UCLA faculty overwhelmingly approves required courses on diversity

A similar requirement was defeated three times over the last two decades and remained controversial

UCLA’s faculty approved, by a large margin, a controversial new policy that requires most future undergraduates to take a course on ethnic, cultural, religious or gender diversity.

The strongly supportive vote announced Friday night was the culmination of efforts that began two decades ago and previously faced rejections.

In a tally posted online, the campus-wide Faculty Senate voted 916 to 487 to begin the requirement for incoming freshmen in fall 2015 and new transfer students in 2017. It would affect students in the College of Letters and Science, which enrolls 85% of UCLA undergraduates.

The approval in the two-week online voting is a victory for UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. He endorsed the requirement, saying the courses would help prepare students to live and work in a multicultural society. Other supporters said the case for the classes was made more compelling by several recent incidents on campus that raised allegations of anti-Semitism and a lack of attention to racial bias.

Opponents said students were overburdened with other requirements, particularly in the sciences, and said the budget-strapped university could not afford extra classes. Additional questions were raised about whether these classes improve ethnic relations and whether they typically skew left politically.

Most other University of California campuses and the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture already require such courses.

Similar proposals were rejected by the UCLA faculty three times in the last two decades. And the vote announced Friday came after a lengthy and difficult process.

In late October, the faculty of the College of Letters and Science voted by a narrow margin – 332 to 303—for the requirement. In the following weeks, two other faculty panels added their approval. At that point many people on campus thought the debate was finished. But as allowed by campus rules, opponents petitioned for a vote by the entire campus faculty, a much larger group, and an election was scheduled.

“A diversity-focused course requirement has been a long-standing priority for me because of its clear value to our students, so I am very pleased with the campuswide faculty vote approving the proposal,” Block said in a statement Friday. “I want to thank the many faculty members and students who have worked hard for several years to make the diversity requirement a reality.”

In the recent online election guide, 70 professors and administrators posted statements of support and five expressed their opposition.

Among those for the new requirement, physical sciences dean Joseph Rudnick wrote: “Just as a proper introduction to the nature of the scientific enterprise is an irreplaceable component of a complete education, an exposure to rigorous scholarship on diversity is essential preparation for life in the world that awaits our graduates.”

In contrast, political science professor Thomas Schwartz wrote that there is little need for the courses and that proponents seem to be exaggerating how biased UCLA students are.

“The idea that 21st century American 18 year-olds who have been admitted to UCLA are so afflicted with bigotry that they must be forced to endure an attitude-altering course is preposterous. It is like forcing Norwegians to get inoculated against malaria,” he wrote.

Supporters say the requirement measure would not increase the units needed for a diploma and that many students are already taking classes that meet it. More than 100 existing courses across many departments are said to fit the bill and more will be added.

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