Protesting Funding cuts to the School of Interdisciplinary Studies at Purdue University

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We are writing to protest the drastic funding cuts that led to the decision to reorganize the School of Interdisciplinary Studies without faculty discussion in such a way that reduces program expertise, violates contracts, and risks hurting students enrolled in programs.  We understand that COVID-19 has necessitated “belt tightening”; but the cuts to the School of Interdisciplinary Studies are having an outsized effect on programs committed to various avenues of diversity and inclusion to which the university claims to be committed. We protest this in conjunction with this week’s Board of Trustees meeting, in which the “Diversity Taskforce” is being commissioned. We note that the programs being consolidated are ones that focus on minoritized and marginalized communities and scholarship, and on the relationship between race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability, language, and power relations. We request that the College of Liberal Arts reconsider this ill-conceived decision.

Due to budget cuts that are disproportionately affecting the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, the College is forcing 16 disciplines and fields to be consolidated into 6 groupings with a single director each. It is not possible for each director to have expertise in all of the disciplines they are assigned to lead. Programs key to understanding race, gender, ethnicity and ability are being stripped of their autonomous status and squeezed into umbrella formations in a manner that erases the work, histories and intellectual contributions of the SIS programs we represent. Some of us were founding directors of our programs and built them through the years to encourage rich pedagogic growth and success. Others of us, including student activists, have committed ourselves to sustaining the rich histories of our programs. Under this restructuring, leadership is largely being taken away from women representing various marginalized identities and placed largely in the hands of men.

The perhaps unintentional targeting of programs related to social justice is visible in the new structure, with the Philosophy and Literature program retaining its own, single identity even though it is a PhD program only, and has admitted no students for several years. While we support the existence and funding of this program, we cannot help but see injustice in the contrast with the programs that, for example, will be lumped together under the umbrella of the Race, Gender, and Intersectionality Division: African American Studies and Research Center, American Studies, Asian American Studies, Critical Disability Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies, and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, including the LGBTQ Studies minor. Many of these programs have a robust number of majors and minors and are still being deprived of their autonomous status. 

Whether intentional or not, this drastic budget cut effects a targeted attack on SIS and our mission and goals. We are a School that overwhelmingly consists of faculty of color, women, and members of other marginalized communities. We teach on issues that are in direct conversation with the ongoing current social, political, and racial climate. We teach and practice diversity, equity, and inclusion. Consequently, we see these drastic cuts on our budget as an attack on Purdue University’s mission of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” The lack of financial support will definitively impact URM student enrollment and support here on campus, especially in CLA.

Moreover, many of us had received written contracts outlining the terms and compensation for our directorships. Each directorship was offered, negotiated, and written up with the position offer, the compensation, and timeframe.These contracts are simply being discarded, and our terms abruptly ended. Some of us were promised new responsibilities and had thus appointed new faculty to our programs. All of us had started planning for the coming academic year. Failing to honor contracts, verbal and written, will further damage trust between faculty and administration. It will make it more difficult for the administration to convince faculty to take on administrative work in the future, because they will not be able to trust that the university will honor their commitments.

In light of these events, we would like to meet with the Provost, Vice Provost of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Chair of the University Senate to discuss the following demands: 

  1. A reversal of the current restructuring, which was made without faculty input. 
  2. An increase in resources to support the research contribution made by SIS faculty, affiliates, and graduate students.  
  3. A public acknowledgement of the contributions our programs and research make to the improvement of diversity, inclusion, and equity in the university community.

We request that the meeting be held before August 17, 2020 when the restructuring goes into effect. 

We are writing this letter in hopes of keeping questions of race, gender, and ability alive for our students as pedagogic disciplines as well as frames to negotiate the world around them at a time when we feel our administration has failed them with this decision.

As Professor Stefan Bradley of Los Angeles’s Loyola Marymount is quoted as saying in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “when institutions lose money, diversity, equity, and inclusion projects are among the first things to be cut.” We appeal to the Dean, Provost, and Board of Trustees to reverse this trajectory, given that it conflicts with the University’s mission to pursue diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

Signed,
Tithi Bhattacharya, Director, Global Studies
Marlo David, Director, African American Studies and Research Center
Jennifer Freeman Marshall, Director, Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 
Maren Linett, Director, Critical Disability Studies 
Shannon McMullen, Incoming Director, American Studies
Monica Trieu, Director, Asian American Studies