Due to the University’s plummeting endowment, Provost Etchemendy announced earlier this year across that there would be board budget cuts of approximately fifteen percent that would affect almost all university units and departments.
The Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) organized this town hall meeting to allow students of color to voice their concerns about budget cuts to their community centers: the Asian American Activities Center (AAAC), the Native American Cultural Center (NACC), the Black Community Service Center (BCSC), el Centro Chicano, the Women’s Center, and the LGBT Community Resource Center.
“[The community centers] aren’t just any other program on our campus,” said MEChA spokesperson Melissa Morales. “Fifteen percent for our centers is huge. We’re already under-funded.”
In their petition to the provost to “save our community centers,” students of color made three key demands: first, that all full-time employees of the community centers retain their jobs, maintain full-time status along with all contractual benefits and pay, and are guaranteed job security throughout the time of budget cuts. Second, that cuts made to the operational budgets of the community centers not exceed ten percent over the next two years and not be permanent. Lastly, that Provost Etchemendy and President Hennessy maintain their and the University’s stated commitment to diversity.
“We need to see commitment to diversity in tough times,” said Ms. Morales. “That’s when commitments are tested. Be accountable to the statements that you make.”
At the meeting, many students claimed that ethnic minorities might not attend Stanford if the centers’ budgets were drastically cut. Others noted that the community centers were critical to maintaining high retention rates for minorities.
“Our students would not come to this university if these centers did not exist. If you cut our centers, you will cut diversity at this university,” said Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO) spokeswoman Erica Chase. “These centers are vital parts to us being here. It’s like we live in these centers.”
Since the increased funding of the community centers and the development of the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicities major in the 1990s, the retention rate for black and Hispanic students has increased. From 1994-95 to 2001-02, the six year graduation rate for blacks and Hispanics increased five and eight percentage points respectively and are now nearly on par with the white graduation rate. The graduation rate of Asians has remained stable at about one point higher than that of whites while the graduation rate of Native Americans has fluctuated tremendously from 52 to 87 percent.
At the end of the meeting, the provost explained that the only unit that would not face cuts was financial aid, which he claimed was “the frontline to showing our commitment to diversity.” He expressed his regret at having to make difficult cuts and assured students that the centers would be protected as much as possible.
Despite the provost’s attempts to quell students’ anxieties, many left looking disgruntled. The history between the ethnic community centers and the university is long and fraught with tension. Since their formation in the 1970s, the community centers have experienced threats of budget cuts, which they have beaten back time and again with protests and petitions.
Since their formations, the community centers have come under fire for being segregationist and akin to special entitlement programs for minority students. These characterizations have fueled minority students’ claims that they need a safe space where they can be understood and not discriminated.
While the university has continually affirmed its commitment to diversity and spent millions of dollars to establish these “safe spaces” for students of color, many minorities have complained that its commitment to diversity and multiculturalism remains tenuous and allege that the community centers are under-funded.
In 1988, after racial tensions between white and black students came to a head in the black ethnic theme dorm Ujamaa, the university formed a Committee of Minority Issues to address minority students’ complaints of inequitable distribution of resources and perceived prejudice among white students.
“I’ve taken courses in Afro-American studies, and when you walk in building, you feel like it’s a Third World country,” said MEChA member Alex Sweet to the Stanford Daily.
In 1989, the Committee on Minority Issues released a 244 page report with 112 recommendations, including giving at least $7,500 more to each center annually, instituting residence-based multicultural education programs, making ethnic-related positions full-time, and establishing a curriculum development fund to support the creation of at least six new ethnic studies courses each year. While the report led to an initial increase in funding for the community centers, their budgets remained unchanged from 1989 to 1994.
In 1993, Provost Condoleezza Rice announced budget cuts of up to 30 percent to many units in order to reduce deficits and balance the budget. Students of color galvanized, submitting seven pages of specific suggestions for cutbacks to the president and provost.
Assuring students that the community centers would not face a 30 percent budget cut, President Casper claimed that students were using activism “as a strategy to put even more pressure” on the administration and were trying to avoid cuts by “taking a more strident position than was justified by the positions I have taken.”
Students of color claimed victory when the next year’s budget was released with no cuts slated for the community centers.
In 1994, the Stanford Daily reported that the Black Community Service Center (BCSC) had a budget of $156,573; the Native American Cultural Center (NACC) $151,635; el Centro Chicano $142,202; and the Asian American Activities Center (AAAC) $128,351. About 87-93 percent of their budgets paid staff and directors’ salaries. Each program had two full time professional staff and numerous student staff.
That year, however, BCSC director Barbara Smith resigned, citing “lack of support and leadership.” In a letter to Dean of Students Michael Jackson, she criticized the university for not resolving what she said was a “long-standing salary inequity issue” for some center staff. Soon later, Provost Rice allocated an additional $25,000 for each center for two years.
In 2001, each community center received an additional $25,000 of permanent funding and $25,000 of one-time funding to be spread over three years.
“This new funding reflects the university’s continued commitment to cultivate an environment that is not only intellectually challenging, but responsive to the rich cultural and social diversity of its students,” France Morales, director of El Centro Chicano, told the Stanford Daily.
But a year later in the dot-com bust, their budgets were threatened again with some of their additional $25,000 base funding in jeopardy. While each university unit took an approximate four percent cut, the university renewed its one-time $150,000 commitment to the community centers.
In 2003, the Office for Student Affairs took another five percent cut. But the community centers came out ahead with their one-time funds replaced with an increase of $140,000 in base general funds.
“This commitment of base funding sends a strong message to students, staff, faculty, and alumni that the university is committed to the centers, even in this difficult economic climate,” noted the university’s consolidated budget report FY2003-04.
In February 2003, after months of petitioning and planning, the BCSC also received the provost’s approval for a $1.3 million expansion that would include a 2,500-square-foot community room and patio as well as storage space and a small kitchen. In 2005, the president and provost promised to match the center’s fundraising efforts up to $650,000. The provost cited the project as an example of how the university and its alumni could cooperate to achieve goals.
**Every time in the recent past that the community centers have faced potential budget cuts, the provost and university have reaffirmed their commitment by either maintaining or increasing the centers’ funding. **
Although neither the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs nor the community centers’ directors would release the current funding for the community centers, The Review approximates each center’s budget to be between $200,000-$250,000 (given on average $150,000 funding in 1994 and $50-75,000 publicized budget increases since then).
Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman says that all community centers receive roughly the same level of funding. In determining funding for all the various VPSA units, the units’ specific needs are balanced with the needs of the larger organization. Once the centers receive their funding, their directors determine how to allocate funds in concert with the associate vice provost who oversees the centers and their operations.
According to co-chair of the Black Student Union Ashley Anderson, there are over 170 voluntary student organizations (VSOs) that operate out of and depend on the community centers for programming and financial support.
The VSOs obtain most of their funding from ASSU general funds, special fees, the Stanford Fund, academic departments and the community centers. By The Review’s calculations, VSOs operating out of the community centers receive more than $450,000 each year from the ASSU general fund, special fees, and the Stanford Fund. They also have over $200,000 in reserves.
Ms. Anderson says that the community centers are essential to supporting the VSO leaders and academic, cultural, and social programming for minority students. Among other services, they provide academic tutoring, graduate mentoring, paraprofessional counseling and community building programming.
The LGBT center, women’s community center, AAAC and el Centro Chicano have two full-time staff while the NACC has three and the BCSC 2.5. The centers also support paid student staff. For example, the BCSC lists 13 part-time student staff on its website, each working between five to ten hours a week.
Because student workers are paid by the hour, they will most likely face the biggest brunt of the cuts. Ms. Anderson claims that the centers “are willing to accept some minimal cuts” to student staff. She and other community center leaders also emphasize that the centers are not asking to be immune to budget cuts, but rather that they not face cuts as significant as other university units.
“We’re not asking not to be cut,” said BCSC director Jan Barker. “We understand that we have to be cut some.”
Full-time professional staff, such as Ms. Barker, usually has advanced degrees and are in charge of managing operations, overseeing events and providing support to students. The Office for the Vice Provost of Student Affairs would not provide their salary information.
“No student or student group could fill the place of a community center leader because making students feel at home at Stanford is a full time job,” said Ms. Anderson.
The community centers typically include directors’ offices, a computer cluster, kitchenette, student work area, entertainment room, and VSO meeting spaces. Some centers are more lavish than others. For example, the NACC includes a full-size kitchen and an ornately decorated den with a large, flat screen TV. The AAAC, which is located just above the NACC in the Clubhouse, is smaller and sparser. It has a tiny kitchenette and a combined work space/entertainment area with a small, box TV.
Neither the students nor professional staff knows exactly how a fifteen percent cut would impact the centers. NACC Assistant Dean of Students and Director Winona Simms said she had “no clue” what programs or staff would be affected.
Mr. Boardman noted that “cuts of ten or fifteen percent are significant for any budget. Across the student affairs division, unit level managers have had to make decisions about how they will absorb those cuts without seriously affecting our core services to students.”
Despite uncertainty over the effects of budget cuts, the NACC alumnus Jackson Brossy circulated an e-mail stating that the cuts would eliminate all student staff members, all graduate support and recruitment, Native Graduation Dinner and Awards Ceremony, Native American Orientation, additional books, periodicals, or films for the NACC Resource Library, annual research forum and symposium, conference travel and/or off-campus excursions, all Native community collaborative events at Reunion Homecoming and Admit Weekend and community activities like monthly potluck dinners, film series, guest speakers and visitors.
Mr. Brossy did not respond to an e-mail asking him how he knew what would be cut.
At first it was quiet, some muffled chatter and a few students holding up signs “I Heart Diversity” and “Protect Our Centers.” Then more students gathered with American flags emblazoned with Native American faces. At about a quarter past noon, over one hundred students were chanting “Unity, unity! Save our community!” and “Los centros unidos jamás será vencidos.” SOCC leaders called out to the crowd on megaphones:
“This is about making sure we graduate, that this university is safe for diversity. The administrators are undermining our struggle for 40 years,” shouted Asian Americans Students Association spokesman Christian Ngo.
“These proposed budget cuts will put us twenty years behind. Twenty years ago, we had a retention rate of 30 percent. Now we’re on par with the rest of the university,” hollered Stanford American Indian Organization member Stefanie Tsosie.
“I would have dropped out of Stanford sophomore year if it hadn’t been for the black house,” yelled Ms. Anderson.
“Why do we have to run this school on the Mother-f****r principal? I’m tired s**t of never cutting into our endowment,” shouted David Mitchell, President of the Stanford Labor Action Coalition.
“These [centers] are so essential to gay identity. Our outreach efforts eliminate homophobia,” screamed LGBT spokeswoman Jamie Tan.
After forty-five minutes of chanting and rallying, the students quietly lined up in a double-file line to walk over and present Provost Etchemendy their signed petitions to limit budget cuts to the centers. Since the provost was scheduled to inform individual units of their cuts on Monday, the students hoped that in the two intervening days the provost would consider their petitions.
In October, the SOCC had sent Provost Etchemendy a letter voicing their concerns about the budget cuts. But not until February did the provost respond and sit down at a meeting with the SOCC leaders to discuss their concerns. Since that meeting, the SOCC has been trying ever harder to impress their concerns on the provost through letters and petitions.
In March, Provost Etchemendy responded to the NACC’s concerns with a letter affirming that that the NACC plays a crucial role in recruiting and retaining Native American students, but that this does not exempt them from budget cuts. He emphasized that the cuts do not mean the university undervalues the contributions of the community centers.
“Some of you argued that the NACC is under-funded, and so should be exempt from a 15 percent cut,” wrote Provost Etchemendy. “Every unit on campus feels under-funded, and this is not surprising. A healthy, ambitious unit sees many things it would like to do but simply cannot afford, and as a result feels under-funded. That is a sign that the unit is vibrant rather than complacent.” He reaffirmed that closing the NACC or significantly reducing its programming and support is not an issue.
NACC alumnus Rachel Vernon ‘08 responded to the provost with an email on March 9th claiming that “…it is not ‘unfair’ to exclude community centers from the budget cuts, just as it is not ‘unfair’ that Obama is planning on raising taxes for the top 5% of the United States…We should not be denied the right to decide what gets cut from our fragile budgets; because truly as past and present students of color of this elite school, we, and only we, know what it takes to keep students at a place like Stanford…”
Overwrought that night after communicating decisions about the budget cuts to other administrators, the provost responded to Ms. Vernon with a curt e-mail, which Ms. Vernon circulated on SOCC chat lists. In the letter, he repeatedly called her wrong for presuming that she knew better than administrators how to allocate the budget and how to retain students of color.
“I have a request,” he wrote in the e-mail. “Print a copy of your message and put it in a safe place. In twenty years, take it out and read it. You will know then why I asked you to do that.”
Soon after the letter was circulated on various SOCC chat lists, the provost sent Ms. Vernon an apology for reacting too quickly to a tone in her letter that he called “presuming and unduly accusatory.”
But student opinion remained inflamed over the provost’s first letter to Ms. Vernon. Many called the provost’s response rude and unprofessional.
“Etchemendy’s response was unprofessional, period. I don’t understand how it benefits anyone to write such a vindictive and angry response to alumni,” said Taylor Cox ‘09. “Regardless of whether someone writes an annoying or entitled email, everyone deserves respect.”
Others believed that the provost was fully justified in his response. ASSU Senator Stuart Baimel ’09 wrote a letter to the provost commending his stand. Mr. Baimel noted that the provost responded cordially. Students unaffiliated with the SOCC generally agreed that while the community centers play an integral role in student life, they should accept a fifteen percent cut like most other university units and departments.
“Stanford is incredibly generous in how it funds diversity-oriented groups in the first place, and I think students should appreciate that before they criticize,” said Robin Thomas ‘12. “I certainly encourage students to be vocal about their opinions regarding how things should be run, as much as I agree that the university should continue its strong support of diversity. But students should pay proper respect to the university, its staff, and its policies as well.”
Students will have little information about cuts specific to the centers until the May faculty senate meeting when the provost will present an overview of the operating budget. Until then, the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs will be working on how to allocate funds within the unit.