City College to stop funding long-standing literary program

Megan Randolph, News Editor

City College announced it will no longer provide institutional support to the Great Books program, directed for 14 years by recently retired adjunct professor Celeste Barber.

The program brings classical works of literature by celebrated authors such as Shakespeare and Homer to life by providing each student with free copies of the books and putting on free live performances. Barber said that classic works connect to everyone, citing the plight of Odysseus as an example.

“He feels alienated, ‘where is my place in the outside world?’” she said. “You might think that that would connect with those in our transitions program, as well as other marginalized groups.”

Over the past four years, the program has received around $90,000 in private funding from the Apgar foundation. The foundation awarded the grant to assist with the Great Book’s student writing competition, in which City College students and high school students can enter an essay exploring a topic from one of the classical works studied through the program.

After Barber’s retirement in May, the college decided not to allow the program to apply for private grants after the end of the 2015-2016 school year.

“We didn’t have a full-time faculty member taking over the Great Books program,” said Alice Sharper Perez, dean of fine arts. “And the Apgar grant requires that we also contribute some funds from the general district budget, which we’re not able to do at this time. We have a lot of programs.”

This year the program is being run by adjunct Latin professor Nathanael Troupe.

At the Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22, two teachers showed up to speak out against the defunding of the program, along with Barber.

One of the teachers was Patricia Ruth, an English professor at Santa Barbara High School. Ruth worked with the Great Books program to engage local high school students in reading works they wouldn’t normally have access to.

“My students were scared out of their wits by a live production of a scene from Antigone, 5 feet away from them, in my classroom,” said Ruth. “That was a life-changing experience for them. And those kids, who are almost all first generation college bound, they just expanded, they blossomed in that environment of complex and demanding ideas and texts.”

Ruth also said that the writing contest had honored her students along with City College students, which helped them realize their potential.

“To see them then brought to the dining room at City College,” she said. “And honored along with City College students who participated in this program, to see them realize that they were thinkers, they were intellectuals, they were students, they were students in the widest sense, those kids, their eyes just opened wide.”

City College nominated Barber for the Hayward award in 2014 for her work with the Great Books program, a statewide award designed for teachers who show devotion and commitment to students as well as their colleges.

Perez said that Barber did “beautiful work,” with the program, but that the college had to prioritize other programs such as Express to Success, which receives larger state-funded grants. After hearing the testimony of the teachers at Thursday’s meeting, a few board members expressed concern.

“I think what spoke to me was that this directly supports our mission, a diverse learning environment,” said Trustee Veronica Gallardo. “This is one of the biggest partnerships that Santa Barbara City College has with our community, our local students, and I think that we speak very loud and clear to our community when we discontinue these programs.”

No decisions were made at the meeting, as Superintendent-President Dr. Lori Gaskin said that the board did not have control over curriculum decisions.

Perez said that the college will not allow the program to apply for the Apgar grant after the end of the school year.