It’s still reasonable for Yolanda Broyles-González, the new American Ethnic Studies director, to think of her time at Kansas State University in weeks.
Broyles-González, hired by K-State this summer, is the first full-time director in the department’s history.
“I relish the challenge,” Broyles-González said. “I’m not frustrated in the least.”
The hiring of Broyles-González represents an important step for American Ethnic Studies, which received official approval as a department by the Kansas Board of Regents this month.
The previous directors all had other primary jobs within the university.
Peter Dorhout, dean of the College of Arts and Science, said people operating in other departments can’t give their full attention to the college’s newest department despite the best intentions.
“They’re only able to spend part of their time focused on the business at hand,” he said. “It makes it difficult for them to be focused, so we committed additional resources to hire a full-time director for American Ethnic Studies.”
American Ethnic Studies is a relatively new area of study at most universities across the country.
K-State’s program is only slightly older than a recent college graduate. The university established an ethnic studies secondary major in 1987.
Over time, it has grown to its current status as a department offering an undergraduate majors and minors and employing three tenure-track faculty and two instructors.
Broyles-González has found that American Ethnic Studies is the oldest unit out of K-State’s seven benchmark institutions—Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Colorado State, Iowa State and North Carolina State.
Broyles-González has been involved in ethnic studies programs at the University of Arizona and University of California at Santa Barbara prior to her arrival at K-State.
She said this type of work is her “calling.”
“Everywhere I have been, that has been my experience,” she said. “A desire to build ethnic studies has been a part of my lifetime work.”
Broyles-González said a strong ethnic studies program is necessary for the future.
The U.S. Census Bureau is projecting that people of color will represent 57.4 percent of the country by 2060.
“People are not prepared for that,” Broyles-González said. “We are witnessing gaps in the university training of people in the medical field, business field and all the fields.”
Broyles-González said it is important for everyone’s “cultural competence” to be up to par because it is a pressing social need.
Dorhout compared the current need to how computer science courses wouldn’t have been needed prior to the 1950s.
“It became necessary with the advent of computers and a new technology,” Dorhout said. “As needs arise, this is a typical process that the university undertakes.”
Dorhout said K-State students will need to be prepared for a changing world.
“As we prepare our students to be citizens of the world and address critical problems, we have to understand who we are and where we come from as well as understand the people with whom we’ll be living,” he said.
The department is running into the problem of trying to build a new program at a time when higher education officials are asking for more state funding but not receiving it.
From fiscal year 2002 to FY13, tuition revenue at K-State increased by 256.59 percent, while state revenue decreased by 0.6 percent.
For FY14, the legislature approved higher education cuts that reduced K-State by approximately $6.6 million due to a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut and a salary expense reduction.
The state’s FY15 budget also includes a 1.5 percent cut and salary expense reduction.
Broyles-González said the administration promised her a new faculty member this fall, but the cuts have put that hire on hold.
“This is something that I’m hoping in time will move forward,” she said.
K-State President Kirk Schulz said the university isn’t able to hire as many new faculty across the board.
“It affects American Ethnic Studies, but it certainly affects every academic unit on campus,” he said.
Schulz said the hiring priorities are usually set with provost April Mason and the various deans after the deans send their requests.
“As we build our budget, we see how many dollars we can allocate to new faculty,” he said. “A lot of times we don’t know what that’s going to be until April or May.”
Broyles-González said the department has worked to present a strategic plan to the administration to outline the importance of the program.
“Without a document or a strategic plan, you cannot negotiate,” she said.
Among the things the strategic plan calls for is four more tenure-track faculty members by fall 2015.
The department currently has three faculty members including Broyles-González.
Broyles-González said she doesn’t teach much as the director because she has to focus on department development.
“We don’t cover much beyond the intro courses because we don’t have the staff to do it,” she said.
Broyles-González said K-State is not offering history courses on Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Chicanos. She said those are “major gaps.”
The department also relies on affiliated faculty who teach some courses within their own departments that are also considered a part of American Ethnic Studies.
Broyles-González said the department’s potential growth is unstable right now because of the freshness of the developments.
“If you make an investment in a unit, you have to protect it and see it grow into a viable unit,” she said. “This is a different priority than investing in a department that already has 20 or 30 professors.”
An online petition at change.org has been drafted on behalf of the American Ethnic Studies department.
As of Saturday evening, 459 people have signed the petition, titled “Fight against racism for self-determination! Demand resources for American Ethnic Studies now!”
The petition lists seven demands:
• Hire three additional full-time tenure-track professors immediately.
• Give Alicia Brunson and Tosha Sampson-Choma tenure-track assistant professorships immediately.
• Stop “physically ghettoizing” American Ethnic Studies by providing better space for all core American Ethnic Studies faculty and staff in Leasure Hall immediately.
• Make changes so that the arts and science diversity committee will “stop existing in name only.”
• Refine K-State’s appointment policies, processes and procedures to overcome existing institutional barriers to diversifying faculty.
• Use Holtz Hall as the home of a multicultural student center, which the campus currently doesn’t have.
• Administer no disciplinary action to those participating in the petition.
At least one of those demands is on the path of being met.
Broyles-González said the department will get all of the offices in 114 Leasure as well as 103 Leasure when the Center on Aging moves from that location. A renovation of 103 Leasure is supposed to take place this spring.
The univerity administration recently responded to the petition in an open letter to the campus.
Schulz said K-State will continue to build the program, but these changes will come in time.
“We can’t be in a position to where just because people don’t like the pace of change, that means we’ll work on that and neglect everything else on campus,” he said.
Schulz said periodic updates will be given to the campus community, who will be expecting changes.
“To me, we’ve done fairly well in a limited budget and resource environment, but that doesn’t mean we can stop,” Schulz said. “The campus community will expect to still see continual progress.”
The petition hasn’t been endorsed by the American Ethnic Studies department, but Broyles-González said she wants to harness as many ethnic studies supporters as possible.
“My role is to ease tensions but not by dismissing them,” she said. “I’m trying to harness the energy that’s there into a positive direction.”