Budget Woes Strike Again
September 23, 2004 7:25 PM
Budget pressures, staff shortages and two new state laws have recently spawned a move to suspend the gerontology program for at least the next two semesters, leaving classes intact for current students while closing the doors for applicants.
SF State’s Gerontology program plays a key role in preparing for a senior citizen population expected to reach 74 million in the next few decades. It is the first and only public school system in all of Northern California to offer a Master’s degree specifically geared towards the study of aging and the needs of the elderly.
“Every five seconds, someone turns 50,” said Brian de Vries, department chair of SF State’s Gerontology program.
This April, faculty and staff in the Gerontology program learned that Don Zingale, the former dean of the College of Health and Human Services (HSS) recommended the program for discontinuance as part of SF State’s attempt to resolve a $23 million budget gap.
But de Vries said that “HSS returned $900,000 to the state last semester; 10 percent of which was money earmarked for the Gerontology program.”
Soon after the college announced the possible discontinuance of the program, “letters started pouring in to President Robert Corrigan’s office disputing the dean’s decision. said Anabel Pelham, professor of Gerontology. “So far, Corrigan has received 300 letters in support of keeping the program open. Even the San Francisco Board of Supervisors weighed in on the issue in May, passing a resolution urging SF State to continue the program.”
Last week, SF State’s Academic Senate held an informational discussion on a proposal, requested by Gerontology faculty members and approved by the Senate’s Educational Policy Council, to suspend the program. Faculty said that suspension wouldn’t close the program or affect current students, but it would prevent any new enrollments in the major.
Gerontology faculty member Darlene Yee spoke last Tuesday to address senators’ questions as to why Gerontology faculty had asked for a suspension..
“There is now a statewide mandate, with two legislative bills, SB 953 and AB 2202, where the state of California is requiring the CSU system, and SFSU obviously, to address the issue of Gerontology curriculum,” said Yee.
In addition to the new state requirements, Yee also said that a heavy teaching workload was a reason program faculty is calling for a suspension. There are only three faculty members for the more than 80 students studying Gerontology.
“The program has the faculty working too hard,” said Richard Giardina, associate Vice President for Academic Planning & Assessment. “They are trying to teach more courses than there are students.”
But de Vries said more students continue to apply to the Gerontology department.
“The program has increased in student enrollment by 150 percent over the last three years,” de Vries said.
Gerontology student June Alexander knows quite a bit about the needs of older Americans. After retiring in 2001, Alexander says she became interested in pursuing a degree in the Gerontology program due to the support of Professor Pelham. Alexander, who said that she is only a couple of classes away from completing her own degree, explains that her focus is on what she calls positive aging, a combination of body, mind, spirit and attitude.
“Aging is something that starts with birth, and it’s the one social class that we’ll all be in one of these days, if we live long enough,” Alexander said.
“Nowadays, it’s not your grandmother’s or your mother’s old age. There’s so many neat things happening right now that we’re almost like pioneers.”
While Alexander said that there are have been some rough spots in the Gerontology program, overall she said that the department is very active, very strong and very well supported. Students in the Gerontology program are required to work 20 hours per week as part-time interns in the community of San Francisco, assisting local caregivers in tending to the needs of many older San Francisco residents.
“I think sometimes we’re better known in the community than we are on campus, but we’ll try to change that,” Alexander said.
Pelham also said that as more Americans pass beyond middle age and move into their 60’s, younger Americans may have to change some of the fears, myths and stereotypes often associated with aging.
“For the first time in human history, there’s going to be this enormous wave of adults called the Baby Boomers. This is an international phenomena – it’s not just in America. By 2010, ten thousand people a day are going to turn 60,” Pelham said. “It’s going to change everything,”
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