Member of CSUN Faculty Charges Bias in Suit Against UC : Education: Rodolfo Acuna says he was denied a job at the Santa Barbara campus because of his activism, race and age.


Cal State Northridge professor Rodolfo Acuna filed a lawsuit against University of California officials Friday alleging that they conspired to deny him a job at UC Santa Barbara because of his political activism, his race and his age.

Acuna, a founder of the Chicano studies field in the 1960s and an activist on behalf of Mexican-Americans, said UCSB officials illegally discriminated against him in 1991 when they turned down his application for a professor’s job.

A spokesman for UC Santa Barbara said Friday that Acuna was not hired for the professorship in Chicano studies because he did not meet the standards set by campus officials for scholarship, research, teaching and public service.


University of California officials said they would not comment on the lawsuit until it is reviewed by attorneys.

But UCSB Vice Chancellor Ernie Lopez said: “The policies and procedures that guide appointment of UC faculty members were followed. He was passed over and not appointed.”

Acuna and his supporters say the decision ignores a consensus among Chicano studies scholars that he is a respected authority on the subject. He holds a Ph.D. in Latin American history from USC and is the author of 10 books on the subject.

“Rudy is the foremost Chicano studies scholar,” said Antonia Castaneda, a professor of Chicano studies and women’s studies at UCSB. “He is also the one who has garnered the most attacks. He has meshed his scholarship with his activism.”

The lawsuit--which seeks to force Acuna’s hiring plus the payment of back wages, interest and $1 million in damages--alleges that University of California officials did not hire the 59-year-old professor because they are biased against Mexican-American scholars, disapproved of Acuna’s “political activities and . . . beliefs” and believed he was too old for the job.

Acuna first earned a reputation as a radical and opponent of the Vietnam War, and later he became known as a supporter of affirmative action. In speeches, interviews and articles over the years, Acuna has charged various segments of government, business and other institutions with discriminating against Latinos, other minorities and the poor.


“I’m not denying that I am active, and I’m not denying that I take a stand. But a university has room for all of us,” Acuna said Friday at a news conference in Los Angeles. “My objection is to professors being challenged on the basis of their political point of view.”

Since his hiring at CSUN in 1969, Acuna has overseen the creation of what has become one of the nation’s largest Chicano studies departments. He has been a spokesman on scores of Latino issues, including workers’ rights, access to education and political representation, and a vocal critic of state cutbacks in education.

During a speech Wednesday to CSUN students, Acuna said: “Gov. Wilson should be indicted as a criminal” for raising fees and cutting state support to the California State University system. He also called for students to “close down the school so people can feel the moral outrage” over the declining educational system.

Last fall, more than 500 students and supporters staged a rally at UCSB to protest the school’s refusal to hire Acuna.

Since then, Acuna said, he offered to settle the matter with UC officials in exchange for, among other conditions, a written apology and a promise to expand the UCSB Chicano studies department from four part-time to 15 full-time professors over the next five years.

Acuna was himself seeking to become the school’s first full-time Chicano studies professor. Referring to papers he obtained, Acuna said he was described by members of a UCSB review committee as an “inveterate polemicist, pamphleteer and cult professor.”

The committee went on to say that it did not consider Acuna’s “fiery brand of advocacy appropriate for a professorship in the University of California,” according to the lawsuit.

Acuna said the actions by UCSB also constitute an attack on the discipline of Chicano Studies, which a UCSB committee described as “lacking in firm intellectual identity,” according to the lawsuit.

UCSB officials said they are still looking for a qualified candidate to fill the $80,000-a-year job.