Black and Latino Studies department to make major

The Black and Latino Studies department is in the process of developing a major, specifically focused on Latino studies. Currently the department is the only one in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences that does not offer a major curriculum to students, only offering minors in Black Studies, Latino Studies and Black and Latino Studies.

Julian Tineo | The Ticker

Julian Tineo | The Ticker

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

However, both interim Chair John Wahlert and department professor Arthur Lewin stressed that the major is a ways away and students should not expect to see it on CUNYfirst for some time.

Departments create their own majors, curriculums and courses, not the administration.

The proposals for these majors, however, have to be approved by all levels of CUNY, starting with Baruch’s administration, through the upper echelons of CUNY, all the way up to the Department of Education in Albany.

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

Additionally, two individual Black and 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 U.S.,” 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 Latino Studies major.

The proposal has long been in the making, with Baruch administrators asking the department to create a major tract for several years.

Weissman Dean Aldemaro Romero Jr. assembled 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 New York City.

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 Romero.

“I shared with [The Ticker] that document about all the other [BLS] departments in the U.S. and I fought for that for to them [sic] 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,” Romero said to The Ticker in an interview.

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

“It just looks like they’re trying to destroy us,” he said of the administration, referring to the fact that the department hasn’t hired new professors in several years. In fact, according to Romero, the last time the department welcomed a new member was in 2013.

The 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 IX, Section E of the CUNY Bylaws.

The department only has three people on its 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, 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 chairs over the span of 18 years.

Four of these professors left and then later returned to 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, Wahlert, is simultaneously the chair of the Natural Sciences department.

He was brought into the position by 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 its current point.

In an interview with The Ticker, 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 already in existence at the time he made this comment.

The main reason for the department not hiring new professors is that there is not enough of a “demonstrated interest” in the department by students, explained both Romero and Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David P. Christy.

This school year, 128 students declared a Black, Latino or Black and Latino Studies minor, 72 of those declarations from the spring 2019 semester, according to data sent by Stephanie Govan, director of scheduling, registration, enrollment and data management.

According to Christy, Black and Latino Studies courses have had relatively good enrollment, but because the department lacks 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 and increasing enrollments, rather than for a small department like Black and Latino Studies, which has managed with the amount it has right now.

Additionally, there is a CUNY-wide hiring freeze, which means that the administration can’t hire new professors.

The combined hiring freeze and lack of a major put the Black and Latino Studies department 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 Lewin.

“So, I mean this is discriminatory treatment. Because it’s the Black and Latino Studies department — we gonna be treated differently than 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,” Lewin continued.

The Ticker reached out to three other professors from the department for comment, including former department chair Regina Bernard, but all declined.

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.