Students fight in support of dismissed lecturer

    Though UC officials have yet to estimate the magnitude of personnel reductions caused by the state’s budget problems and ensuing funding cuts, a group of students already plans to protest the likely dismissal of philosophy lecturer Peter Atterton.

    In response to the philosophy department’s decision not to renew Atterton’s contract, four of his students have begun planning a “show of force” to convey their discontent. They plan to circulate a petition and take their case all the way up to Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs David Miller.

    “If that doesn’t get us anything, we’re prepared to do whatever [is] necessary to get this done — whether that means a rally or whether it means to tarnish the image of the department,” said Kevin Lewis, a John Muir College junior. Lewis is currently one of Atterton’s students.

    After learning that Atterton would not return, Lewis contacted department and university administrators, steps he says have been fruitless. During this process, however, he joined three other students working on the same goal, Thurgood Marshall College junior Lindsay Salk, Revelle College sophomore Deborah Dossick and Earl Warren College senior Jarrod Hyam.

    All four said they believe Atterton’s termination is part of a university trend to shift focus away from social scholarship to a science-based approach to research. The students call Atterton “incredible” and “brilliant.”

    Patricia Churchland, the chair of the philosophy department, said the situation is the result of a “budgetary catastrophe” that has left her with no choice.

    The department hired Atterton on a one-year contract in the 2002-03 academic year, according to Churchland, but she was able to find enough funds to extend the contract for the 2004-2005 year. But after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mid-year budget cuts, and the prospect of more on the way, the money to add yet another year is just not there, she said.

    “If I had a way of finding the money, we’d have a very different situation,” she said, pointing out that the entire department has felt the pinch. Faculty members have not received cost-of-living wage adjustments for several years and are working with much leaner research budgets.

    Because Atterton was the only member of the department working on a single-year contract, it’s his position that is being eliminated, Churchland said.

    Though they say they understand the financial situation, the four students believe the university is unfairly singling out Atterton, who they argue is better at instructing undergraduates than some tenured members of the faculty.

    “We’re at a research institution, so the professors who can really lecture are a valuable resource, and that’s why we’re so adamant about wanting him to come back next year,” Dossick said. “It’s partially selfish — our education is going to be impoverished if he doesn’t come back.”

    A graduate from the University of Essex in England, Atterton taught at San Diego State University and University of San Diego from 1995 to 2002, when he came to UCSD. In addition to philosophy, he has instructed sections in Eleanor Roosevelt College’s Making of the Modern World series and Revelle’s humanities courses.

    In the 2003 edition of Course and Professor Evaluations, students praised his enthusiasm and intelligence.

    For three out of four philosophy classes included in the publication, every student who completed an evaluation recommended Atterton. Though other professors received 100-percent recommendations as well, some in the department scored as low as 67 percent.

    Editors of C.A.P.E. also noted that three out of 21 students who completed evaluations from a fourth class he taught in winter 2003 called Atterton the “best professor at UCSD.” A total of 98 percent of the students from the class recommended him.

    “He’s pretty incredible,” Salk said. “If you’ve ever sat in at any of his classes, he’s just so animated and so brilliant, beyond measure.”

    Student input about teaching quality is valuable, Churchland said, but she claimed her hand has been forced by the reality of the budget.

    In November, Schwarzenegger asked the university system to make $47.2 million in unallocated reductions for 2004-05, according to an impact report from the UC Office of the President. In addition, the governor’s new budget proposal, revealed in January, calls for an extra 5-percent cut in spending on faculty. A finalized version of the plan is due to come out later in May.

    While in recent negotiations Schwarzenegger may have suggested lowering the number to 3 percent, it’s too early to assess the actual impact on future faculty spending, according to Margaret F. Pryatel, assistant vice chancellor of resource management. Some sort of reductions will be unavoidable, she said.

    “We have a list of cuts that are on the table that are not going away,” Pryatel said.

    Atterton understands that the decision to let him go was a question of money, he said, and added that he does not believe he was singled out.

    Though he has an offer to teach two sections in ERC’s program, Atterton said he will likely not be able to return next fall because the salary would be insufficient.

    While he said he is moved by the support of his students, he neither encouraged their actions nor condoned them.

    “I’m touched by their support but I don’t want to give the impression that they’ll be successful, because they probably won’t be,” he said. “It’s simply a budgetary question.”

    The students admit that their chances are “slim,” but they say they are fighting for a larger principle: the responsibility of the university to provide undergraduate students with quality education and take their considerations into account.

    “The fact is, if we want something done, we have to prove to [administrators] that we have some sort of power over them, be it in the form of a rally or in the form of spreading the word that this is what the department did,” Lewis said. “Because one thing they care about is the image of the department and the prestige of the university and, if that starts falling, that’s when they might care about it.”

    Churchland said even a mass appeal would probably not succeed in getting Atterton back.

    “My decision is constrained by money, and there is simply no money,” she said. “Even if there are 20,000 names on the petition, I don’t know where I’ll find it.”

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