SPU Sociology 0

SPU Social Sciences Under Attack

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We—the undersigned students and community-members of Seattle Pacific University—call on the administration to rescind its cutting of one faculty line from the sociology department.

The current reconciliation initiative at SPU emphasizes hiring faculty of Color for the purpose of racial and ethnic representation, at least to the percentage that represents the population demand of our state. Such representation is crucial, as SPU’s student population is increasingly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse — as it should be. The life experiences of professors of Color — experiences that supplement the knowledge and wisdom they impart to students — are vital in SPU’s endeavor for enriching the minds of students who are preparing to shape our racially heterogenous world. Unfortunately, this basic appeal for more faculty of Color is all but new.

For decades at SPU — especially since the start of 2016 — there has been widespread outcry from students of Color regarding the lack of faculty of Color, whose similar life experiences distinguish the quality of their teaching; which would increase the racial consciousness necessary for the very reconciliation that SPU often expresses its commitment to achieve.

Those who interact more with administrators than with students in their daily lives at SPU are not directly immersed in, and therefore witness to, the myriad of contexts that give rise to the increasing emotional turmoil for underrepresented students. This administrative detachment from the contexts of injustice at SPU has long been the impetus for higher dropout rates and lower six-year graduation rates among students of Color at SPU, namely among Black and Native American students. These statistics will continue to worsen if these populations of students do not have adequate emotional support via faculty of Color, who understand their lived experiences.

The bold administrative proclamations to diversify the faculty in an effort to further the mission of "engaging the culture and changing the world" have resulted in a concentrated effort to hire a VP of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (VPDEI). But this necessary hire of a VPDEI has become the pretext through which administration seeks to redirect our attention from focus on truly representative faculty. As emphasized in the original Justice Coalition petition (https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/spu-unity-petition), which launched the administration's bold proclamations — all efforts for social justice at SPU, such as hiring a VPDEI, are meretricious if they are not supplemented with hiring faculty that represent the students SPU serves. True justice and reconciliation requires multilateral effort, which is impossible with only a VPDEI administrator and few professors of Color 'on the ground' and in the classrooms.

This lack of comprehensive action comes at a cost for the mental health and emotional wellbeing of students of Color, which thereby continues to impinge the personal and academic development of racial and ethnic minority students. If the spiritual and mental health of SPU's student body is important to our senior administration, then hiring sufficient faculty of Color must be a top priority that is demonstrated through support for, rather than this current deconstruction of, the sociology department. One faculty of Color cannot possibly provide the care necessary for the multitude of students whose identities and academic trajectories are threatened merely by attending SPU – a university that distinguishes itself from UW by its elements of community, acceptance, love, and faith. But these principles cannot be fulfilled until ‘the least of these’ are prospering academically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

On March 1st, 2016, the Justice Coalition and SPU’s senior leadership collaborated in a campus-wide forum that addressed racial injustices at SPU and how to approach resolutions for such injustices, including hiring faculty of Color. The senior administration explained that the racial diversification of faculty would be slow due to the shortage of candidates of Color in the national applicant pool, as well as due to the slow turnover of tenured faculty at SPU.

Now, however, two faculty members are departing from SPU’s sociology department during this academic year. And, fortunately, the department currently has two, highly-qualified applicants of Color to be hired as faculty. Hiring both of these applicants is imperative for transforming the sociology department into a racially diverse sector of our university, which would put SPU in sync with, rather than in contradiction to, the ideals of its own reconciliation initiative. But, rather than hiring replacements for both faculty positions, SPU’s administration is cutting one entire faculty line from the sociology department.

In the U.S.’s privatized academic system—in which virtually everything is for sale, including education—when universities seek to make budget cuts, sociology is consistently among the first departments to be targeted and under assault. In 1990, world-renowned sociologists Howard Becker and William Rau explained that “[sociology] is under attack by beleaguered administrators looking for vulnerable targets for budget cuts in this recessionary period.”

Sociology is the one field that specializes in how human societies operate, coexist, and collapse; it is the discipline of learning not only how the world should be, as does political theory, but also how it functions in reality, and how it can be improved or altered for the betterment of all. As such, this administrative attack on SPU’s sociology department is a tacit, yet clear, communication that it does not value a discipline that precisely empowers students to “engage the culture[s] and change the world”. In other words, SPU’s catabolic plan for the sociology department is an open divestment from, rather than investment in, a discipline whose primary function is to prepare students to improve the conditions of our society for all, including ‘the least of these’. In turn, it is a plan that both directly and indirectly places money over people.

Moreover, in 2016, the sociology department launched a new major. Without sufficient faculty, this major will suffer and its students will fail to flourish. A sufficient number of sociology instructors is also imperative for the success of pre-health students—whose majors comprise the largest at SPU—because the MCAT now requires strong competence in sociology. This role was fulfilled through Sociology of Medicine, which was taught by Dr. Abbott, but who is retiring this academic year. As prospective pre-health students evaluate which undergraduate university will be most conducive to their successful admission to medical schools, SPU must be equipped with faculty that can prepare students to excel in all aspects of MCAT preparation. Failing to be equipped with sufficient sociology faculty renders SPU’s pre-health programs uncompetitive in comparison to our neighbor, the University of Washington.

Finally, the sociology department is a hub and nexus for students from all majors. Virtually half of students in each class are from majors outside of sociology. As such, a robust and racially diverse faculty in the sociology department is imperative for the academic and real-world success of students from every discipline offered by SPU. Therefore, allowing the department to hire both faculty lines will allow students across a diverse range of majors to benefit from enhanced curriculum opportunities and support from racially diverse instructors.

If the Office of the Provost indeed cuts the faculty line, then students, staff, and faculty are prepared on standby to launch a full-scale media campaign regarding this cut, which disallows the hiring of a highly-qualified professor of Color in contradiction to their own proclamations of prioritizing the increase of racial diversity among faculty.

In summary:

— Two professors from the sociology department are leaving this academic year of 2016-2017.

— One is resigning for another opportunity, and the other is retiring.

— And, after an arduous journey, the sociology department has found two superb candidates, both of which are professors of Color, and both of which the department is ready to hire.

— But the SPU Administration is cutting one of these entire faculty lines from this relatively small sociology department.

— As such, rather than replacing both professors, the department will only be allowed to replace one.

— This forces the entire department, and therefore the size of the sociology major(s), to be cut.

— The detriments of this will echo widely, including the competitive standing of SPU as an institution, but it especially harms current and future students, who would be far less competitive in the job market if they graduated from a major that is much smaller than students studying sociology at other universities.

— We, the students and community of SPU, call on the Administration to not cut the faculty line, thereby allowing the sociology department to replace both soon-to-be vacant positions with the candidates of Color. However, if the department is cut, from across all areas of SPU, we are on standby to launch a media campaign to expose this dismantlement of a vital SPU department.

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