Minneapolis, MN – On September 14, 50 University of Minnesota students, staff and faculty gathered outside of the Student Union to join Students for a Democratic Society at their first rally of the semester to demand that the administration chop from the top and fully fund their ethnic and gender studies programs.
Students and other members of the campus community have been putting pressure on the UMN Board of Regents to defend ethnic and gender studies programs within the College of Liberal Arts through financial means since April, when university faculty from these departments reached out to SDS regarding alarming budget cuts that had been proposed by administration. Had these cuts been approved, American Indian studies would have seen a 50% decrease in its departmental budget. African & African American studies and Chicano and Latino studies Departments faced a 30% decrease, and Gender, Women & Sexuality studies a 10% decrease.
After outrage from university stakeholders and protests held by SDS, GLU-UE, AFSCME, and AAUP, the College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman publicly claimed that these proposed budget cuts had come about due to an accounting error and that they were no longer being considered, after $2 million that had allegedly been misplaced was relocated. Despite this, the College of Liberal Arts, which houses all the aforementioned departments, had its annual budget slashed by 11% across the board.
Regarding this supposed accounting error, SDS member Natalie Rath stated, “For a university of this size and stature, making insanely large ‘mistakes' like this is absolutely laughable and ridiculous. Keeping things like this hidden from the public also reflects very poorly on the university. We demand full transparency about where our tuition money and labor is going.”
The approach SDS suggests that UMN administration take to ensure funding for these programs is to chop from the top. As SDS member Fa’aumu Kaimana states, this is because “The issue is much more systematic than the threat of looming cuts. Ethnic studies are chronically underfunded, workers are chronically underpaid, all while top university executives get paid six and even seven figures!”
Kaimana continued to list SDS’s other demands for administration, including meeting the demands of the Towards Recognition and University-Tribal Healing (TRUTH) Project and employment security for untenured instructors and other departmental workers.
The budget cuts UMN SDS is fighting against come at a time when ethnic and gender studies are under attack at colleges and universities nationwide, especially in Florida, with Governor Ron DeSantis’ House Bill 999 which outlaws all diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on college campuses. It was this legislation that the Tampa 5 were protesting against when they were brutalized and arrested by University of South Florida Police Department officers. It is vital that we stand in solidarity with the Tampa 5 and all other progressive forces fighting for the protection of these programs that were hard-won by student organizers of the past to protect the rights of Black, brown, native, trans and queer students.
Other speakers at this rally were Sasmit Rahman from UMN SDS, Juli von Zenker from AFSCME 3800, and Jae Yates from Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar.
To keep up with the fight for ethnic and gender studies in the Twin Cities, follow @UMNSDS on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.