An Open Letter Regarding the "UCSC Anti-Racist Farm Now" petition

December 13, 2022

I want to reach out to the broader UCSC community and any signatories of the “UCSC ANTI-RACIST FARM NOW!” document to address some of the issues raised in the petition. I also thought it might be helpful to provide a little historical context. Most of the below information is also available as FAQs, published on the CfA website. 

As some of you know, outgoing executive director Daniel Press, then incoming director Stacy Philpott, and I launched a broad, year-long period of internal reflection and discussion about the CfA in 2019. This period of deliberation involved everyone working at the center, as well as many faculty in ENVS and across the campus who were interested in and cared about the farm's future. Following this lengthy period of discussion and consensus-building, the CfA underwent an external review, with three outside experts brought in to examine the incredible history of the unit, as well as to consider and advise on its best direction and future organization.

Following this period of review and revisioning, the center moved forward with plans to create new roles to support programming for students and community members by reworking staff positions that were strictly focused on crop production. The center’s increasing contributions to the teaching, learning, and research at UC Santa Cruz is reflected in the launching of the recent agroecology major, a new USDA grant for scaling organic research across the UC system focused on BIPOC students, foundation support for work supporting basic needs and food security on campus and, most recently, designation as an Agricultural Experiment Station.

These new directions are exciting but also require careful management of the budget. In support of an intentional, strategic focus on increasing its programming centered on food equity and security and serving diverse and underserved populations in agriculture, the Center for Agroecology is creating three new positions and has made the difficult decision to eliminate five existing positions. The reorganization is structured so that all staff can apply for the new positions. 

We have more competitive salaries for these new positions, which we hope will enable us to retain employees and support their long-term professional growth, which was not the case with the positions we are eliminating. One of the new positions is an agroecology program specialist, which will focus on coordinating and implementing student and community programming and support access to the farm for traditionally underrepresented populations in agriculture. The second position is a field production and education manager, supporting further implementation of advancing student access around research, food security, and academic programming.

In crafting the Agroecology Program Specialist position, the CfA created a position that would be able to broaden and integrate the types of DEI programs and efforts referenced in the petition (BLM garden, herb garden, etc.), importantly tying these efforts in with the CfA's other efforts centering access, recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. Existing staff have been encouraged to apply for the new positions. We developed our plan to provide as much continuity in programming as possible and to avoid any gaps in employment if current staff are hired into a new role.

As some of you may know, the CfA leadership and staff are working extremely hard to support traditionally underrepresented students in agriculture. For example, a new $750,000 USDA grant for scaling organic research will support a University of California collaboration to improve and expand undergraduate education in organic agriculture, with an emphasis on supporting underrepresented students. This is just one of many initiatives that Darryl, Stacy, Damian, Tim, Brooks, Francis, Kirstin, and other CfA staff have advanced to further issues of food justice, access, community engagement, and experiential learning at the CfA.

I have attached text below in order to address some of the specific questions raised in the petition.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Darryl or me. (Please note that I will be leaving for sabbatical in early January, but Darryl is very willing to meet in my absence.)

  1. Central support for a cross-divisional, collaborative effort to synergize programming and educational efforts at the Center of Agroecology, and thereby grow the funding base of the unit. The work of the Center for Agroecology impacts the entire campus and corresponds to multiple parts of the strategic plan. Yet it currently rolls up to the Division of Social Sciences, which is underfunded relative to other units.  

Now, more than ever, the Center is engaged in work across divisions, collaborating on exciting research, education and community partnerships.  Additional central campus support is always welcomed and should be done in concert with the center’s strategic plan and a broader assessment of needs across campus. 

  1. Immediate assessment, through the multi-pronged strategic planning process, of how the Center can move forward in tandem with, and with accountability to, efforts already underway across campus to generate innovative research and programming opportunities for Indigenous students, first-generation students, undocumented students, queer students, and students of color, many of whom are disproportionately underrepresented in land-based STEM fields. Kellee and Alex are indispensable to the vision of building these kinds of community-engaged, land-based, student-centered efforts.

This work is largely underway.  Executive Director Darryl Wong is serving on the Climate Change, Sustainability & Resilience Strategic Planning Committee and has been invited by the Chancellor to participate in regional partnership visits to Cal Poly and Hartnell.  I have coordinated with other divisional deans to have Wong present to the department chairs of both Physical and Biological Sciences and the School of Engineering this month.  The CfA staff have written grants in the past three months that have included discussions with partners from the Department of Student Affairs and Success, including the Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives office, Equal Opportunities Programs, Student Success, Office of African, Black, and Caribbean Student Success, as well as the Baskin School of Engineering, and the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), and others.   

  1. Renewal of Chancellor Larive’s five-year pledge of $500K/year to support the Center for Agroecology, which is ending this year. 

This gift was set up by Chancellor Blumenthal before leaving and his support for the center was $100K/year with other donors contributing the other $400K/year.   

  1. Creation of two positions to support DEI programming and efforts at the Center for Agroecology. Of the three new positions that are planned, just one focuses on agroecological programming, including DEI work. This downsizing to a single position disregards the land-based research and student-centered, social justice-focused programming already underway at the Center. Instead, we demand at least two new positions with a DEI-centered programming focus. These job descriptions should be crafted with input from students, staff, and faculty who have been leading equity- centered, land-based education efforts and should be paid at or above $73,850.

As part of the reorganization, two new positions are being created, the Agroecology Program Specialist and the Field Production and Education Manager.  Both of these positions will have as part of their qualifications:

  • Required - Demonstrated experience meeting and understanding the needs and issues related to serving diverse and underserved populations in agriculture
  • Preferred - Experience working in a minority-serving institution of higher education

The new Agroecology Program Specialist position incorporates more program coordination across our sites and importantly includes working with both academic and non-academic audiences.  Staff Human Resources recommended that this new position should be classified as a Community Education Specialist 4.  

The Field Production and Education Manager will also be a student facing position that will importantly work to support the Center’s continued focus on recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. This position will also need to have experience managing a farm with tractor expertise, but they will be expected to contribute considerably to our diversification efforts.  As such, they will also have the same required qualifications of “Demonstrated experience meeting and understanding the needs and issues related to serving diverse and underserved populations in agriculture”.  

During the reorganization process, additional equity centered positions were discussed, but there was not the adequate budget to support these positions at this time.  The Center has continued to think about these positions from a cross divisional perspective and did work to write a Agroecology Equity Coordinator position into the recent regional USDA NextGen proposal.  This was led by Stacy Philpott with significant input from UCSC faculty and staff from the Division of Student Affairs and Success.  Through a number of conversations the position that seemed to provide the most support for integrating the campus units would be located in Career Success rather than within CfA or HSI. Here is an excerpt from the grant proposal identifying the goals of such a  position to support student success in food, agriculture, natural resources and human sciences (FANH) careers:  

Agroecology Equity Coordinator, based in Career Success, who will be supported by listed DSAS units. The Coordinator will promote and demystify programs to create equitable access to ELP and SSP programs for underserved UCSC students, and will create materials and programs that highlight fulfilling graduate school programs and FANH careers. The Coordinator will apply existing pre-, during-, and post-program mentoring, coaching, and student services to proposed activities. They will create outreach, promotional, and application materials and processes to improve transparency, facilitate pre-application workshops to address the hidden curriculum for applications and opportunities, and intentionally follow-up with students to offer scaffolded support during the application process. They will expose students to FANH opportunities through short term programing (e.g., day visits, faculty mixers); organize FANH career panels; manage coaching via the Handshake System, and link students to wellness programs. The Coordinator may engage in marketing and branding to highlight UCSC FANH opportunities at high schools and community colleges; interact with alumni, advisers, students, faculty, staff, administrators, families, and community organizations to increase the number of enrolled FANH students from underserved groups; and promote FANH programs for transfer pathways or incoming frosh. The recruitment, mentoring, and coaching activities will address the unique needs of underserved students, support them as agents of change, cultivate resilience, enhance retention, and foster professional training that will prepare them for FANH careers.

  1. Retention of the current staff as the recruitment for the new position is underway. The gap between laying off Kellee and Alex, and the hiring of people in the sole new DEI-centered position at Center for Agroecology represents an unacceptable economic hardship that will likely lead to the attrition of valued staff. The timing of the layoffs should coincide with hiring, so that if, in an open hire, one of the existing staff is offered the new DEI-focused position, they can maintain their livelihood in the interim period.

This is already part of the reorganization plan and was intentionally crafted to ensure that  the layoff date could be extended until hires were made.  This was done explicitly to ensure that our staff could apply for these positions and to provide as much continuity as possible during the process

  1. Restructuring of the governance of the Center of Agroecology to include an advisory council, composed of faculty, staff, students, and community members of color to work closely with Faculty Director Stacy Philpott and Executive Director Darryl Wong. This advisory council will support mechanisms of accountability and assessment of center personnel to foster an equitable and inclusive climate and culturally responsive education that engages with the diversity of the UC Santa Cruz student body. The current administrative structure does not enable the Center to undertake a social justice-centered mission which is critical to its future and reflects the demographics of our campus. A fundamental shift is needed in terms of decision-making structures, allocation of labor, tasks and activities, and engagement with students and community. 

The Center has long discussed the need for an advisory committee and I have discussed this directly with Darryl. While Darryl, Stacy and others have been working to continue to build campus ties, a more structured group could be largely beneficial. I hope that this council could help the center continue to incorporate cross-divisional and community needs while also respecting the careful management of the budget that is necessary at this time.


Katharyne Mitchell
Dean, Division of Social Sciences