CREDIT: Luis Alejo
Press conference in support of the ethnic studies graduation requirement in Sacramento on June 27, 2018.
This story was updated at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18 to include comment from Assemblywoman Weber.

Gov. Gavin Newsom sided with the state legislature on Monday by signing a bill that requires California State University students who enter as freshmen in 2021-22 to take an ethnic studies course focused on one of four ethnic groups in order to graduate.

Assembly Bill 1460 requires all students enrolled on all 23 CSU campuses to take a 3-unit class in Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies or Latina and Latino studies. The bill proposed by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber passed the Assembly a year ago and the Senate in June.

The new law will make California the first state to require ethnic studies as a university graduation requirement, according to the California Faculty Association.

Newsom’s decision rejected a competing plan passed by the CSU board of trustees to require students to study ethnic studies or social justice from a broad array of courses taught across the universities. That plan gave the system two additional years to implement the requirement.

“The university will begin work to implement the requirements of the new legislation,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the CSU system.

CSU, which was opposed to the legislation, estimated that it could cost the system about $16.5 million per year to implement the new requirement.

One of the key issues during the controversy was whether the university would control its own curriculum, or whether the state legislature could or should tell it what to teach. Both the CSU chancellor’s office and Academic Senate, representing CSU faculty, opposed the AB 1460, viewing it as legislative overreach.

Newsom, who as governor is an ex-officio member of the board of trustees of the university, and who also sat on the board for eight years while lieutenant governor, sided in this case with lawmakers and an array of advocates lobbying for the new course requirement described in the legislation.

The university system had instead proposed its own ethnic studies graduation requirement that would have included “social justice” courses and classes that explore the history and culture of a range of communities that had experienced oppression, such as Muslims, Jews or LGBTQ people.

The CSU proposal, however, was opposed by ethnic studies faculty members and the California Faculty Association, which is the faculty union. The association celebrated Newsom signing the legislation, which it sponsored.

“Gov. Newsom, by signing AB 1460, has demonstrated his understanding of the power of a true ethnic studies graduation requirement to change people’s lives and to change the racial trajectory this state and country are on,” said Charles Toombs, the association’s president. “Moreover, Gov. Newsom, unlike so many others, has listened to and really heard the voices and lens of ethnic studies faculty, students and the community.”

CSU, the largest university system in the nation, has been a leader in ethnic studies education.  In 1969, the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State became the first college of its kind in the country. Cal State Los Angeles created the first Chicano studies program in 1968.  Every campus in the CSU system, except the California Maritime Academy, offers at least one ethnic studies course.

The idea of requiring an ethnic studies course to graduate has been discussed over the years. But this latest push occurred amid nationwide anti-racism protests, calls for systemic change ignited by the police killing of George Floyd, and significant calls for inclusion and diversity across university campuses.  This November voters will for the first time consider repealing the 1996 voter initiative banning the use of affirmative action in admissions and hiring at California’s public universities.

“What we are seeing in Washington and on American streets right now demonstrates the necessity of understanding the experiences and perspectives of these historically marginalized and oppressed groups who have nonetheless contributed to the building of our country,” Weber said.

A similar ethnic studies graduation requirement for high school students is gaining support in the legislature. Assembly Bill 331 would require students entering ninth grade in the fall of 2025 to take a one-semester ethnic studies course in high school. If it becomes law, California would be the first state to mandate such a high school requirement in the nation.

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  1. TL Stewart 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is nice but a semester of Ethics studies in High School and in college does not change the hearts and minds of people. Respect for people of different ethnic groups starts at home. That’s where it all begins. We need to begin this type of teaching when they come out of the womb.

  2. Jose Trevino 1 month ago1 month ago

    How about adding Christian studies, more people have been discriminated and killed because of their Christian beliefs. Even now more than ever before, Christianity is being attacked here in the U.S.A. Let’s be fair to all!!!

  3. Mark 1 month ago1 month ago

    Chalk one up for the grievance studies industry! Three credits spent on a semester of indoctrination that could instead be used (by choice) on something of actual academic, intellectual, and economic value.

  4. Peter 1 month ago1 month ago

    While learning more about any ethnic group is beneficial, this move by the California State University System doesn't seem to acknowledge the reality that California is now only 60% White, and that number continues to decline. According to the Public Policy Institute of California: "By 2030, 43 percent of the state’s population will be Latino and 34 percent will be white." Will Whites ever merit an ethnic studies program of their own when they become … Read More

    While learning more about any ethnic group is beneficial, this move by the California State University System doesn’t seem to acknowledge the reality that California is now only 60% White, and that number continues to decline. According to the Public Policy Institute of California: “By 2030, 43 percent of the state’s population will be Latino and 34 percent will be white.” Will Whites ever merit an ethnic studies program of their own when they become a minority in the state?

    Replies

    • TM 1 month ago1 month ago

      Just a quick question, Peter. What do you know about Filipino American history in California?

  5. Joshua Smith 1 month ago1 month ago

    This sounds like a tax and an impediment to timely graduation. The student is required to pay for a course and textbooks to be indoctrinated. Furthermore, they must squeeze it into their schedule, impeding less well-off students from graduating as soon as possible. I imagine there will be a legal challenge, and of course students will vote by taking their tuition dollars elsewhere.

    Replies

    • Michael Burke 1 month ago1 month ago

      To clarify, AB 1460 will not require students to take more credits in total. Here’s what the bill says: “Commencing with students graduating in the 2024–25 academic year, the California State University shall require, as an undergraduate graduation requirement, the completion of, at minimum, one three-unit course in ethnic studies. The university shall not increase the number of units required to graduate from the university with a baccalaureate degree by the enforcement of this requirement.”

    • TM 1 month ago1 month ago

      Indoctrination in what? If California history covered the perspectives and the experiences of the Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans or Latinos accurately and fully we wouldn’t need ethnic studies.

      • Paul Muench 1 month ago1 month ago

        Teaching a more complete history is a laudable goal. But if you read the overview to the draft Ethnic Studies curriculum, you'll see it does not even mention Ethnic Studies as a filling out of California's history curriculum. The 3 the goals of Ethnic Studies it lists all focus on community building. Unfortunately it doesn't give concrete details of what kind of community building is intended. So I can easily see … Read More

        Teaching a more complete history is a laudable goal. But if you read the overview to the draft Ethnic Studies curriculum, you’ll see it does not even mention Ethnic Studies as a filling out of California’s history curriculum. The 3 the goals of Ethnic Studies it lists all focus on community building. Unfortunately it doesn’t give concrete details of what kind of community building is intended. So I can easily see people reading the overview and coming away with doubts about the intent of Ethnic Studies. If it’s really going to be about filling out history education, whey can’t the draft curriculum say that?