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New law requires students to complete ethnic studies to graduate from California State University

The bill signed into law requires graduates to complete ethnic studies. A CSU-approved plan allowed other social justice courses.
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The Adams Humanities Building on the campus of San Diego State University (SDSU), part of the California State University (CSU) system, in San Diego, on July 9, 2020.Bing Guan / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a bill into law that requires students at the California State University system, the nation's largest four-year public university system, to complete an ethnic studies course in order to graduate.

The Democratic governor signed AB 1460, which was proposed by Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, his office said in a statement.

The law "reflects 50 years of student, faculty, and community advocacy for curriculum reflective of and responsive to our diverse state," Weber tweeted.

In July, the California State University Board of Trustees, which oversees the system comprising 23 campuses across the state, voted to include a course addressing ethnic studies and social justice as a requirement.

That action by the trustees was reported at the time to be more broad than the requirement that is now law, because the trustees-approved plan also allowed for social justice courses.

"The university will begin work to implement the requirements of the new legislation," Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the CSU Chancellor’s Office, said in an email Monday.

Starting in the 2021-22 academic year the system shall provide for ethnic studies and starting with the 2024–25 academic year undergraduates will be required to complete one three-unit course in ethnic studies as a graduation requirement, the law states.

It defines ethnic studies as focusing on Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latina and Latino Americans.

When the CSU board of trustees approved its own plan in July, Chancellor Timothy White said it was "grounded in ethnic studies, but it is broader, more inclusive, gives students choice," according to The Associated Press.

Supporters of the bill said that trustee-approved plan was weaker than the legislation.

The California Faculty Association, which supported the bill, tweeted that Newsom's signing Monday was a historic moment.

It says that studies have shown that students of all backgrounds benefit from completing an ethnics studies class.

The systemwide Academic Senate for the CSU warned that Legislature getting involved in setting degree requirements "could ultimately mean that the government's agenda supersedes faculty expertise as the basis for curricular decisions," according to an analysis of the bill.

CSU's website says it educates around 482​,000 students every year. The CSU system announced in May that it planned to offer most of its courses for the fall virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed.