“Educating Harry” About the Little Brown Brothers

Provost Harry Hellenbrand

Provost Harry Hellenbrand

A couple of years before her death Alice (Greenfield) McGrath, the executive secretary of the Sleepy Lagoon Committee that appealed the conviction of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants in 1942, was asked if when she got involved if she thought that they were going to win. Alice, a lifelong activist, responded that anyone who has the illusion that she is going to make a difference and win just because she put her little body into the struggle is delusional, “The poor don’t win that much,” she said. Alice got involved because of the injustice of the case not because she was going to win.

Right now we are struggling against California State University at Northridge, and faculty keep asking if we are going win. CSUN is one of the largest corporations in the San Fernando Valley. According the university’s 2013-2014 GENERAL FUND BASE BUDGET, its budget is $364,596,558.  The College of Humanities has a budget of $12,645,616; Social and Behavioral Sciences $14,853,659; and the President’s Administrative Unit $920,662. (My source says that this is the base budget and “usually [there are] other allocations/revenue streams such as Lottery, ExEl , Summer, external funds raised through development, various other augmentations.”)

The same inequities exist at CSUN as the rest of society. According to the campus newspaper from 1998 to 2010 the system’s full-time faculty experienced a 10 percent decrease in their salaries while administrative salaries rose during the same period. This salary gap further concentrates power at the top, and it has greatly impacted faculty governance. At the same time the faculty leadership has grown older and less involved.

Privatizing has taken its toll. At the Tseng College, a private college within a public institution, a student can pick up a degree if she can afford around a $1000 a unit. Tseng has the advantage that its instructors are not part of the California Faculty Association’s bargaining unit.

After the president the most powerful administrator on campus is the provost. He is a super Vice-President and the others defer to him. The provost has his own staff, an entourage of sorts. They are loyal to him and function as his personal cheerleaders.

I like Provost Harry Hellenbrand but like most people he is full of contradictions. As you acquire more power you listen less, believe that you are right, and defend the status quo. I don’t think he personally hates Mexicans but as a powerful administrator he must justify his position, the position of the institution, and his managers at any cost.

Because of this he fails to learn as witnessed by the acrimonious tone that the struggle over la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) has taken. A man of liberal traditions he has become irrational and autocratic, and consequently plays browns and blacks against each other. Harry is from Brooklyn, but he has lived on the West Coast, mostly in academe. His friends are from the academy, and from my knowledge he does not spend time consorting with working class Blacks, Mexicans and/or Latinos.

From the beginning of the controversy Harry has been unable to grasp the fundamental concept of respect. In my family there were constant references to respeto and amor propio. My mother carried a slight to her grave. When we were around people who had slighted us, she would say “ni les pedimos agua.” The principal reason why some Mexicans hate gringos is because of their arrogance; their entitlement; their slights; and refusal to take responsibility for their actions.

It would take space to enumerate the number of slights suffered at CSUN. Suffice to say that the UNAM deal ranks at the top. The only department on campus dedicated to the study of Mexico and Mexicans on both sides of the border, we were intentionally slighted when setting up the deal. We expected it of the UNAM people who look down up their own people and see us as educated pochos, but we were delusional and thought we were part of the academic family.

We have earned the right to be respected for our qualifications. If this would have happened on a major U.S. campus the principle of faculty governance would have meant something, witness what happened to Lawrence Summers at Harvard.

The fact that we were slighted is symptomatic of what we call the Ugly American. To add insult to injury, our arguments have been as of late been twisted.

Harry has become a Teddy Roosevelt in dealing with his little brown brothers. His responses remind me of the 1967 film How to Cheat on Your Wife: A Guide for the Married Man. In this farce Walter Matthau teaches Robert Morse tactics of men who have successfully committed adultery. The basic principle was to deny. Even if you got caught in bed with another woman, deny, deny, deny.

This has been Harry’s tactic. The University never consulted with us, but he says it did, after the deal had been finalizeddidn’t he meet with you? Well, none of the nine Chicanas/os at the meeting call it a consultation. Historically, academe consultation has meant being part of a process, an exchange of ideas. Harry’s consultation is the gringo way, tell those Third World People how they are supposed to behave.

The most exasperating part of educating Harry has been his crude attempts to turn our arguments against us. We asked him for raw data on the nationality, ethnicity, and department of each tenured professor. In 44 years at CSUN we have gotten only one accounting and that was at best fabricated. Bottom-line is that the administration wants a license to lie.

Although I have been very careful with my data, quoting mostly official university figures he says that I am lying. I quoted the Sundial, the campus paper, as saying that African American student enrollment had fallen to 5.9 percent. Harry made things worse. “I do not think that your charge of institutional racism helps matters.” The truth be told, the only one responsible for this decline is Harry. The problem is not the recruiters but flaws in the institution. At CSUN everything begins at the top.

Like they used to say in the 1960s, the situation has gotten bizarre. We complained about CSUN ripping off students by charging them $800 a bed, $3200 for an apartment when they can walk two blocks off campus and rent an apartment for an average of $1600 ($400 a bed). Because many dorms do not have kitchens students have to pay an additional $3000 plus for a meal pass.

Instead of dealing with these figures Harry says that the university employs union workers, accusing me of siding with developers for criticizing dorm costs.

Again, deny, deny, and deny, attack, attack, and attack. The university is the largest corporation in the area. It drives prices. So am I siding with developers? Many functions at CSUN have been privatized.

If Harry, as he says, is for a liberal public education, why does he support the Tseng College that subverts public education and teacher rights? Why are all the janitorial and vending machines and even the food places on campus outsourced?  In forcing students to buy meal passes, isn’t it a fact that most of the food establishments are franchises? Are these workers unionized?

rudy acunaWhat Chicana/o Studies is calling for is for Harry to tell the truth. Gives us the raw data on faculty diversity; follow the rules of faculty governance; respect the area of Chicana/o studies; respect our expertise within this field; let us have an open forum to discuss the impact of the UNAM deal; and rein in his mad dog Dean of Behavioral Science.

Harry, no te pedimos agua, we just demand respect. Pancho doesn’t live here anymore!

Rodolfo F. Acuña

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