AES Retreat: Looking Forward

AES faculty at the September retreat.
AES faculty at the September retreat.

On September 19th, AES faculty and staff participated in a daylong departmental retreat at the Urban Horticulture Center to review and update the curriculum and to revisit and revise the department’s mission and goals. The retreat also served as an opportunity to familiarize four new faculty members with the range of work all AES faculty will be doing in the classroom over the coming academic year. Professor Juan Guerra, the department chair, moderated the first discussion on curriculum; Professor Sonnet Retman, the department’s associate chair, moderated the second discussion on mission and goals.

In small groups, members of the three concentrations in the department (African American, Asian American, and Chicano/Latino studies) reviewed their specific course catalogs and discussed ways to add new courses, as well as modify existing and delete outdated ones. In preparation for this work, faculty reviewed the current course offerings provided by ethnic studies departments at UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, and the University of Southern California—west coast programs that both parallel AES and offer contrastive options that faculty could consider. Keeping in mind that the process of revising the curriculum will take more than a single year to complete, faculty in each concentration immersed themselves in conversations about the kinds of changes they would like to undertake in light of the department’s legacy of commitment to communities that represent AES students and the emergence of new theoretical ideas governing the subject matter at the heart of each concentration. After a faculty member from each concentration offered a synopsis of their discussion to the entire department, faculty as a whole engaged in a conversation about how the intersection of the various concentrations can and should inform AES courses in comparative ethnic studies.

Because an academic department’s mission and goals filter down and influence much of what faculty do in terms of their scholarship, teaching and service, AES faculty also revisited the most recent version of its mission and goals developed by Professors Erasmo Gamboa, Gail Nomura, LaShawnDa Pittman, and Sonnet Retman in March 2015. As they did when they discussed the curriculum, faculty also reviewed copies of the mission and goals posted on their websites by ethnic departments at UC Berkeley, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, and the University of Southern California. Professor Retman, who moderated the discussion, encouraged faculty to pay particular attention to the kinds of revisions they would like to undertake in light of the significant transition the department is currently experiencing as a consequence of a series of retirements by senior faculty who have served the department for several decades and the on-going process of hiring new faculty who will contribute to the department’s direction for many years to come. In the view of the department chair, discussions about the curriculum and its mission and goals gave faculty a moment to reflect on the “concepts that best represent the department’s on-going evolution in light of the local, regional, national and global issues that we currently face and anticipate facing in the future.”

After very productive and engaging discussions among themselves about the department’s future, AES faculty and staff welcomed Divisional Dean Judy Howard who attended the last hour of the retreat to learn about the changes the department was planning to undertake in its mission and curriculum, as well as talk about ways in which her office could support the department’s efforts. During her visit, faculty raised a number of critical questions regarding the future of the department—especially as it relates to the hiring of new faculty and the challenges the department faces as a consequence of efforts by other departments to integrate subject matter from the AES curriculum into their own courses. In her concluding remarks, Dean Howard accented the College of Arts & Science’s firm commitment to AES and expressed appreciation for the tremendous energy she witnessed in the room. In light of the changes taking place in ethnic studies at both the local and national levels, the retreat served as a crucial moment of reflection for the department on how best to address the changing needs of the students and the university community through updates in its mission and a transformation of its curriculum.

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