LC Budget for Border Studies Program Cut

Workers in safety vests at the US-Mexico border in Tucson, Arizona. Photo by Maya Hernández.

The sudden removal of the Border Studies program from the list of Lewis & Clark study abroad programs served as a great shock to many students and faculty. Centered in Tucson, Arizona, this program aims to study the current human rights debate at the U.S-Mexico border. It is run through Earlham College, although open for LC students to apply.

Three students had already been accepted to the spring 2020 program earlier this semester. The news of the cancellation came in an email sent on Feb 4.

Blythe Knott, the Director of Overseas and Off-Campus Programs, explained that a major reason behind the cancellation was the recent approval of a new program set in Mérida, Mexico.

“It was a difficult decision to cancel the Border Studies program for spring 2020,” Knott said via email. “Quite a number of factors were considered, but a major one was that a new program in Merida, Mexico was approved by the Curriculum Committee just recently. This program is intended to take the place of Border Studies.”

Another important factor leading to the program’s cancellation was its cost. Bruce Suttmeier, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, elaborated on the unsustainable nature of the program.

“The Border Studies program, run by Earlham College, has substantial curricular overlap with our new Merida program and required us to pay full Earlham tuition plus a program fee,” Suttmeier said via email. “It was prohibitively expensive for us to offer (far more expensive for us than our own programs). With the new Merida program now approved, it made sense to offer this program, which will serve our students better and will be more sustainable in the long run.”

Professor of History Elliot Young, the former  faculty advisor for the Border Studies program, commented on the sudden cancellation.

“I understand that given our serious budget shortfall, the college will need to make cuts,” Young said via email. “What is less clear to me is how much each of our programs cost the college, and therefore it is impossible for me to know how much money will be saved by cutting the Border Studies program.”

Venessa Lopez ’21 planned to participate in the Border Studies program in fall 2020.

“I was honestly just so confused,” Lopez said. “I don’t know why the trip was canceled. My application was transferred to the Ecuador program. I’m looking forward to the Ecuador program, I mean I’m just trying to stay positive, but, honestly, it’s difficult for me to imagine being there. I don’t have any connection to Ecuador, so it almost feels random, which is not at all how I want to feel visiting another country.”

Lopez explained her personal connection to the Border Studies program.

“I’ve never been out of the U.S. and I really loved the idea of starting at the border,” Lopez said. “I thought about it for a long time. I applied and interviewed and when I got into the program, it really meant a lot to me. My dad is from Mexico. He was deported when I was a kid, so we’ve actually never met. The Border Studies program gave me so much hope that I was finally going to understand this part of myself. The border, immigration, the wall. It’s on the news every day, it’s political, it’s violent and it’s a part of my story, a big part.”

Maya Hernandez ’19 participated in the Border Studies program in spring 2018 and was saddened by the loss of the program.

“I was devastated to hear about the sudden cancellation of the Border Studies program,” Hernandez said. “I took part in the Border Studies program in the spring of 2018 and found the experience to be incredibly insightful, educational and very necessary. I cannot stress the importance of a program that affords students the opportunity to learn about the current immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border. The exclusion of this program is a significant loss to the LC community.”

Young does not think that the program in Mérida will be a sufficient replacement for the Border Studies program.

“The Border Studies program is a unique program focused on social justice and U.S.-Mexico border issues, both of which are extremely relevant today,” Young said via email. “Although the Mérida program sounds great, it is a Spanish language-intensive program, and it in no way can be seen as a substitute for the Border Studies program.”

Young further expressed his frustration regarding the lack of communication between the decision makers, faculty and students.

“As the faculty advisor for the program, I didn’t find out that the program had been cut until the decision had already been made,” Young said via email. “I would think that a conversation with me and other faculty in the program would have been a good idea, if only to brainstorm ideas for not cutting three students loose after they had already been accepted. For instance, there was no effort made to ask Earlham College for a discount before this decision was made, although I understand that now such conversations are underway.”

Young acknowledged the factors at hand but was still disappointed by the suddenness of the decision.

“It may be that if I had all the information about the costs, I would make the same decision, but the way that decisions are made is often as important the decisions themselves, Young said via email. “In this case, I believe we could have done better.”

Young speculates that future budget cuts are to come for overseas programs, and the backlash from the removal of the Border Studies program should serve as a learning opportunity for the future.

“In the coming years there will need to be more cuts at the college, and the larger lesson from this incident is that transparency in budgets will be necessary to allow the community to understand and prioritize where cuts need to be made,” Young said via email.

Students who are interested in the Border Studies program can still participate by taking a leave of absence from LC and applying through Earlham College directly. Applications are due March 15.

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