A bitter debate is flaring over the future of Chicano studies at UCLA, one that has spread off campus and spawned protests from Latino political leaders and activists who accuse college administrators of ignoring the growing influence and importance of Chicanos in Los Angeles.
At the heart of the controversy, which has led to angry confrontations, is whether to revive a money-starved Chicano studies curriculum that has deteriorated to the point that it has only 11 students majoring in the subject. The program is being run on a meager annual budget of $150,000, and only a handful of courses are offered each quarter.
Some protesting students say campus administrators are allowing the program to die through neglect and term the decision shortsighted because Los Angeles has a burgeoning Mexican population.
Members of the campus student group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA and their supporters argue that the creation of a Chicano studies department and the hiring of permanent faculty would be the best solution to ensure the survival of a bachelor’s curriculum in Chicano studies at UCLA.
On the other hand, some influential Latino administrators, who admit that Chicano studies has declined due to inattentiveness by the university, counter that a Chicano studies department would be doomed to inferiority because there are not enough qualified teachers nationwide to immediately staff a new department. Instead, they suggest an augmented “program” in which faculty would be allowed to teach in other areas in addition to concentrating on Mexican-American subjects.
Since 1973, Chicano studies has been an interdepartmental bachelor’s program that draws faculty on a voluntary basis from other campus departments, such as English, Spanish and history. The program was created in 1969.
It is a high-stakes game that some believe UCLA cannot afford to lose, given the close cultural and economic ties between Southern California and Mexico.
“The first campus that can offer an appropriate intelligent experience for a multiethnic society will own the 21st Century,” said David Hayes-Bautista, a UCLA professor of medicine and director of the school’s Chicano research center. “UCLA could be to the 21st Century what Harvard was to the 20th Century and Oxford and Cambridge were to the 19th.”
The debate was largely confined to the Westside campus as students staged noisy sit-ins at Murphy Hall and at UCLA’s administration building, while demanding meetings with Chancellor Charles Young.
Last February, a committee of the Faculty Senate found serious flaws in the Chicano studies program and recommended that the university suspend the admission of new students while exploring ways of strengthening it.
The committee said what many were thinking--that Chicano studies at UCLA had become an afterthought in the eyes of many administrators and some Latino professors.
While campus administrators defend the recommendation to suspend admissions as a “correct” one, they also acknowledge that it may have been a politically naive option.
The MEChA students saw the recommendation as a not-so-subtle attempt to abolish Chicano studies.
A new round of protests was begun by students who feared the university might abolish the curriculum.
After meeting with the students, UCLA administrators agreed to funnel an estimated $150,000 from the UCLA Foundation--at the behest of Los Angeles lawyer Ralph Ochoa, a Latino who is president of the school’s alumni association--and promised a renewed commitment to Chicano studies.
The administrators, with Young’s blessing, also promised to search for qualified Latino professors to add to the school’s faculty.
But the students were unhappy with their victory because the university did not agree to their demand for the creation of a Chicano studies department. They were further enraged when the school’s ranking Latino official, Associate Vice Chancellor Raymund Paredes, came out against a department, saying that successful ones, such as the department at Cal State Northridge, could not be duplicated at UCLA because of higher admission and curriculum requirements.
Paredes, who has taught classes within the Chicano studies program, also charged that the two dozen protesting students were out of step with other Latino students at UCLA, who make up about 14% of the 36,000-student enrollment.
The protesters’ outrage quickly spilled off campus and has, in the last two months, involved Latino activists.
Some activists decided to answer the students’ call for help because they were put off by apparent indifference shown by Young and other campus officials.
“When I tried to set up a meeting with Young, he has not responded to our phone calls on three occasions,” charged Vivien Bonzo, president of the Olvera Street Merchants Assn.
Paredes is the administration’s point man in the argument. Clearly stung by the Latino concern off campus, he has led a quiet effort to meet with influential Latinos in Los Angeles--some of whom sit on a campus advisory committee--to explain the school’s side of the controversy.
“The students are manipulating the issue in that they’re saying the chancellor is trying to dismantle Chicano studies,” Paredes said. “That’s totally not true. When I respond to (Latinos’) concerns, they seemed mollified. Their eyes start to glaze over when I explain the nuances of the issue.”
Paredes has organized luncheons with various Latino community leaders to discuss the issue, including Ochoa; Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, and Frank del Olmo, deputy editor of The Times’ editorial pages. Paredes said that they seemed open to the administration’s position.
But the students quickly learned of the luncheons and staged protests.
Last month, a handful of MEChA members picketed the posh 7th Street Bistro restaurant in downtown Los Angeles while Paredes and another UCLA official lunched inside with several Latino reporters. Two students managed to be seated near Paredes’ table and ordered lunch to eavesdrop on the conversation.
Although their demonstration was peaceful, the students left when the police were called by the restaurant.
Over the course of the controversy, Paredes has traded barbs with other Latino academics who have criticized his stance.
In one instance, UCLA history professor Juan Gomez-Quinones exchanged words during a community meeting with UCLA alumni president Ochoa at an Olvera Street restaurant and, at one point, invited the UC regent to “step outside,” witnesses said. Cooler heads prevailed, but the episode left Ochoa shaking his head.
Gomez-Quinones, when asked about the episode, said the two merely had a lively discussion.
One person who thinks that both sides should reach a compromise is Rojas, a commercial loan officer who is president of UCLA’s Latino Alumni Assn.
Although her group has come out in favor of a Chicano studies department, Rojas, who was graduated in 1987 with a degree in political science, said:
“I think this has become a very emotional thing. I think both sides are basically wanting the same objective. We should be focusing on building a consensus instead of fighting among ourselves.”
Times staff writer Julio Moran contributed to this story.