Editors note: Retired California State University of Bakersfield professor, Gonzalo Santos, addressed the Bakersfield College Academic Senate Curriculum Committee in regards to two proposed courses.
Dear Curriculum Committee of the Academic Senate at Bakersfield College,
I am now a retired professor of sociology from your sister Bakersfield college, CSUB. For over 30 years I developed and taught some of courses on the Latino and Indigenous experiences in the United States. I also taught the general survey course on race & ethnic relations in the core curriculum, as well as developed the sole course on the sociology of immigration. I’d like to respectfully make two broad observations that ought to give you pause on turning down the proposed curriculum for two non-credit courses proposed by my esteemed colleague Dr. Oliver Rosales, focused on the farm workers’ historical experiences in our agricultural region:
1. There is, indeed, an historic debt to our area’s multiethnic agricultural communities, consisting of the woeful neglect and indifference on the part of our entire educational systems – from our K-12 school districts to our two sister institutions of higher education -, to teach the rich and complex history of farm workers in the Southern San Joaquin area, their current conditions, and the enormous challenges they continue to face.
Recent breakthroughs in developing agricultural science, engineering, and administration in both our colleges are commendable but are clearly not enough. For one thing, they benefit mostly the business side of our agricultural economy, while out social sciences, compartmentalized in the traditional departments, continue to lag behind or are simply remiss in teaching about, and to, our local rural working-class communities. That imbalance needs addressing.
Recently, my university has begun to remedy this longstanding omission by creating an ethnic studies department. It’s only a beginning, and much work lies ahead to make our history and social science curricula be truly relevant, meaningful, and useful to our diverse student body in a democratic society. But we at CSUB are already moving forward – faculty, administrators, and community – with newly found vigor and commitment to our core educational mission.
Your Academic Senate and your Curriculum Committee should be encouraging – not blocking – the development of innovative curricula and programs to help remedy your longstanding deficits in this area as well, working alongside your Administration, your faculty, and yes, your community. Much work lies ahead if you embark along this new course of action, but embark you must if you hope to remain a vital institution of higher learning, accountable in the last instance to our vibrant and diverse society.
A minimum first step would be for you to discuss, improve upon as is your professional task, and enthusiastically approve Dr. Oliver Rosales’s very modest proposal for a non-credit, two-course certification program on the history and legacy of our local farmworkers struggles. I would not presume to advise you on how to improve his modest but promising proposal, but I would strongly advise you not to simply turn it down – that would be a terrible mistake that would send a message to your students and our communities that you remain conspicuously aloof from – if not hostile to – their true long-term educational needs, for so long denied; educational needs which, I submit, have never been solely about technical knowledge and skills.
2. The specific context to the present orchestrated effort to deny Dr. Rosales’s curriculum proposal, supported by the BC administration and overwhelming Latino student body, is that you have on your campus an organized group of socially conservative white faculty that I would characterize are ideological hostile to all but the minimal multicultural education, which is their right to advocate for, but not to the point of blocking those in the vast majority of Californians that support it. Their loud and strident denunciation of Dr. Rosales’s very modest proposal and attempt to block it entirely did not spring from thin air.
For one thing, we live in a notoriously conservative region with a history of racism and xenophobia. For another, there is today across the nation – and B.C. is now smack in the middle of it – an emboldened counteroffensive on the part of the same social forces that fought tooth and nail against the multicultural gains of the past six decades that has come out of the woodwork in the past decade or so with renewed virulence and open calls to roll back said gains. I’m referring to the so-called MAGA movement and the huge conservative mass media ecosystem that feeds it. Today this toxic environment is whipping up a wholly manufactured hysteria against liberal education, attacking innumerable school district boards against their alleged collusion to teach so-called “Critical Race Theory”, “Marxist indoctrination,” “Socialism”, and “grooming sexual deviance” to their children.
All of it is patently false, but that does not matter. As sociologist W. I. Thomas memorably put it, “if a person perceives a situation as real, it is real in its consequences.” We in academia must deal with this false perception of the state of our educational systems methodically planted in the heads of millions of consumers of rightwing media, and the many followers of political demagogues. This ominous and potent return to what historian Richard Hofstadter famously described the ‘paranoid style of American politics” can be adequately explained by our social science, but here I merely want to state the obvious, that it has unfortunately already appeared on your campus; and that any misguided effort on your broader faculty and administration to appease it will only sow further regression and inevitable social conflict. For people of color are not going to quietly cede their gains to these deluded white colleagues in our midst just because they are deathly afraid of being “replaced” by a vast conspiracy against them.
As past eras of national paranoia have demonstrated, this latest bout of racist paranoia needs to be confronted by all of us non-Trumpists, exposed for what it is, and defeated in the halls of academia, in the mass media, and in the political arena. We – and I mean all academics and people of all backgrounds with good will – should therefore work together on this major challenge in the immediate period ahead. Academia is not above society, but is in society and must serve society – all of it, not just a part of it.
There is certainly a place for legitimate and robust academic debate over the pros and cons of any curriculum proposal, and faculty has a unique responsibility to make sure these proposals are sound academically, but what you are dealing with here is much more than a mere academic debate, it’s an egregious attack on multicultural education itself. Do not allow those faculty now organized to block any and all progress on developing a truly relevant, multicultural curriculum on your campus to sabotage your efforts to provide access and quality education to all.
Dr. Gonzalo Santos