how anyone is able to make a cohesive graduation plan that includes an AAS minor.
“Isn’t it funny how `UTSA` will allow a pornography club to get started but yet they deny us the opportunity to have the academic classes that we need and want and have asked for and cried for and are now petitioning for?” said Sheila McElroy, sociology major and AAS minor. “We’re talking about academic classes here and we’re getting the door shut in our face.” •