Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Proposal to Change the Literature Curriculum at Cal State Northridge

Below is the rough draft of the document presented to the English Dept. Literature Committee on April 20, 2016. I am not enclosing the 90 pages of attachments.

Comments and revisions are incoming from various parties involved. I will post the updated and full version of this proposal on May 10, 2016. The English department meeting on May 13, 2016, is scheduled as the moment to present this proposal to the voting English faculty.



April 20, 2016

Table of Contents.

1.     Narrative/Statement from R.O. Lopez
2.     Program Modification Proposal
3.     Program Curriculum with Track Changes
4.     Proposal for English 257: Homer to Dante
5.     Proposal for English 276: Trans-Atlantic Writers
6.     Proposal for English 317: Literature of Racial Minorities
7.     Proposal for English 319: Filipino Literature
8.     Proposal for English 354: Writing about World Literature
9.     Proposal for English 367: Queer and Trans Literature
10.  Proposal for English 471: Early American Prose 1630-1900
11.  Proposal for English 472: Early American Poetry 1650-1900
12.  Proposal for English 479: Popular Media in the Twenty-First Century
13.  Proposal for English 480: Diverse World Drama
14.  Timetable for Implementation

Statement from R.O. Lopez


            This packet of documents presents a proposal to change the literature curriculum in the English department. The changes are modest but urgent given the department’s poor track record in hiring and retaining black and Latino faculty, falling enrollments in the major, and current nationwide attention to issues of racial and intellectual diversity on university campuses. The present suggestions come advisedly after seven years of consultation and advisement, as detailed in this narrative. There are four main objectives involved in this proposal, six points of change, and ten new courses proposed.

Summary of Consultations

            The following list summarizes the conferrals, consultations, and advisements precipitating the present document. All meetings included Robert Oscar Lopez of English unless otherwise noted.

1.     2009: Conferral with Chicano Studies and George Uba, regarding English 487.
2.     2009: Conferrals with the following departments in conjunction with the CSU Intelligence Community-Center for Academic Excellence: Jewish Studies, Anthropology, Urban Studies, Geography, History, Communications, Art, Political Science, Gender and Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Military Science, Religious Studies, Liberal Studies, Cinema & Television Arts.
3.     2009: Conference “Sex and Nation-State” integrating multidisciplinary approaches to sexual diversity in national security.
4.     2010: Meeting with Dean Stella Theodolou regarding national security studies.
5.     2010-11: Meetings with Dean Elizabeth Say regarding world literature curriculum and classics.
6.     2011-12: Conferrals with the following departments to discuss world literature possibilities: Asian American Studies, Central American Studies, Philosophy, Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Theatre, Deaf Studies, Pan African Studies, Religious Studies, English.
7.     2012: Two presentations before the Department of English faculty on world literature possibilities, including report on study into curriculum of peer institutions and local community colleges.
8.     2012: Beck Grant-supported team-teaching trial with Philosophy and English, testing simulations in literature classrooms.
9.     2012: Conferral with Dr. James Solomon.
10.  2012-2013: Supported by external grants, “Myth Goes to the Movies,” a six-part film series testing the use of films, guest speakers, and research galleries to integrate literary study into other forms of study.
11.  2014: Supported by external grants, “Bonds that Matter,” combined guest speakers and research galleries to broaden trans-historical literary study around themes.
12.  2015: Summer retreat of English Department focused mostly on literature curriculum revision.
13.  2015: Monthly department meeting (English) devoted largely to discussing English 436, Major Critical Theories.
14.  2015: Two open forums led by Literature Committee to discuss literary changes.
15.  2015: Two monthly department meetings devoted partially to discussing changes in literature curriculum (R.O. Lopez was not present).
16.  2016: Two Literature Committee closed meetings devoted to drafting a literature curriculum change proposal.
17.  2016: Conferral with Kimberly Embleton (Oviatt Library) to discuss support for new curriculum.
18.  2016: Two conferrals with Chair of English, Kent Baxter.

The following are documents or organizations that provided additional regulatory guidance for the final draft of this curriculum change:

1.     Modern Language Association Job Information List.
2.     American Association of University Professors, “1940 Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure with 1970 Interpretive Comments.”
3.     Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission, 2013 Handbook of Accreditation Revised.
4.     Executive Orders 1096 and 1097, signed by Chancellor Timothy White.
5.     General Counsel of California State University, Conflict of Interest Handbook, published December 2014.
6.     Statement by Provost Yi Li: “Announcement for the Cluster Faculty Initiative and Request for Proposals for the 2017/18 Hiring Cycle” (March 4, 2016).
7.     Statements by President Dianne Harrison: “Giving Thanks” (November 25, 2015) and “Chief Diversity Officer Appointment” (March 15, 2016).
8.     Dr. Kent Baxter’s Chair’s Report, March 2016.

Four Main Objectives

Based on all consultations and advice from the above sources, four objectives emerged as key priorities/goals for a change in literature curriculum:

1.     Diversify the literature provided to students in English to incorporate more classical literature outside of the United States and Great Britain, world literature, literature in translation, and literature by people of color.

2.     Reform the curriculum in order to create long-term working conditions more likely to enable the department to recruit, hire, and retain black and Latino faculty.

3.     Reverse the decline in students choosing to major in English.

4.     Broaden the political perspectives available to students in the English department so that they have some opportunity to hear critical analysis from teachers with conservative worldviews.

Six Points of Change

In order to meet the four goals above, six overarching changes are included in this proposal:

1.     Modify Student Learning Outcome #4, to eliminate the phrase “British and American,” thereby leaving open the possibility of major curriculum that crosses or does not stay strictly within national boundaries.

2.     At the 200-level, replace the existing three-part required sequence (258/259/275) with a menu of five courses from which students may select three. This change would involve adding two new courses, Homer to Dante (257) and Trans-Atlantic Literature (276).

3.     At the 300 level, currently all English majors take English 355 (Writing about Literature). Modify this requirement so that students may opt to take English 355 as it exists or take English 354, a new course (Writing about World Literature). English 354 would entail the same critical methods as English 355, but would have a special requirement that over 50% of the reading material be literature in translation or literature outside of Great Britain and the United States.

4.     At the 300-400 level, increase the number of required “diversity” classes from one to two. Create two pools of diversity classes, one focused on racial/ethnic diversity and one focused on gender/sexual diversity. Students would have to take one course in each of the separate lists. A number of new courses should be introduced to broaden the scope of both these pools of diversity classes. (See proposals for English 317, 319, and 367).

5.     At the 400 level, add two new genre courses in the early American literature sequence (expository prose and poetry) to offset the focus on the novel.

6.     At the 400 level, reduce the number of courses required under “Twentieth Century” from two to one. This requirement should be renamed “Twentieth and Twenty-First Century.” To enrich this pool of classes, add courses in Popular 21st Century Media (479) and Diverse American Drama (480).

Statement from Robert Oscar Lopez

            CSUN’s literature curriculum is inadequate. It is both urgent and imperative that it be changed without further delay. Compared to peer institutions within the California State University system, CSUN’s literature curriculum is repetitive and exclusionary. Literature courses at CSUN neglect many texts considered integral to “Western Civilization” while also offering only weak selections in multicultural diversity. In consultations, Dr. James Solomon has claimed that the current curriculum originated in the 1990s after a dispute among intellectual factions; these factions, it appears, no longer exist in the English department. The present structure of our department’s literary program has outlived the debates from which it was born.

            In consultations, some faculty have claimed that this curriculum was forward-looking for its time. Yet even in the mid-1990s—which were a heyday for border theory, trans-Atlantic studies, critical race theory, postcolonialism, and queer theory—the curriculum was already excessively constrained by the national boundaries of the United States and Great Britain and adrift from the growing cosmopolitanism in the field.
            The racial dynamics of the curriculum are extremely problematic given that CSUN is a Hispanic-Serving Institution located in Los Angeles, where Black Lives Matter maintains an active and vocal presence. In 2013, Prof. Rodolfo Acuña published two articles in CounterPunch drawing attention to the institutional racism of CSUN: “The Illusion of Inclusion” on November 15, 2013, and “Institutional Racism” on December 12, 2013.  In the former article, Prof. Acuña called CSUN “a plantation run by white overseers that are getting increasingly defensive about their illegitimacy.”
            At almost the same time, I was publishing articles in American Thinker and Public Discourse. I discussed how racism manifested as an undercurrent in hostility to people with socially conservative views. I noted, for instance, that an alarming number of Christians sanctioned at universities over charges of homophobia were African American churchgoers like Eric Walsh or Crystal Dixon. These articles hinted at the possibility that my racial identity as a Latino might explain why I faced disproportionate backlash over political differences. While there were faculty members at CSUN with ties to the oft-maligned Koch Brothers, Clinton Global Initiative, and Lockheed Martin, the modest support I received in the form of small grants to advance traditional family mores—particularly views on abortion, sex, adoption, and marriage mirroring the views of Pope Francis and of the Southern Baptist Convention—caused me to be disproportionately targeted by off-campus mobbers and by on-campus detractors. As far as I know, no CSUN professor has been investigated pursuant to as many unmeritorious accusations as I have.
            I am certainly not the only professor of color who has come forward with evidence of differential treatment. At the time of Acuña’s articles, CSUN was already in the news because of a racial bias claim filed with the Chancellor’s Office in March 2012 by Prof. Marilyn Joshua Williams (this was reported on July 9, 2012, in the Los Angeles Daily News). The history of black protest against institutional racism is long and troubling at CSUN; for example, on March 12, 1992, just before the Rodney King riots, the Los Angeles Times reported that 500 protestors stormed the office of then president James Cleary to object to anti-black racism.
            At, proponents of reform in higher education have assembled the objectives of protestors at 77 campuses; their focuses vary. Some have focused specifically on representation of African Americans and Latinos among the tenured ranks. The specificity is designed to prevent institutions such as CSUN from “padding” their diversity to include white women, white homosexuals, Native Americans with minimal Indian ancestry, or Asian Americans in their diversity hire numbers. Stacking statistics this way has worked to hide discrimination against two specific racial/ethnic groups—blacks and Latinos—with a history of exclusion from such institutions.
            Protestors at several campuses have also drawn attention to ghettoization. They highlight the fact that universities mislead the public about their numbers of blacks and Latinos by hiring them through ethnic studies departments, which concentrate blacks and Latinos in controversial fields where they are most likely to bear the brunt of backlash. Such ghettoization often provides cover for discriminatory practices in traditional disciplines like English and history. Demands from various groups have already noted what I have noted in my seven years of study into CSUN’s curriculum: namely, curricular problems can fuel racial inequality in the student population and among the faculty.
            CSUN’s literature curriculum reveals a department struggling unsuccessfully to deal with diversity. The major requirements emphasize canonical works from Great Britain and the United States, while the catalog copy emphasizes mostly white authors. The sole diversity requirement, consisting of one three-credit class, does a disservice by making racial and sexual minorities interchangeable, therefore creating the possibility that English majors may avoid gender diversity by studying racial diversity, or avoid racial diversity by studying gender diversity.
            At the same time that there is national attention to institutional racism in higher education, there is growing alarm over the discrimination against conservatives in academic hiring and promotion. On Heterodox Academy, Jon Shields notes that while 36% of the country identifies as conservative, only 4% of humanities faculty do (even this figure is somewhat misleading since libertarians are often misconstrued as conservative; the Koch brothers, for instance, are liberal on virtually all social issues.) In a post on Heterodox dated November 23, 2015, Shields notes that this rate of underrepresentation makes anti-conservative bias more severe and alarming than discrimination against blacks and Latinos. Blacks and Latinos together make up about 30% of the United States but 7% of full professorships and 12% of assistant professorships. Indeed, the research by University of North Texas professor George Yancey fleshes this out with substantial data, since his survey found that large percentages of social scientists would be unlikely to hire or tenure professors who espoused conservative viewpoints.
            Just as white-dominated curriculum might fuel the lack of Latinos and blacks in higher education, so the explicit bias against the literature typically esteemed by conservatives in humanities curricula might contribute to the general exclusion of conservatives at colleges and universities. Many of the most vocal conservative scholars like Victor Davis Hanson and Bruce Thornton emerged from specialties in classics, Western civilization, or highly traditional literary history.
            CSUN’s literature program aggravates these exclusions at both ends. The major emphasizes canonical literature by white authors within reactionary national boundaries. Yet CSUN does not offer students a great books curriculum on par with programs one finds at institutions such as St. John’s. After all, if we are going to steep the students in white privilege, why not do white privilege well? But in fact we do not ground students in the world civilizations and traditions that informed British and American literary greats and made their flourishing possible.
            There is no Homer to Dante course at CSUN comparable to what one finds at San Jose State University. Nor is there anything akin to the literature in translation offered at campuses like Long Beach and San Francisco. Exacerbating these gaps is the lack of genre diversity. CSUN’s literature classes focus largely on novels and short stories, underrepresenting poetry, drama, and expository prose. The paucity of course material in antiquity and European literature in translation undermines not only the main sequence of literature in the major but also the efficacy of Major Critical Theories, which purports to school students in Greek, Latin, French, and German theorists with no substantive exploration of the literary tradition in those languages.
            According to Dr. Kent Baxter’s Chair’s Report of March 2016, our total number of undergraduate majors fell from 617 to 488 between 2012 and now. Our total of graduate students in literature fell by over 50% over the same period. This occurred during a time when the student population on CSUN’s campus was growing rapidly, swelling to over 40,000. While there are too many factors influencing student enrollment to blame the literature curriculum alone, it is nonetheless clear that the department’s literature curriculum is not helping matters. Departmental constraints discourage introduction of exciting topics or contemporary parallels, which often make literature more relatable to students. At the same time, the lack of true canonical integrity in our course of study dissuades those students who might accept the lack of diversity in exchange for a chance to experience a “great books” curriculum.
            Poor curriculum complicates hiring and retention of diverse faculty. When I joined the faculty in 2008, including me, there were four Latino professors and one black professor. Now there is no black professor on our faculty, and two Latino men have gone into early retirement. If I leave the department, the numbers of black & Latino faculty will have dropped from five to one.
            Things are not acceptable as they stand currently. The phrase most operable in this case is “public good.” Observe the very first standard put forth by WASC Senior Colleges and Universities in its 2013 Handbook of Accreditation Revised:
The institution’s formally approved statements of purpose are appropriate for an institution of higher education and clearly define its essential values and character and ways in which it contributes to the public good (12).
What is “the public good”? More clarification can be found in the American Association of University Professors’ “1940 Statement on Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure, with 1970 Interpretive Comments.” This document states, “The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition” (14). The corollary is that free search for truth means that curriculum must answer to objective criteria beyond and apart from the inclinations or biases of specific groups who might, at a given moment, predominate in academic institutions.

            Further clarification of the meaning of “the public good” can be found in the CSU Conflict of Interest Handbook published in December 2014, prepared by General Counsel. The introduction to this handbook refers to a sacred principle, namely, “the basic premise that it is a violation of the public trust for public employees to benefit personally from their public positions” (1). This foregrounds the crucial concept that higher educational institutions, especially public universities, cannot conduct their affairs primarily to suit the interests of employees, the institution, cliques within it, or political factions. There must be a material standard apart from what these particularized interests want. Something larger than powerful groups’ will to maintain dominance must be the prime motivating consideration.

            Because of the central importance of the “public good,” there are several reasons often offered for not changing the literature curriculum, which we should dispel.

1.     Over the last seven years, I have heard various parties say, “the faculty have to feel comfortable with whatever changes we make.” This is actually not true. We have a duty to provide a literature curriculum that allows students the full range of avenues to arrive at truths about the human condition, including both white and nonwhite perspectives, as well as liberal versus conservative perspectives. Tenure does not transform mortals into deities; professors’ comfort zones are not sacred. If colleagues react to this proposal by saying that they do not feel inclined to read my suggestions or converse with me because they do not like me or my tone, then they are not only being closed-minded and petty, but also violating the obligations of their profession.

2.     Over the last seven years, I have heard the argument that nothing has to be changed, or can be changed, unless we can provide evidence that there is a problem. This rationale is also untenable. Those who perceive and document problems have good reason to fear retaliation for raising such concerns before the department. Executive Order 1096 by Chancellor Timothy White defines “retaliation” as an “adverse action” taken against someone who in good faith believes that there is a discriminatory pattern and opposes it. People do not have to be members of a protected group to be victims of retaliation. I have opposed the curriculum and faculty dynamics in the English Department because I see that they discriminate against blacks, Latinos, religious people, and conservatives. I have endured many adverse actions as a result. Such a pattern is a telltale sign that exclusion of marginalized voices has progressed to a critical phase where the institution cannot self-correct without some drastic shift in approach and/or external scrutiny and pressure.

3.     Over the last seven years, I have heard people say that regardless of what the catalog or our official requirements say, they are teaching diversity in their classes already so everything is okay. This is not sensible. Sooner or later what we teach in the classroom will be judged by how it matches the curriculum that we are officially supposed to be teaching. Gentlemen’s agreements, special ententes with the dean, and camouflage of our true agenda cannot sustain us, nor should we engage in cheating if we expect our own students to be honest.

4.     Over the last seven years, I have come across people who say that we are not adequately paid to take on the extra work required to do a curriculum overhaul. Often this sentiment is coupled with the claim that the bureaucracy and protocol pose some insuperable barrier to changing our literature option. At times we hear that we cannot design new courses if we lack tenure-track faculty to teach them, but we cannot hire new people if we lack courses for them to teach; such a closed loop of foreclosed possibilities guarantees that nothing can change. These are all various forms of filibustering. Again, the public good is an important benchmark against which we must measure ourselves. The public has a right to object if we avoid a task as basic and existential as updating our literature curriculum and structuring new hires accordingly.

            Lest readers of this statement infer that I have a personal grudge against the department, I would like to address such a suspicion. CSUN’s English department has been a place in which I could not flourish or even participate as fully as white colleagues. I could opt to stew quietly in my frustrations or I could get off my rear end and try to do something positive. Hence, this packet.

            This statement will be posted online so members of the public, if they take an interest in higher education reform, can follow the debate and learn from us.

Yours truly,

Robert Oscar Lopez, PhD