Death In Academe

Death in Academe


Rodolfo F. Acuña

I remember a conversation with Marcos Aguilar and Minnie Fergusson in May 1993. They had just gotten arrested for invading the UCLA faculty club to call attention to Chancellor Young’s arrogant announcement that there would never be a Chicano Studies Department at UCLA as long as he was chancellor.  I remarked that I thought the time had passed to mount a major push for Chicana/o studies – finals were coming up and everything would die until October (the beginning of the Fall Quarter).

Marcos and Minnie in this instance proved me wrong; they launched a major offensive on May 24, 1993 as five students, a professor and three community members set up a tent city in the center of UCLA and began a hunger strike. A perfect storm hit UCLA as thousands of Chicana/o LAUSD students watched the events.

Thinking back I remember that every successful student offensive I participated in began in the fall. Campuses in the summer are dead. During my first years in academe I made it a point if I could never to leave LA in the summer. The summers are the days that campus administrators and the Trustees do the most damage to student and to faculty rights. It is a time that there is no one around to criticize them – to say “No!”

In recent years this has gotten worse. Faculties no longer have communities. Innovations such as block classes have been introduced. They supposedly give faculty more time to do research (although there is no evidence that scholarly production has increased). Today most faculties teach M-W, T-TH or F-S people. This is easier since part timers outnumber tenure track professors.

However, there are pitfalls. M-W professors whose classes are on W do not see their students until M. Their office hours are on those days and they can only attend meetings on those days. Everything has to accommodate M-W, T-TH, and F-S. This in itself has increased the power of campus administrations and eroded faculty governance.

Next week finals begin at Cal State Northridge; so beginning then and until late August the vampires will haunt the campuses. Look for Chancellor Timothy P. White to find victims.  Like most CSU chancellors White does not want to educate students but to build his Chamber of Horrors.

White is not original. In 1982 Chancellor Ann Reynolds took over the 19- campus California State University System. Reynolds had been the provost at Ohio State and was a respected biologist.  Reynolds was imperious and she demanded deference.  The daughter of missionaries I always envisioned her wearing Wellington boots and carrying riding crop whip.

Like White, Reynolds was not from Los Angeles, she had never taught in the schools of LA. However, she was ambitious and pushed a plan to raise the admission standards to the CSU. Her reasoning was that by raising admission requirements the public schools would be forced to raise their standards and offer more college bound courses thus removing the burden of remedial classes from the state universities that could then spend the money on math and science.

Like White the key was required math and science courses. Like White, Reynolds did not appreciate the tremendous progress being made in the education of working class students that led to student diversity.  Reynolds eventually won but lost the support of the Trustees and the governor and was forced to resign.

A side note: Faculty especially in math and sciences supported Reynolds. The opposition was led by Chicana/o Studies, Mecha and the League of Revolutionary Struggle. In Reynolds case the story did not end there. She went on to be chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) (1990–1997), and president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (1997–2002). Like all good vampires she avoided seeing the light.

More recently under the cover of summer vacations faculty governance has been eroded during the dark month of June, July and August when the vampires come out to play.  The vampires have hit Chicana/o Studies hit hard.  Remember the appointment of administrators, the signing of the UNAM Accord and the so-called Mellon Foundation mentorship program for Latinos. They were all announced during the dark of night.