Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Budget Cuts Force San Francisco State to Make Tough Decisions: Talk of Closing Engineering School Sparks Debate, Illustrates Severity of Problem

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Budget Cuts Force San Francisco State to Make Tough Decisions: Talk of Closing Engineering School Sparks Debate, Illustrates Severity of Problem

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO

Because of state budget cuts, San Francisco State University is poised to eliminate some academic majors and make it tougher for students, many of them minorities and economically disadvantaged, to earn degrees in prestigious fields.

And while universities in many states are axing faculty and programs, San Francisco State's recent consideration over whether to close its engineering school illustrates the severity of budget problems.

Officials are trying to bridge a $22 million gap. Engineering has been spared, but the fact closure was even discussed "gives you an idea of how serious things are these days," says Dr. John Gemello, SFSU vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Indeed, engineering is not an outdated, obscure subject. At SFSU, engineering enrollment has grown 50 percent since the 2001 spring semester to its current 700 students. An additional 648 undergraduates have been admitted for the fall semester. Among SFSU departments, engineering is medium-size with 17 tenure-track Faculty, while large ones like biology have 50, Gemello says.

Glen Cassis, treasurer of the National Association of Precollege Directors, isn't familiar with SFSU's situation, but does consider their debates over engineering "extremely extreme." His group's aim is to increase the pool of students, especially minorities, pursuing math, engineering and technology-related subjects. Cassis believes that even the thought of eliminating engineering at a comprehensive university sends students a bad message.

SFSU engineering graduate Kent Shephard agrees. An African American manager of a design center for a semiconductor manufacturer, Shephard was among throngs of alumni who lobbied the administration to save the program. "There's a mixed message being sent," he says. "Corporations don't have enough science and math professionals, so they are outsourcing work overseas as well as bringing in professionals from overseas. It's on the TV news every night. Then, to have universities turn around mad cut engineering doesn't make a lot of sense. Students won't enroll in programs they believe won't help them get jobs."

SFSU's undergraduate enrollment was 21,892 last fall. Asians made up 41.7 percent, while Whites were 30.6 percent, Hispanics 15.2 percent, Blacks 7.1 percent and Americans Indians 1 percent. The rest were from overseas or declined to specify ethnicity. About half the graduate students were ethnic minorities. Many SFSU students cannot consider other area universities. …

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