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The Oregonian: PSU students fight to preserve Chiron Studies program after funding cut
Author: Sara Hottman, The Oregonian
Posted: June 7, 2013

Read the original story here in The Oregonian.

fter a year of uncertainty, the student-led Chiron Studiesprogram axed from the Office of Academic Affairs at Portland State University may have found a new home under University Studies.

The program, one of PSU's oldest, started in 1968 to allow students to develop and teach for-credit classes to their peers. Students have offered courses on topics ranging from "Fundamentals of Sound Engineering" to "Science Fiction in East Germany" to "Exploring Buffy the Vampire Slayer." According to Chiron records, since 2009, class enrollment has ranged from four to 31 students. Last year 223 students took 16 classes over the academic year.

Those in Chiron Studies are optimistic about the program's potential future in University Studies. But optimism follows a year of frustration.

Since funding was cut in June 2012, school officials say they have tried to find a better place for Chiron than an administrative office. Students with the student-led program was shut out of administration's decision-making process. 

Rozzell Medina, Chiron coordinator since June 2010 and PSU graduate student, says he tried for nearly a year to get a meeting with the provost.

"It was frustrating. We were hoping for a more collaborative approach to what was happening," he says. "We weren't given access to a conversation we sensed was deeper than finances."

At the end of last school year outgoing provost Roy Koch eliminated Chiron's $25,000 budget. The program's coordinating committee was later told it fell to institution-wide budget cuts; the funding came from a $180,000 fund within the Office of Academic Affairs budget.

Despite two student rallies in May objecting to "behind closed doors" decision-making, last week current provost Sona Andrews did not reinstate funding, saying it didn't make sense to fund Chiron out of the provost's office.

To wide satisfaction, she gave University Studies the opportunity to pick up the program. On Thursday Medina met with University Studies interim director Yves Labissiere, and next week students and faculty will hold a brainstorming session about how Chiron could be integrated into the school.

"We feel like there's been a lot of movement in the last week," says Rett Mutchler, 23, a junior and member of the Student Action Committee, which led the student rallies. "I guess they're afraid that if they deny us a meeting we'll show up to their offices with 50 students anyway."

Since the program generates tuition money -- $123,404 in 2011-12, according to Chiron records -- students suspected something nefarious behind the cut.

"It's part of a continuing trend to sterilize the university and make it more controlled," says Cameron Frank, 22, a senior and Student Action Committee member.

Students noted the controversy when conservative commentator Glenn Beck on his blog blasted a Chiron class called "Revolutionary Marxism: Theory & Practice." 

Andrews says Chiron simply doesn't belong in her department, and needs to be "institutionalized" in one of PSU's academic schools to give it more oversight.

"One of my jobs is to ensure academic quality of programs and courses," she says. "The courses would benefit greatly by being in an academic home."

PSU's faculty senate reviewed the program after its funding was cut and decided students' proposed courses should go through the regular course approval program rather than just Chiron's process, Andrews says.

"A big concern is that we don't want Chiron Studies to be dissolved into another program," Medina says. "We want the unique aspects to remain -- the four-credit classes, the student leadership, the fact that students are developing and instructing classes."

Classes in Chiron span conventional to whimsical. Two classes this spring, for example, were "Kurdistan: A Nation Caught Between Two Powers" and "Sustainability and the Zombie Apocalypse."

"Those classes encourage students to be creative in the way they present the subject matter," Medina says. "We've been able to strike a good balance in terms of sensationalism rooted in strong theory and practice in classes."

Students who collected around 800 signatures in support of Chiron say their PSU peers have been widely supportive of keeping the program, especially those who've participated in it.

Chiron was funded for half of this school year because classes were already in the course book. For the rest of the year staff and students volunteered to keep the program going, hoping Andrews would reinstate funding.

But school officials and those in Chiron say they would likely be satisfied with a home in University Studies. Student instructors would go through the same training as graduate students who teach and courses will be vetted like any other class at the university, while the program would have better exposure and steady funding.

-- Sara Hottman