Over 130 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members tuned in to the polytechnic open forum last week. The forum provided an opportunity for students and faculty to come together and discuss perspectives. Participants came with varied feedback and concerns about the polytechnic change.
Several graduate students came prepared with a statement and questions about the Polytechnic designation. Their concerns were about the polytechnic emphasis on Indigenous traditional ecologic knowledge (TEK). Provost Jenn Capps explained that Humboldt would be different from other polytechnics. Emphasis on unique location and relationships with TEK and CAHSS would set Humboldt apart from other polytechnic universities.
“The focus is on making sure that we infuse concepts of sustainability traditional ecological knowledge, making sure that liberal arts and social sciences and humanities remain at the center of what we’re doing,” Capps said.
The group of graduate students wanted to understand how the polytechnic transition will support, uplift, and provide funding for indigenous and sustainability programs. Concerns were for programs such as Native American Studies (NAS), the Indian Tribal & Educational Personnel Program (ITEPP), the Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP), the Food Sovereignty Lab, and Critical Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies (CRGS).
“If TEK and Indigenous knowledge are integral to this transition, how is the university funding, staffing, and filling positions to aid these core programs?” the letter reads. “Where are the cluster hires and faculty positions for NAS and CRGS? Where are the funding initiatives that support Indigenous students and all students within these programs?”
The forum did not have enough time to fully address these students’ questions or the letter.
Graduate student Marlene Dusek spoke on behalf of the student group in the forum. Dusek pointed out NAS and TEK seem to be integral in the polytechnic transition, yet will not receive the same attention and funding as the new natural resources and STEM programs soon to be rolled out.
“Native American studies and TEK is mentioned more than sustainability in the prospectus, where is the Native program state of the art remodel and buildings as a part of this plan?” Dusek asked during the forum. At the end of the forum, Dusek’s peers noted that these questions were still unanswered.
Provost Capps explains why STEM-based programs are being propped up in this stage of the polytechnic transition.
“In order for us to seek the designation, there were some programs that we needed to offer,” Capps said. “More engineering and technology programs, otherwise we wouldn’t be eligible for the designation, so we did. A large portion of the funding that we received was to support that.”
The students and administration will continue to discuss these matters. In a separate interview, Capps discussed communicative efforts with students about polytechnic changes.
“I suspect that a lot of [polytechnic] communications are going to faculty staff and community members, and not to students,” Capps said. “It makes me realize that we need to target specifically to students and perhaps do some open forum sessions.”
Faculty member and attendee Daniel Barton spoke up about this being an opportunity to reflect on this school’s image. Barton challenged the mascot, and if it reflects Humboldt’s values.
“Can we rethink whether we want to keep using a gendered symbol of colonial, natural resource extraction?” Barton said. “[Let’s] assemble something other than patriarchy. The lumberjack is gendered as a noun and as our mascot, violent colonialism, and exploitation of labor because that’s what the lumberjack symbolizes in a contemporary context.”
A presenter responded that a logo change will be a further examined item. There are arguments in favor of both sides and will be covered in depth at an unspecified later time. Changes are happening university-wide, giving students and faculty opportune time to address the school’s image and values.