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CFA Statement in Support of Dr. Melina Abdullah for Dean of the new College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA

Dr. William Covino, President
José Luis Alvarado, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
California State University Los Angeles

 

I am writing on behalf of the California Faculty Association, the union representing the 29,000 faculty in the California State University system to ask that you revisit the decision in the search for a new Dean for the College of Ethnic Studies, and to urge that you give more serious consideration to the candidacy of Dr. Melina Abdullah for the position.  She is uniquely suited to be the inaugural Dean.  This is a historic decision, one with national implications given this would be only the second College of Ethnic Studies, not just in the CSU, but in the nation.  Given the momentous significance of this decision, a selection occurring in a time when the nation is moved to address anti-Black racism, white supremacy, and systemic racism, all eyes are on Cal State LA.  And frankly, it is not looking good right now. 

While we all applaud the decision to develop a College of Ethnic Studies, we also recognize that just as it is the case with the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State, this decision did not occur in an administrative feat, but after protracted struggle by student, faculty and community activists who seek a place in the curriculum and in the academy that honors the rich cultures and resistance against racial oppression and white supremacy of Black, Chicanx/Latinx, Indigenous/Native/American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander communities; communities that are highly represented among your student body. A College of Ethnic Studies serves a unique purpose in contrast to other academic departments and disciplines, for it is here that students from the communities aforementioned, as well as students who desire to learn about these communities, may encounter a course of study that is defined in concert with, and from the perspectives of people of color.  In addition to unique frameworks and culturally relevant curricula, students engage in cooperative and collaborative projects that prepare them to make meaningful contributions to these communities.  Its mission is unabashedly political; therefore, the search for leadership of such a College must be bold, not guided by the kind of “moderate liberal” mindset that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., labeled as a stumbling block toward realizing and enacting racial and social justice.  

At CFA, we are keenly aware of the leadership qualities Dr. Abdullah brings to her educational mission.  She has served in several leadership positions for the union that overlapped with her excellent stewardship of the Pan African Studies Department at Cal State LA, a department which has excelled in mentoring its majors to academic success with a 100% graduation rate.  For CFA, Dr. Abdullah served as Chair of the Women’s Caucus, a multi-racial group of faculty, lecturers and tenure-track, across multiple disciplines, a Representative to the Council for Racial and Social Justice, an active member of the Political Action and Legislation Committee, and the Chapter President for Cal State LA.  We have witnessed her leadership in campaigns to successfully pass Assembly Bill 1460 and to pass legislation addressing police brutality.  We have attended myriad seminars and keynote addresses for regional and national academic and lay audiences where her keen scholarship has been warmly received.  We have seen her remarkable rise as a founding and visionary leader of the Black Lives Matter movement which she has helped to build to a global phenomenon that is directly responsible for a major culture shift that has captured the hearts and enlisted the activist commitment of a multi-racial, multi-generational mass that is rendering a program for systemic change we have not seen in decades. 

We cannot imagine a more fitting individual for leadership of the College of Ethnic Studies.  Dr. Abdullah’s ability to draw from her rich scholarly expertise, finely honed leadership skills, and strong coalitional orientation will build and lead this College. 

After witnessing the despotic and inhumane treatment of George Floyd whose public lynching was carried out with full knowledge that “the whole world (was) watching,” CFA was moved to further deepen and broaden our five-year-program of Anti-Racism and Social Justice Transformation to specifically address systemic and anti-Black racism in the CSU.  The platform we developed is guided by a set of demands that includes there shall be no retaliation against those who actively protest anti-Black and systemic racism, CSU administration must be chosen who represent our Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color  — not just in looks, but in advancing the frameworks, perspectives, and cultures of resistance that emanate from our communities — and we must further develop Ethnic Studies academic units that are true to the activist spirit and dedication to racial and social justice that birthed Ethnic Studies. 

It is clear to us, over decades of engagement and leadership from Dr. Abdullah, that she is the ideal choice to be the inaugural Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA.  We urge you to make the right choice, to go against the moderate liberal cast model of administration that generally governs the CSU, and to make the decision to seat Dr. Abdullah as Dean.

 

Sincerely,

Charles Toombs
CFA President
Professor of Africana Studies
San Diego State University