Black and Latino Studies department to make major

Julian Tineo | The Ticker

Julian Tineo | The Ticker

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

The Black and Latino studies department is in the process of developing a major, specifically focused on Latino studies.

The Ticker was unable to receive a copy of the major proposal, but it is still in its preliminary stage and conceivably look very different by the time it is being approved.

However, both interim acting chair John Wahlert and BLS department professor, Arthur Lewin, stressed that the Latino major will be long coming, and students should not expect to see it on CUNYFirst for some time.

Majors, curriculums, and courses are created by the departments themselves, not the administration. The proposals for them, however, have to be approved by all levels of CUNY, starting with Baruch’s administration, through CUNY Central, all the way up to the Department of Education in Albany.

“The whole process of getting the major at CUNY is byzantine,” Professor Wahlert said.

Additionally, two individual Latino studies courses are going through the proposal process; one is a revised course and the other is an entirely new course.

The classes, titled Debates in Latin American Social Theory and Latino Communities in the US, will be 3000-level and can be used toward a Latino studies minor.

Since these courses are still in the proposal stage, it is undetermined when they will be available, as is the case with the LTS major.

The department, which is the only department in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences that does not have a major, had been requested to create a major tract for several years.

Dean Aldemaro Romero, Jr. put together a document in 2016 with information on black and Latino studies departments across the country. It was intended to assist the members of the department in creating their own major and establishing themselves better at Baruch.

According to the document, as of 2016 there were 290 Latino or Hispanic study programs in the United States, 10 of which were in New York City. There were 303 black, African-American, or Africana study programs in America, seven of which were in NYC.

Only two schools — Baruch College and Colgate University — had black and Hispanic studies grouped together in a single department.

The Dean’s document went on to give statistical data on enrollment numbers and included links to each of the black and Latino department websites from each school that had such departments.

The document, simply titled “Black and Latino Studies”, was created with the intention of pushing the development of a major along, according to Dean Romero.

In discussing the document with the Ticker, the Dean said, “I shared with [the Ticker] that document about all the other [BLS] departments in the US and I fought for that for to them and hopefully  one of these days they will find time to read it and say, ‘Oh look let’s do something like this or let’s differentiate ourselves by doing this or that’, but obviously this is a decision that the department has to make.”

Despite this, though, the department, spoken for by Professor Lewin, does not feel that it is receiving enough support from administrative members, such as Dean Romero.

“It just looks like they’re trying to destroy us,” he said of the administration.

He was referring to the fact that the department hasn’t haired new professors in several year. In fact, according to Dean Romero, the last time the department welcomed a new member was in 2013.

The BLS department currently has four full-time professors, including a lecturer, two tenured professors, and one professor who is currently up for tenure. 

A functioning department is supposed to have four full-time tenured professors and the chairperson in a personnel and budget committee, as stated in Article IV, Section E of the CUNY Bylaws. The BLS department only has three people on their committee — including the interim chair — because lecturers are not tenured.

This number got so low because professors retired, moved to other departments or moved to other schools, without replacements being hired.

Several professors, including chairs and interims, have requested to be transferred to other departments within Baruch and some moved to other colleges entirely, as Dean Romero said in an interview with the Ticker. The reason for this is not clear.

According to a document the Ticker received from the Dean titled “Black and Latino Studies Department, History of Department Chairs 1999-2018”, there have been 13 BLS chairs over the span of 18 years. 

Four of these professors left off and then later picked back up the position of chair, resulting in nine different professors holding the position. Three of these professors are still in the department.

 The current interim acting chair, Professor Wahlert, is simultaneously the chair of the natural sciences department. He was brought into the position by Dean Romero to sit on the department’s personnel and budget committee and does not know how long he will remain in the role.

After professors left the department, the number of faculty decreased to the point it is currently at.

In an interview with the Ticker, Professor Lewin expressed his frustration with the state of the department. 

He said that he believed the department could not develop a major or revamp its curriculum without the help of a larger faculty, despite the major proposal having already been in existence at the time he made this comment.

The reason that the department has not hired new professors was explained by both Dean Romero and Provost David Christy.

The main reason for this is that there is not enough of a “demonstrated interest” in the department by students. 

 According to Provost Christy, the black and Latino courses have had relatively good enrollment, but because they lack a major, their student interest isn’t as high as it is for other departments.

New professors are hired for departments that have a growing demonstrated interest that have increasing enrollments, rather than for a small department like BLS, which has been managing with the amount they have right now.

Additionally, CUNY is currently under a hiring freeze, which means that the administration can’t hire new professors at the moment. 

The combined hiring freeze and lack of a major put BLS in a difficult position for gaining new faculty members.

At the same time, the department’s secretary retired in January, leaving them without someone to answer the phones, direct students or unlock the office’s door.

All of this leaves the department feeling purposely put at a disadvantage, according to Professor Lewin.

“So, I mean this is discriminatory treatment. Because we’re the black and Latino Studies Department won’t be treated differently in every other department,” he said. 

“This is a pattern that’s going on in this country for hundreds of years. This is nothing new. Black and Latino people are treated differently than everybody else. It’s true in the national government, it’s true in the local government and it’s true right here in Baruch College,” Professor Lewin continued.

Previously, the department had been rumored to be closing, though the Dean and the Provost both told the Ticker that the closing of the department isn’t being discussed at all.