FAQs Regarding the Proposed Merger of the Department of African American Studies with the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences

1.  Is the University closing down the program in African American Studies?

The University is NOT closing the program in African American Studies. Our commitment to diversity and to promoting the ethnic studies disciplines remains strong. SJSU will continue to offer both the major (BA in African American Studies) and the minor. What WILL change is that the DEPARTMENT of African American Studies will become a PROGRAM within the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences (SISS.) The move to SISS is an administrative move designed to increase the size and scope of African American Studies at SJSU. Students may continue to major or minor in African American Studies. Majors will earn a B.A. in African American Studies, exactly as they have done at SJSU since the program’s inception.

2.  Why is this change being proposed?

The Department of African American Studies has 1 full-time faculty member who is also the department’s chair, one half-time faculty member, and only 10 majors. The department has long struggled to attract enough students to fill its upper division classes. Over time, the lack of demand has forced the department to offer fewer and fewer sections and the curriculum has become smaller and smaller, with less variety and fewer scheduling options. In its current configuration, the Department is unable to fulfill its mission of offering a high quality education, rich coursework, and mentoring in African American Studies to its majors or to the college and the campus as a whole. Attempts to recruit larger numbers of students have failed, yet without increasing the number of students served, the department cannot grow or even survive. The situation that now faces the College is whether to act to strengthen the program in African American Studies, or to simply allow it to decline as it has been doing for the last decade. The College of Social Sciences is committed to maintaining and supporting its ethnic studies programs, and to equitably serving the university as a whole, and to that end is proposing the merger currently under discussion.

3.  Why, and how, do you think this proposed plan will help the program in African American Studies?

By joining with a much larger, more robust, and heavily demanded program (Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Science, or, SISS) courses in African American Studies will be integrated into the requirements for both the BA in Sociology and the Social Science single and multiple subject credential programs. By drawing from a larger pool of majors (approximately 500-600 students as oppossed to 10) it is expected that five objectives will be accomplished:

  1. A greater number and variety of upper division courses in African American Studies can be offered.
  2. Majors in African American Studies will be able to complete their degrees more expeditiously because courses will be offered more predictably once integrated into the SISS curriculum.
  3. A wider variety of courses offered more predictably may attract additional majors and minors, thus making the program more viable. Even if the number of majors does not grow, the courses can still be offered because they will support the major and programs in Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences.
  4. SISS is the home of two teacher credential programs – the multiple and single subject credentials for teachers of social studies. The proposed merger and the department’s curricular changes will mean that social studies teachers who receive their credentials at SJSU will have had training and specific exposure to African American, Asian American, and Womens’ Studies as an integral part of their credential program. This is one of the most important benefits of the proposed merger – strengthening the connections between future teachers and the 21st Century populations of students they will teach.
  5. The Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences has been authorized to recruit a new tenure track faculty member with a specialty in Urban and African American issues. The new faculty member, once recruited and hired, will eventually become coordinator of the program in African American Studies.

4.  Why not add more resources to the existing department in order to help it grow? You’re adding resources to Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Science, why not put those resources into the Department of African American Studies?

Adding resources to one program means denying resources to other programs. The Department of African American Studies is not sustainable as currently configured, because student interest in the major is very slight. Cutting other departments’ funding in order to add funding to the department of African American Studies means denying resources (i.e. faculty and courses) to students in more highly demanded majors while in no way guaranteeing any growth in African American Studies. SISS is a thriving department with many majors and coursework in Teacher Education, Asian American Studies, Women’s Studies, and Sociology. The new faculty member currently being recruited will have many options for growth in teaching and service to students, and is more likely to have a successful career at SJSU as a member of a robust department than as a member of a department with little student demand and few faculty colleagues.

5.  Is the proposed merger permanent?

Nothing in life is permanent! It may be that the merger will do as planned and infuse new life into the major and minor. If, over a period of years, that were to happen, it would be reasonable for African American Studies to request a restoration of departmental status if the faculty and the majors saw that as a desirable goal. The department as it currently is, is unsustainable and is not serving SJSU’s students well. Adaptability is the key to survival, and a strong department learns to adapt to new circumstances. A new model has the potential to infuse the program with new energy, new students (both undergraduate and graduate,) additional faculty, and a viable future while enriching not only the degree program in African American Studies, but the several programs in Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences.

6.  Is African American Studies being singled out in a way that other departments are not?

NO. Several departments in the College of Social Sciences have completed or have begun just this kind of restructuring. For example, the Department of Geography is in the process of merging with the program in Global Studies. By merging these two programs, both are strengthened by the increased numbers of majors and the ability to more easily share curriculum and faculty resources. The Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences is comprised of what used to be the separate departments of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Science. The two departments chose to merge with each other in order to more effectively serve students and share the administrative burdens of departmental management. Other mergers are currently being explored, and will proceed deliberately, following academic senate policy, and with the support of faculty.

7.  Why were no new students admitted to the Department in Fall, 2013?

For Fall, 2013 there were 12 qualified applicants for new admissions to the Department of African American Studies. In past years the “show rate,” i.e. the percentage of admitted students who actually enrolled at SJSU for African American Studies ranged between 0-30%, meaning that if that trend continued, AfAm could expect to enroll between 0 and 4 new students. The Dean of the College of Social Sciences asked the university to suspend new admissions in AfAm UNTIL a plan was worked out to assure any new admitted students that there was a viable program for them to begin. At the rate of 0-4 students a year, as had been the pattern for many years, the Department showed virtually no chance of becoming viable. Once the program has moved toward greater viability, active recruitment of new Freshman and transfer students will commence.

8.  Can current SJSU students change their majors to AfAm?

YES. Existing students can add the AfAm major unless they already have more units completed than the university currently allows for changes of major.

9.  Have other solutions been considered besides consolidation with a larger department?

YES. Since Fall, 2010, the Dean has met regularly with the chair of the Department of African American Studies, who proposed two courses of action. One solution advocated by the Department Chair was an increase in efforts to recruit larger numbers of African American students. These efforts failed to raise either the number of majors or the number of new applicants. Another solution that the Department Chair sought to effect was raising community funds for a self-supporting endowed chair in African American Studies, but no such funds could be raised. Even if such funds had been raised, it is far from certain that a lone faculty member could attract and serve sufficient numbers of students to render the department viable.

10.  What is the process for considering and implementing the proposed change?

SJSU’s Academic Senate S13-9 mandates the following steps be taken when considering the kinds of mergers proposed here. The policy calls for the following:

  1. The opportunity for meaningful consultation with all affected departments, staff, and students before the proposal is implemented.
  2. All affected academic units be informed of the proposed change and allowed a reasonable time to evaluate it.
  3. A proposal be prepared that considers the following:
    1. A rationale for the proposed change
    2. Resource implications
    3. Curriculum and accreditation implications
    4. Implications for students.
  4. Consultation with the Dean and Provost
  5. The provost should announce a voting timeline of no fewer than 5 or more than 15 faculty duty days.
  6. The advisory votes of the tenured and tenure track faculty as well as those of part time faculty will be tallied and recorded separately and the results made public within 7 calendar days of the vote.
  7. Any parties involved in the process who believe that meaningful consultation did not occur may request a hearing before the Organization and Government Committee of the Academic Senate within 20 faculty duty days of the announcement of the results of the vote.
  8. The senate will archive all successful proposals and accounts of the consultation process.

The proposed merger has followed senate policy, and consultations are described in the formal proposal.