I rarely overreact to the university administration’s movidas chuecas (shady deals); I expect them. But the UNAM (The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) deal shook. Like a Trojan Horse virus, it is insidious. It gives the illusion of being innocuous; you don’t know it is even there: Who could against student and faculty exchanges? However, the closer I examined the project, the more I realized that it represented the greatest threat to Chicana/o Studies since its inception.
A lot is at stake. Not only is the Cal State University Northridge California State University Northridge the largest Chicana/o Studies, if not the largest ethnic studies program, in the nation, but has been under the illusion that it was an equal partner and that it had a voice in the university governance.
However, the administration’s movida chueca threatens this voice and our ability to defend the access and interests of Latino students and the immigrant community. In the eighties and nineties, we were a haven for undocumented students and have been at the forefront of defending progressive issues.
The Trojan Horse threatens this illusion. Because the virus is so subtle, I will briefly address the threats and negative impact that these structural changes threaten the future of Chicana/o Studies. It goes to the core of the department’s ability to play an advocacy role for the access of Latino students, faculty and workers.
The oppositions to the UNAM movida go beyond una falta de respeto. The administration blatantly circumvented rules, procedures and traditions of the academy that protect areas of study and department autonomy, and we do not yet know what has been damaged.
Our anti-virus has always been academic protocols and precedents that we used to protect the department’s interests. University governance is the way universities are operated; it refers to the internal structure, organization and management of the institution. In principle, departments cannot encroach on each other’s area of study. More or less the administration has respected these boundaries.
In the case of the UNAM movida President Dianne Harrison and Dean of Social and Behavioral Science Stella Z. Theodoulou planted their virus and encroached on departmental space. Without consulting CHS the campus entered into a deal with UNAM to establish a Mexican American and Latin American Studies research program.
Why? Theodoulou openly told professors in her college that Chicana/o Studies did not have a monopoly on Mexico. Why weren’t we told about the negotiations then? Because they knew would challenge the modida chueca.
Yet when CHS labeled the UNAM deal a Trojan Horse, the administration was offended. The opposition was based on the fact that it lessens the power CHS to protect the interests of the department, the community and our students.
Like in the case of a computer virus, this Trojan Horse has been difficult to remove because the administration dribbles out bits and pieces of information on the deal. At first it assured us that it would not involve classes. It then qualified this statement saying that they may teach English courses, and UNAM could offer online classes through the Tseng College – a fully privatized (CSUN) college that students can attend by paying $1000 a unit.
Apparently CSUN plans to bring in upper middle class Mexican students to take English classes so they can later enroll at prestigious institutions such as UCLA and USC. Further, the students would stay at the student dorms, which were built and subsidized by CSUN students who pay for the costs of the dorms but cannot afford them.
The administration has refused to talk about the class differences between potential Mexican students and U.S. Latinos. It refuses to address the attitude of UNAM representatives who frankly treated CHS faculty like pochos.
My central concern is how the UNAM movida and other administration schemes to privatize the university will further impact student access and the affordability of education. The administration has responded to the lack of state aid by raising student tuition and fees. Tuition in the past 40 years has risen from $50 a semester to $3200. The administration to stay in rhythm with neoliberalism and has converted the university into a for profit operation. CSUN has lost thousands of blue collar and support staff — from janitors to food service workers. Like in the fields Mexicans are herded in by labor contractors. The contradiction is that while the bottom has suffered the number of administrators has proliferated.
For the past 45 years, CHS has been able to defend departmental autonomy. It employs over 70 professors and instructors. Latino student enrollment has climbed from under 100 to about 12,000.
The only area CHS has failed to change is faculty diversity. It has repeatedly demanded the data on how many Latino faculty members work at CSUN. Departmental web pages suggest that 75/80 percent of departments do not have a single Mexican American professor. Psychology has 50 faculty members, fifty percent of its majors are Latino, yet it only has one Mexican American tenured professor. Similarly, the racism in programs such as urban studies have driven qualified Mexican American professors out of its ranks.
I am not trying to be sarcastic when I say that the UNAM deal perpetuates white rule. It focuses on the study of Latin America; however, as it is presently constituted the great majority of the CSUN professors are white. None specialize on Mexico. As was the case 45 years ago, brown students wanting to know about Mexico will have to learn about it through white professors. At one time, it was called this colonialism.
For the masses of people higher education is the key to social mobility. Lack of access is the reason why students in Mexico are taking to the streets. Like Latino students here, they know that without a degree they will be stuck in jobs earning the minimum wage if they can get them.
History informs us that Mexican Americans made great strides in the 1970s because of increased access to universities. It led to the widening of a Mexican American middle class – something that was made possible by the Chicana/o Movement.
These gains are now threatened by the privatization that freezes opportunity. The struggle to just maintain the status quo will be difficult because university presidents such as Harrison rarely say “I am sorry.” Instead they invent their own narrative and expect others to play by it.
Adding to the dilemma is the disconnect between Chicana/o Studies and politicos who have to be educated. Few candidates raise higher education as a priority issue. Even less talk about structural changes.
In order to remove the Trojan Horse, Chicana/o Studies must secure its exclusive jurisdictions over the areas of Mexico and Mexicans in the United States. Its rights to self-determination and control over its area of study are now being attacked and that is unacceptable.
One anti-virus that could protect us from the virus attacks is a required impact report before agreements such as the UNAM-CSUN movida are finalized. Additional oversight over grants and new construction on campus must be demanded. They affect students since students pay for the administration’smovidas. Environmental impact studies are required on every new land development, and the same standard should be applied to programs negatively affecting students.
What is startling is that the traditional departments do not see the threat of the Trojan Horse. Perhaps it is because the horse is white.
Rodolfo F. Acuña