By Gabriela Flores
Reporting Assistance by Matt Hirsch
As the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Department was expected to only have three professors come fall – below the minimum five full-time faculty “widely accepted” by CUNY for a department – many Brooklyn College professors signed a letter that demanded BC supports the additional hiring of faculty for PRLS. Though college administrators met some of the letter’s demands, PRLS will remain below the CUNY minimum with only four professors – continuing a nearly-decade long understaffing struggle.
“[…] It took us petitions and raising a ruckus, social movement, building an organization to say, ‘We need this.’ In other words, year after year it feels like I have to beg and plead for resources,” PRLS Chair Alan Aja said, noting that the department’s four professor count for this fall is better than the initially projected three. “We’re tired of doing that.”
The letter garnered 129 signatures, and was sent to President Anderson and Provost Anne Lopes on Apr. 10. No PRLS professor contributed to writing or signing the letter, which demanded that the college approve another candidate to be hired for PRLS along with a search for a senior faculty member in the 2022-2023 year.
“‘Celebrating diversity’ without committing resources to support minority-serving departments and programs is a hollow gesture. We urge you to do what should have been done years ago: authorize PRLS to hire the faculty it needs and its students deserve,” the letter read.
BC administrators gave PRLS the go-ahead to hire an additional professor, increasing the department’s fall projected total of professors to four rather than three. For Aja, who did not know of the letter until its release, the callout carried a great significance.
“That was the most support I’ve ever felt here – we’ve ever felt here. And so I think that represents the kind of contributional significance of PRLS to the entirety of Brooklyn College,” Aja said.
With PRLS Deputy Chairperson María Pérez y González moving to an administrative role, Aja will remain the only tenured professor for PRLS. Since PRLS lacks more tenured professors, most professors who make up the department will be unable to advise students long-term or vote on governance related to the department, including the Appointments Committee which requires tenured professors for hiring decisions.
“That means that we have to borrow from other departments’ tenured professors who already have to do service in their department,” Aja said. “In other words, without tenured professors, your governance model doesn’t function.” One PRLS professor is currently on the tenure track, while another two professors, including Dr. Carla España, will join the department come fall.
Throughout its years of understaffing issues, PRLS was told by administrators that budgetary constraints could not support the hiring of five full-time professors to reach a departmental minimum, according to Aja. Earlier on during the pandemic, when the college required most departments to cut 30% of their respective course offerings, PRLS, as a smaller entity, was hit the hardest.
“An equal cut across the board had a disproportionate impact on us, which meant that students didn’t have the available courses they needed in order to graduate,” Aja said.
Since its establishment over 50 years ago, many students have continued supporting PRLS given its history of student protests and activism. For members of the Puerto Rican Alliance, an organization that formed a year after PRLS’ inception, the continuous understaffing presents its challenges and will eventually lead them to vocalize for more PRLS professors.
“When considering the importance of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College, I’m often reminded of the saying of Dr. María Pérez y González: that Brooklyn College is a treasure chest, and our department is truly the pearls within,” said Christoper Arias, PRA’s president. “The lack of support from administration to properly staff the department is disappointing but not surprising as it reflects an ongoing neglect from the administration since the inception of PRLS that generations of students have been affected by.”
For students like Gabriela Centeno, the club’s vice president, the PRLS department overall has enabled her to learn more about her heritage.
“I genuinely see it as them erasing our history, I really do,” Centeno said. “[…] Especially Brooklyn College, it’s such a diverse institution – you see so many people from so many backgrounds and viewpoints – and to kind of take away from the departments that teach about minority students and the history of minority departments, you…essentially are erasing our history. And that’s not fair.”
As PRLS continues pushing for more faculty to meet and eventually exceed the five full-time professor minimum, advocates and professors think other departments are also in need of more faculty to strengthen BC’s anti-racist curricular efforts.
“[…] It is of utmost importance to support and strengthen the existing resources it [Brooklyn College] already has in place—its ethnic studies departments/programs and faculty who have expertise in this area,” wrote Dr. María Pérez y González in an email to The Vanguard, “by acting swiftly to address critical needs once they arise, not allowing for any other department, or student population it represents, to experience what PRLS has.”