DMP: Journalism - Mass Media Menagerie
Mass Media Menagerie

Budget Cuts in the
Land of Plenty

It's hard to comprehend words like "budget cuts" in a place like College Eight. Here, in the gray cement and turquoise steel "environmental college," the buildings rise up out of the ground like some kind of technological Mecca. Here is the place where the toilets flush by themselves and you can check out a video camera for the weekend. Here is the place where all the classrooms have audio/visual equipment and all the conference rooms have sinks. Here is the last bastion of hope for educational funding. It's hard to comprehend the words "budget cuts" here, but here is where the money ran out.

College Eight is the home of the Community Studies (CS) Board, which can comprehend the words painfully well. It's been hit hard for next year, and it's making sacrifices.

But the budget cuts aren't the only thing plaguing this land of plenty. When the cuts come down, people start looking around for someone to point their finger at and cry scapegoat. Yes, sacrifices get made in tough budgetary times. but not all of them have to do with money.

Mike Rotkin's Mass Media and Community Alternatives class (CMMU-80D) has become one such sacrifice. It is, debatably, one of the most popular classes on campus. With over 500 students each year, it is the biggest class in the CS Board. It is also one of the few classes that satisfies the media criticism requirement for journalism minors at UCSC. Why, then, would the CS Board cancel it?

The immediate villain is the UC budget. Everyone I talked to was quick to point out that these are tough budgetary times. And times are tough. The Social Science Division had to cut one million dollars from it's budget for next year. But ironically enough, the course would not cost the university a dime. Rotkin has taught the course for the last 15 years for free because he is paid as the CS Field Study Coordinator, not as a lecturer. The only cost to the board would be in TA's and readers, which Rotkin said he would be willing to teach the class without.

"I scheduled the course assuming I was going to teach it again and was told by Sherry Phillips [CS Board Assistant] that instead of getting six TA's and 13 readers which I got last year, I would get one TA or two readers," said Rotkin. "First I was angry, but then I thought maybe I'll work it out somehow using volunteers and teaching students to lead their own sections." Two weeks later, the board canceled the class.

When I contacted Phillips, she said, "I don't want to contribute to this article" and told me to leave her office.

Community Studies Board Chair Nancy Stoller said that the cancellation of the class was a "primarily financial" decision. "We didn't receive enough institutional support for TA's and readers in order to be able to offer all our courses."

But according to Social Science Associate Dean Bob Jorgensen, CS has only one less TA than last year. "The cut that CS took was very typical," he said, "some boards actually took bigger cuts." So if the CS Board is not saving any money by cutting the course, why do it? "That's a curricular decision, really," said Jorgensen.

"We had to cut somewhere and that's where we chose to cut; a lower division course that's not required for our major which is taught by somebody who hasn't been paid for it," said Stoller. "All things considered, that was, from our point of view, the best course to cut."

But the course does fulfill a requirement for journalism minors (there is no journalism major at UCSC, it was cut four years ago). "The journalism minor requires a media criticism class which Mike Rotkin's class fulfills," said Roz Spafford, head of the Writing Committee. "We have a media criticism class of our own which I teach (Writing 167), but because of budget cuts on our side, we're only able to offer that class every other year."

The CS Board Chair was unaware of the requirement
CMMU-80D fulfilled. "Journalism never told us that,"
she said, "that is the first time I've ever heard that."

That means Spafford's 23-person, bi-yearly class must accommodate all of UCSC's journalism minors. "If somebody is here for four years, then that's not a problem," said Spafford, "but if they're a transfer student and they happen to get here during the off year, it's going to be really difficult."

"I'd like to make my class open to people of other majors... politics, sociology, community studies... but between the unavailability of Mike's class [CMMU-80D] and the reduced offering on our side, I may have to limit [Writing-167] to minors," said Spafford. "So I think that will be a loss to the campus as well."

The CS Board Chair was unaware of the media criticism requirement that Rotkin's class fulfilled. "Journalism never told us that it was a requirement," said Stoller, "that is the first time I've ever heard that."

"I feel bad for you," she added with a nervous laugh.

And it gets even more complicated. Enter into the picture the Ad Hoc Committee on Field Studies. The Committee of faculty and staff in the Social Science Division was formed to review UCSC's Field Study programs for cost-effectiveness. Among other things, they recommended that Rotkin, who is the Community Studies field study coordinator, take a 25% salary cut. According to Rotkin, "the rational was, if I was spending all this time teaching, I must have time on my hands."

"The fact that I work twice as hard as other people doesn't seem to matter," he added.

"That's not how I view it and that's not how the [CS] board views it," said Stoller. The cancellation of CMMU-80D "had absolutely nothing to do with the report."

But Rotkin has a different view. "If [the Social Science Division] is thinking that the fact that I do free teaching on the side undermines the credibility that I'm working hard in my position, then maybe I better do things that make it appear that the work is focusing more on the field studies ... and one way to do that is to have me spend less of my free time teaching for free," said Rotkin. "We're not talking about reality here, we're talking about appearance."

The board could not cut Rotkin's salary because his union contract requires a one year notice.

Though he spoke highly of Rotkin, Jorgensen said, "In some ways, a case can be made that the Mass Media course that he's teaching is really an overload course, way beyond what would be expected in terms of his assignment to manage and coordinate the field studies for Community Studies."

The likely solution would be to have professor teach the class, but according to Rotkin, "who else would teach it for free?"

"We'd be happy to have the course taught by another person if we were given resources for it, but the [Social Science] division was either unwilling or unable to give us the resources," said Stoller.

But the lack of resources are not the only thing stopping CMMU-80D. "I'm not willing, as a board chair to approve of [Rotkin] working without pay." said Stoller. "I don't think it's appropriate. To me, it's a matter of exploitation. It's immoral."

Of course, he has been teaching without pay for years and will be for years to come, as he will continue to teach his introductory Marxism course next year without being paid for lecturing.

"Something had to be cut," said Stoller, "and this is where we, as a board, decided to cut." When asked what the impact on students will be she replied, "students will have to take other courses."

When it comes to the budget cuts, everyone seems to be running around pointing their fingers at someone other than themselves. "In Kafka's novels, you know, it's not clear who the enemy is," said Rotkin. "Is it the Community Studies Board? I don't think so. They're sort of being rational about the information they're being handed. Is it the Social Science Division? Well, they didn't decide to cut back on the TA's. Is it the university as a whole that decides that a lecturer's teaching isn't worth measuring? Is it the Legislature for being bamboozled by ratios rather than looking at the reality of the situation? Is it the taxpayers in this state that don't care about higher education? There's plenty of blame to go around, but the end result is an absurdity."

Stoller is pointing fingers, too, though not any more specific. "Personally, I think there are other areas that could be cut," she said. But when I asked her where, she replied, "you know, I think that, you know, maybe in various kinds of purchasing different kinds of ways that people might redo some of the organization and management of the university."

There are cracks in the cement foundation of the environmental college. In this land of plenty, where the people planning the classes seem to know less about them than the students do, CMMU-80D has become a political prisoner, a POW of sorts, sacrificed by the Community Studies Board to appease the beaurocrats that be. As of now, the students of UCSC are left without the only two media criticism courses they had and stuck with, what Mike Rotkin put so eloquently, "a classic case of a beaurocracy gone mad."


As of April, 1995, Mass Media and Community Alternatives is still not being taught and Roz Spafford's class is still overcrowded. There are no plans to rectify this situation. The madness has not gone away. – DMP

Story by Derek M. Powazek. Illustration by Josh Book.

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