Open Letter to The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Education
April 29, 2017
Office of the Dean
The University of Illinois at Chicago
1040 W. Harrison St. (MC 147)
Chicago IL 60607
Dear Dean Alfred Tatum and College of Education Community:
I am writing to thank the Department of Curriculum & Instruction for selecting me to receive public honor as a graduate of the College of Education (COE). However, after discussions with members of the College’s Decolonize Education Coalition, reviewing the data and analyses posted on the group’s Tumblr (Views From the Silenced), and reflection on my experiences as a COE graduate student, I feel that I must decline this award as well as participation in the honoree events. Because of my high regard for the COE, I don’t take this decision lightly. Yet, as the Nicaraguan poet Giocanda Belli wrote, “Solidarity is the tenderness of the peoples.” I offer this open letter to explain why I have chosen to forego this award and stand in solidarity with the students of COE and the Decolonize Education Coalition.
Accepting the award and participating in related events would be an implicit endorsement of the COE today, and based on the evidence offered by current students, that validation is not warranted. In contrast to the years I enjoyed studying and attaining two degrees in the COE, working closely with faculty who both professed and practiced education that centered democratic engagement, racial and social justice and critical perspectives, and fostered the thriving Curriculum Studies doctoral program from which I graduated, today’s COE has steered far from the University of Illinois’s land grant mandate to serve the needs of the state’s working classes, and from UIC’s social justice mission. There are four specific concerns that animate the work of the Decolonize Education Coalition:
First, the COE seems to have abandoned its commitment to the preparation of Black and other teachers and academics of color. According to Voices of the Silenced testimony, the numbers of admitted students of color are small (with only one Black junior year student enrolled) and declining between freshman and senior year. In addition, the COE does not support students of color who struggle academically in the Urban Education licensure program. Rather than provide these future teachers with resources (such as the individual and group tutoring the teacher education program I directed for six years offered students) aimed at retaining them in teacher education, as well as succeeding as the next generation of teachers in our public schools, the COE created a non-licensure undergraduate program with no clear employment pathway to which they are diverted at the urging of COE advisors. This bait-and-switch is devastating—emotionally and financially—to students.
One undergraduate describes this on the Voices of the Silenced site:
I was admitted into candidacy conditionally with hopes of meeting licensure requirements. Faculty and advising staff ensured me that we would come up with an action plan for meeting licensure requirements. Soon, I learned that an action plan was merely meaningless discourse. The only action plan was them making me “aware of other options outside of teaching.” As a student of Color, I never felt like a priority…Failure costing me nearly four hundred dollars, I was out of money and time. Every time I took the test I became more and more disappointed and discouraged. There was no financial support or academic support for success. I also did not receive any emotional support during the obstacles I faced.
And COE programs, contra their land grant mandate, are now more exclusionary. The means by which I, a poorly performing high school and junior college student, was admitted to COE graduate studies was through conditional admittance—after a year of academic work and a favorable review I was accepted at full status. This option is now denied to freshman applicants, contributing to the declining numbers of students of color in the Urban Education program. In sum, despite the fact that public school students are increasingly of color, and research shows that these students benefit from teachers of color, there is little evidence that UIC’s COE is helping to prepare teachers of color for employment by our city’s public schools.
Second, and related to the previous point, new enrollment of students of color in COE doctoral programs has declined by almost half between 2012 and 2016, from 13 to 7 (UIC’s data is here).
Third, the COE has nearly decimated and seems determined to destroy Curriculum Studies, previously the intellectual home of many of its most critical scholars, including Dr. William Watkins, who researched Black curriculum orientations, Dr. Annette Henry, a critical race feminist who lifted up the educational lives of Black women and girls, and Dr. William Ayers, who wrote widely about social justice and education. The COE has not filled the vacancies created when faculty leave Curriculum Studies, as one concern, and in 2016 it admitted only one doctoral student (and no students of color) to the program, down from 13 admitted (of whom four were students of color) in 2012, according to UIC’s data.
Last, the COE has fostered a climate that suppresses dissent, critique, and critical scholarship, which has been particularly intimidating and destructive to students of color, some of whom have been removed from teaching appointments, encouraged to leave their programs, and in other ways been made to feel that their voices and perspectives are of little importance. They share these experiences to depressing effect on the Coalition’s Tumblr.
I encourage my fellow COE alumni to thoroughly examine the powerful words and well-stated demands of COE students, and ask Dean Tatum and the College to respond to the charges thereby demonstrating (not simply stating) a commitment to the pledge to “Make Good on the Promise of Public Education,” before supporting the College with donations and affirmations. I plan to withhold my own donations until the College dialogues with its students and creates, shares, and acts on a plan to address the terrible conditions that the Decolonize Education Coalition and Voices of the Silenced have bravely brought to our attention. I am proud to stand in solidarity with them.
Therese Quinn, University of Illinois at Chicago
College of Education (MEd – Instructional Leadership 1999, PhD – Curriculum Studies 2001)
Associate Professor of Art History and Director of Museum & Exhibition Studies
Affiliated Faculty – Curriculum & Instruction, Gender & Women’s Studies
For more information about the Decolonize Education Coalition, visit the Views from the Silenced blog
Also see the Chicago Reader’s recent article “Is Something Wrong at UIC’s College of Education?”