Chicana/o Studies, Faculty Governance, Academic Freedom: Why we struggle?

Reminder: Manuel Andrés López Obrador will be speaking at CSUN at 6 PM on March 28. You are invited. I apologize for editorial failures, I have been writing at a clip of 15 -20,000  words a week that is necessary when you are in chinga. My priority has always been the message and not the form. The editing will come with the book.

In 1994 the AAUP (American Association of University Professors) issued a report “On the Relationship of Faculty Governance to Academic Freedom” that I doubt many professors have read.  It set out the fundamentals of governance and its relationship to academic freedom. The irony is that in less than 20 years these principles are in danger.

Instead of focusing on these important rights faculty organizations are holding forums on “academic bullying” without thinking through the question. It took years to define racism and sexism.  But, finally, a consensus was reached that sexual harassment involved power relationships. It was sexual harassment when a faculty member, a supervisor or an employer harassed someone of lesser status – it was not usually the other way around.

If two full professors scream at each other, the question is who is bullying who? It would appear to me that it is much more grievous when an administrator censors a professor and limits his or her academic freedoms that if a professor criticizes an administrator.

In my lifetime I have witnessed the erosion of academic freedom and faculty governance. After World War II, McCarthyism imposed political tests on professors in an effort to root out the “subversive” bullies. Ellen W. Schrecker in her book No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities concludes that academe did not enjoy its finest hour in this era.

In very real terms the 1960s were a reaction to the 1950s.  The Civil Rights, Vietnam War Movements and the baby boomers spurred changes.

When I arrived at San Fernando Valley State College, there were small clusters of professors to whom faculty governance and academic freedom were important. Some of them had been refused tenure at major research institutions because of their political views. These dissidents thrived in the climate of activism at SFVSC that was forged between 1967 and 1969.

Inconceivable as it might seem, on March, 1969, the Los Angeles Times called SFVSC a “hotbed of radical youth.” That same month Life magazine ran a lengthy feature about Valley State, which it called “painfully familiar.”

The anti-war movement at Valley State had heightened in 1966 when students were arrested at antiwar protest at Van Nuys Air National Guard Base. By December, Los Angeles police were called to campus to disperse student protests.

In September1967, the Faculty Senate urged the SFVSC administration to stop calling police during campus disputes and protests. At the time, there were 15,600 students, 23 were black and 11 Latino.  By December more than 500 antiwar and pro-war students clashed, yelling at each other for three-hours about the Vietnam War and Dow Chemical.

The demonstration was led by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) whose spokesman was Bob Shaw. The following academic year, the protest movement expanded with the entrance of a larger black student population and a small but an emerging Chicana/o student movement. This led to the November 4, 1968 African-American student takeover of the administration building and the arrest and conviction of eight members of the Black Student Union who did hard time.

The example of the students forced many faculty members to follow their conscience. In relation to my volunteer work, I was a frequent visitor on campus, but some of the SDS students standout.

Michael Klonsky started out San Fernando Valley State College where he joined the SDS. In 1968 he became its national chairman; he was involved in the Democratic National Convention rebellions. By the time I was involved on campus the SDS students I remember  were Cliff Freed, Mike Lee, and Marc Cooper who were part of  a larger and more diverse group.

As today, the majority of the faculty was conservative, most just did not give a shit. However, there was a faction who believed in academic freedom and the importance of preserving faculty governance. They were not necessarily radical, but they knew the importance of free speech and defended that principle in the faculty senate.

The leader of the American Federation of Teachers was a man who I greatly respected – English professor John Stafford. More than once he defended my right to be a “bully” and fight for the interests of Chicana/o students. He along with the liberal faction he worked openly and behind the scenes to get minority student access and then fought for Pan African American and Chicano Studies.

Stafford was supported by Jerome Richfield and Vern Bullouch who also became presidents of the faculty senate. Morton Auerbach as chairman of the Committee on Faculty Information Concerning Minority Problems, during the tumultuous times after November 4, was a master negotiator. Along with Richard Abcarian and Larry Littwin, Mort kept the students and faculty on the same page. I have little doubt that without them it would have been a much rockier. They brought together the disparate liberal clusters spread out throughout the campus.

Under their leadership, the faculty senate was a place of debate, reason, and the defender of free speech and faculty governance. They were not afraid to take on the president, their supervisors or Chancellor Glenn S. Dumke.

Today, the faculty senate is a social club that does not care why Chicana/o studies is fighting for academic freedom and its and their governance rights. Stafford and Auerbach understood the importance of faculty checking the administration’s arbitrary and clandestine actions.

The truth be told, the CSUN administration in bypassing the traditional consultation process hurt the rights of every department, and gave it the right to encroach on their areas of study. Because of this the administration is empowered to make its own rules.

Because CHS protested this violation, it has been labeled a bully. However, the reasonable person should ask, does it have the power to control the dialog or the outcome? Adding further insult, the administration chose to make a clandestine trip to Mexico City to sign an accord that the faculty did not approve. For Stafford and others this perfidy would have been a major threat to the liberal traditions of the academy. He remembered that McCarthyism thrived in the fifties because no one spoke out.

Being a reasonable person, ask why are CHS professors demanding respect?

Are they bullies because they demand an accounting of the impact of the UNAM accord on student fees? Who will pay for it?

Are they bullies because they demand faculty diversity data?

Are they bullies because they are asking why students are being overcharged for campus housing?  Like in flop houses students pay $800 a bed a month, double the rent of private apartment. The irony is students are slated to pay for new dorms that they cannot afford to live in.

What about the Tseng College?

I erroneously attributed this decline of faculty governance to Harry Hellenbrand. I stand corrected. It started in the 1990s under Provost Luanne Kennedy who classified her deans administrators directly answering to the provost. They were no longer part of the faculty body or responsible to its members.

In the historical context, the arbitrary actions of administration are eroding the protections of the minority. McCarthyism thrived because of the failure of professors to fight for their governance rights and academic freedoms. It was temporarily reversed by the John Staffords, but unfortunately this generation of scholars is not enjoying their finest hour and is being cowed by bullies.

— by Rodolfo F. Acuña

This entry was posted in Aztlan, Chicana/o Identity, Chicana/o Studies, Chicano Movement, Community, CSUN, Cultura, Decolonization, Education, History, Knowledge, Language, Los Angeles, MEChA, Movimiento, Racism, Resistance, UNAM. Bookmark the permalink.

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