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Cuts at Columbia College hit LGBT-related course
by Matt Simonette

This article shared 6314 times since Sun Nov 9, 2014
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Cuts to the number of sections offered for a popular LGBT-related course at Columbia College, which school officials attribute to declining enrollment numbers, helped ignite a controversy that has left some faculty and students questioning the college's commitment to diversity.

Two sections of the course Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies had been offered for several years, and taught by Victoria Shannon, an adjunct instructor. She said the course usually had a waiting list, and had never been lacking for interested students.

But Shannon was informed—only when new class schedules were published for the entire college, she said—that the class would be cut back to only one section in the second semester of this academic year.

Shannon called the section cut "an attack on diversity" at Columbia and calls into question the college's professed aspirations towards reflecting diversity within its students, faculty and course offerings.

"People are simply outraged," she said. "Enrollment is down 600 students this year, but these classes fill up every semester."

Columbia, like many colleges, places great weight on the idea of exposing students to a diverse array of communities and experiences through its course offerings and programming. Its website states, "We … believe that a diverse campus is central to our ability to produce high caliber, versatile artists and communicators of all races, cultures, and ethnicities. As educators, we place great importance on racial and cultural diversity in our classrooms, residence halls, and various organized activities. It is our individual differences that help enliven classroom discussions and social interactions."

Shannon's classroom has been a safe space for students, enabling many to come to terms with their own identity or at least gain perspective on LGBT individuals. "I've had six transgender students decide to transition after they've taken the course," she added, noting that she tries to offer a variety of speakers, many of whom she pays with an honorarium from her own pocket, to give students a broad and robust impression of the LGBT community.

"I usually have a transgender speaker come in each semester. I've had ( Chicago Police Department LGBT liaison] Jose Rios come in to speak. I've had Sissy Spastik come in to speak about drag queens," she said. Since the number of sections will be cut back, she'll be able to afford fewer speakers.

Columbia administrators maintain that the cut in sessions happened as part of a larger, across-the-board cut to 10 percent of Columbia's course offerings in the second semester. According to Stanley T. Wearden, Columbia's senior vice-president and provost, the cuts had to come in the spring semester, when enrollment usually dips an additional 10 percent.

"The cut is the result of a very complex process," said Wearden, who oversees Columbia's academic affairs and enrollment management. "In the spring, we have 90 percent of our revenue to work with. If we didn't do this, we would have a cost structure that would be crushing."

Wearden said that the college's administration asked department chairs to make the recommendations for the section cuts, adding that a number of diversity-focused courses—including LGBT-related courses—remain. "They tried prioritizing diverse offerings of individual courses."

But Diana Vallera, a photography instructor who heads up Columbia's adjunct instructors' union, said that the cuts came without any consultation with adjunct teachers, most of whom will bear the brunt of the cuts. The union has a history of tumultuous negotiations with the Columbia administration; their most recent contract, finalized in August 2013 came after four years of litigation and accusations of bad-faith bargaining, and Vallera maintains that the college is not living up to their side of the agreement.

"The contract was supposed to be a renewed commitment to treat us with value and respect," she said. "I have not seen the administration step up. … There are a lot fewer courses being offered."

Vallera said that the cuts will have a devastating impact on some of the instructors. "I know someone who will likely lose her home over this."

Shannon added, "It's hypocritical. These administrators have no idea of what we do and who we are. By cutting these classes, they're treating adjunct faculty, especially senior adjunct faculty, like second-class citizens."

Both Shannon and Vallera said that older, female adjunct instructors were disproportionately affected by the cuts, though Vallera noted she was still running numbers on how many instructors were actually affected overall. Wearden said, "I've heard that concern, and I take those concerns seriously. I will certainly take a hard look at that."

Vallera added that, despite the administration's protestations about revenue concerns, courses like Shannon's that address the concerns of vulnerable communities need to be regarded as more than revenue generators. But Wearden said that that sentiment was probably shared by numerous Columbia faculty and staff affected in one way or another by the cuts. "The thing is, any course dealing with 'diversity' is a special course," Wearden said.

Supporters of Shannon and other affected faculty and students posted an online petition on to restore the cuts.

"While college president Kwan Wu Kim declares the necessity of, '… honoring the voices of those who have been marginalized,' [Humanities, History & Social Sciences Chair] Steve Corey has slashed classes on race, gender and LGBTQ issues," said the petition, which, as of Nov. 9, had 442 signatures. "On October 29th, 2014, Columbia College Provost Stan Wearden publicly defended the Spring 2015 course reductions by lamenting declining student enrollments. Is it possible that there is a link between declining enrollments and fewer, less popular course offerings? Additionally, we feel some alarm regarding the loss of classes normally assigned to women in the department. Every senior adjunct who has lost courses appears to be a female who has been with the department for many years."

The Columbia administration has also called for a public forum to be held on the matter Nov. 18.

"I encourage anyone with an interest in this important diversity issue to attend this forum," wrote Wearden in the announcement for the event. "The forum will not focus on whether a section of a particular class should or should not be scheduled. For those not involved in scheduling, it appears easy to suggest that another section simply be added. Scheduling, however, is a complex process that involves estimating enrollment and demand based on past history, current enrollment, and known patterns of enrollment from semester to semester. It also requires the balancing of interests and of important areas of instruction across an entire department, school, and college curriculum so that we are able to serve a diverse array of instructional needs."

Vallera said she was going to keep working on the matter, and had a meeting scheduled with Kim for Nov. 11. She added, "I'll ask him to step in, and hold true to his word."

The petition can be viewed at . The Open Forum on LGBTQ Cultural Competency is scheduled for Nov. 18, from 2:30-4 p.m., at Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave.

This article shared 6314 times since Sun Nov 9, 2014
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