Chicano and Latino Studies department problems persist

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Amid complaints that the Chicano and Latino Studies department is suffering from a lack of funds and resources, University of Minnesota leaders are reaching out to find solutions.

But department leaders are still skeptical any real change is coming.

Faculty members met with College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman on Monday afternoon to discuss the issues within the department that they say stem from a shortage of full-time instructors. Department leaders said they left the meeting disappointed, still searching for concrete solutions.

“I thought it would be something substantive,” said Eden Torres, the department’s chair, “but it was just the same
conversation.”

She said the program is stretched thin, with only one full-time faculty member and a reliance on contingent faculty members to teach its courses. But CLA didn’t approve the department’s request to include a new hire in the college’s budget this year.

Coleman, who is in his first year as CLA dean, recently announced the college’s “road map” for the future. He said in an email that the department’s future, like all others in CLA, will be dependent on what the road map planning teams deem important to pursue in the coming years.

“I look forward to working closely with Chicano and Latino Studies and all academic units as CLA’s future takes shape,” he said in an email.

Torres said that Coleman gave the department permission at the meeting to request a new hire this spring as CLA’s budget meetings for next year begin.

The department wants to fill a position after a full-time tenured professor left last year, she said.

David Melendez is a graduate student taking a seminar course in the Chicano and Latino Studies department and has been involved in the recent
discussions.

He said even if CLA approves the request to hire another faculty member this spring, an immediate solution to the department’s problems isn’t near. He said there would be an extensive search process for filling the position, which likely wouldn’t conclude until 2016.

While the program’s low enrollment numbers are cited as a reason for the department’s current state, Melendez said, the problem is self-perpetuating.

If the University doesn’t increase its investments in the department, he said, the program will struggle to increase enrollment.

And that problem makes it difficult to attract top faculty to lead the department.

“How can we recruit someone who’s ready to take over the department without any promise of growth or increased resources?” Torres said.

At the meeting, Torres said Coleman suggested solutions like reaching out to Latino faculty members across the University to integrate Chicano and Latino studies into their courses.

Despite the proposed solutions, Torres said she isn’t confident the University will invest in the department anytime soon.

“It was pretty much the same conversation I’ve had before,” she said. “I guess all I can do is keep trying.”