File spoon-archives/postcolonial.archive/postcolonial_1996/96-02-20.131, message 22



Date: Sat, 06 Jan 96 11:43:02 PST
Subject:  E. Martinez/Rudy Acuna case


Brown David v. White Goliath -- Rudy Acuna's landmark suit exposes 
rampant discrimination at the University of California
By Elizabeth Martinez
Z Magazine, January 1996, pp. 57-62

	"You have a chance in a hundred of winning," people told Chicano 
historian Rudy Acuna when he filed suit in 1992 against the University of 
California Regents for discrimination based on his political work, race, 
and age.  No person of color had ever managed to bring rich, powerful UC 
to trial.  "But how can I not try?" Acuna would answer.  "How can I tell 
one of my students to fight injustice, or report a rape, or whatever, and 
not do it myself?"
	Four long years later, last October 30, Acuna walked out of a Los 
Angeles federal courtroom the victor against UC.  An activist professor 
of Chicano Studies, with a crew of unpaid, mostly Chicano/a lawyers, 
defeated those same Regents who had voted a few months earlier to abolish 
affirmative action.  As some observers commented, it was a brown David 
triumphing over a white Goliath.
	Many also saw Acuna's victory as a win for all progressive people 
in today's battle against reactionary control of education and ideology.  
It represented a strong challenge from below to the upper-class view of 
"scholarship" in general and of history in particular.  It affirmed 
Chicano Studies.  It was a ringing call to desegregate the University of 
California -- its administrators, faculty, staff, workers.
	The Acuna case also brought to light an astounding record of 
abused power, in which UC has used lies, dishonest procedures, character 
assassination, retaliation against dissidents, and tons of taxpayer 
dollars to maintain classist, racist, and sexist practices.
	The saga is far from over.  Just two weeks after the Acuna 
victory, UC's lawyers moved that the judge either throw out the jury's 
unanimous verdict for Acuna and rule for UC --- or order a new trial.  
They maintained the jury had "a complete lack of substantive evidence to 
support" its verdict.  UC attorneys have publicly said the jury acted 
"too emotionally" and was too racially diverse.  During the trial they 
publicly stated that the jury was "too working class."
	The eight-person jury (customary for a civil suit in federal 
court) consisted of four Latinos, one African American, one Filipino, one 
Asian/Anglo, and one Anglo.  Apparently the masters of academia, like 
other masters, do not appreciate the occasional fruits of today's rapidly 
changing demographics.  So these jurors had to be demeaned as "emotional" 
and working-class.
	Other events have confirmed UC's above-the-law arrogance.  In 
late November, the Faculty Legislature of UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), the 
campus where Acuna had suffered discrimination, voted to "thank" UC for 
going to court and "defending" its procedures.  This unprecedented move 
-- like nothing ever seen before in UCSB history -- signalled a closing 
of ranks against any and all challengers.  "Information Bulletins" 
prepared by UC attorneys and loaded with attacks on Acuna's character 
have been distributed on the Santa Barbara campus.  Their goal is to 
prevent him from being granted an appointment at UCSB now that he has won 
in court.
	How did the extraordinary confrontation of Acuna v. UC Regents 
come about?  The story begins quietly enough, in 1990, when students at 
UC Santa Barbara asked Acuna to apply for a position in the Chicano 
Studies Department there.  He did, and the chair of that department, 
Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez, recommended him for the post after the whole 
department reviewed 33 applicants and voted to name Acuna.  One of the 
goals was for him to help develop the first program in the United States 
that would grant a PhD in Chicano Studies.
	Broyles-Gonzalez and others had little doubt about Acuna being 
the best applicant.  During the movimiento years of the 1960s, he had 
founded Chicano Studies to meet student demands.  At California State 
University, Northridge (near Los Angeles) he built what became the 
largest Chicano Studies department in this country.  It is one of the few 
in the U.S. with an MA degree program.  Acuna has taught at Northridge 
since 1969.  For years one of his works, Occupied America, has served as 
the basic text book on Chicano history at colleges and universities 
everywhere.  After decades of being treated as invisible, the Chicano/a 
experience was finally being recognized a significant part of U.S. 
society and its history; Acuna played a crucial role in this 
transformation.  He even wrote two children's books about Mexican 
Americans, because there were almost none at the time.
	Acuna has been a frequent participant in demonstrations on issues 
of social justice, to the point of being arrested several times for his 
beliefs.  Over the years he has published many op ed articles on Latino 
issues, local politics, and other events in the Los Angeles Times and, 
before its demise, the Herald Examiner of Los Angeles.

Act I:  Acuna Vetoed 
	In a one-sentence memo dated June 19, 1991, Yolanda 
Broyles-Gonzalez was told the nomination of Acuna had been vetoed.  What 
happened?  And what did it mean when she herself was later removed?
	All appointments recommended by a department head at UCSB are 
reviewed for approval by several other bodies.  In Acuna's case, an "ad 
hoc committee" did the hatchet job, with its membership and its report to 
Chancellor Barbara Uehling kept secret.  Acuna could obtain only a 
summary of the secret committee's report, with names removed.  It 
explained the refusal to appoint him as due to inadequate scholarship and 
the fact that the Committee did not find his "fiery brand of advocacy" 
appropriate for a professorship.  It discredited his many letters of 
recommendation from outstanding scholars, while suggesting his high 
public profile would enable him to be "dictatorial" in the Chicano 
Studies department.
	Acuna believed UCSB had moved against him from fear of what could 
happen if his radical political perspective came onto that campus backed 
by his national reputation and senior stature.  "Their motive is to 
censor me politically under the guise of what is or what is not 
scholarly," he said at the time.  In a larger context, he added, the 
secret committee's action expressed a political climate that sees "token 
reforms like multiculturalism as a threat to their Euroamerican hegemony 
and [they] are raising barricades to defend [it]."
	Charges of discrimination could be brought against UC for its 
action, Acuna believed.  At first he tried to negotiate, offering not to 
file suit if UC would send a public letter of apology to him and those 
who recommended him.  During a later mediation he proposed other 
conditions, such as UCSB establishing a permanent Chicano cultural 
center, tripling Latino faculty by 1997, and developing long-range plans 
for Chicano Studies.
	Those conditions spoke to a stark reality at UCSB and UC in 
general.  It is a reality that has been repeated protested by students, 
with hunger strikes on different campuses during recent years, and by UC 
workers through union action.  Acuna documented one case after another in 
which the hiring of qualified Chicanos had been blocked by the violation 
or manipulation of procedures -- an old tradition.  The result:  out of 
583 tenured faculty at UCSB in 1990-91, only 5 percent (27) were Latino 
and only 1 of the 27 was a woman.  Such was the situation in a state 
officially 26 percent Latino according to the 1991 census, and surely 
more by now.  The numbers did not improve for the non-tenured, or for 
other people of color. Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez was the first woman of 
color to gain tenure at UCSB.  An official 1991 UC Berkeley study had 
shown UC employment discrimination against people of color and women to 
be systematic.
	Acuna estimated that less than 1 percent of the total 5 percent 
Latino faculty were of Mexican extraction (or Chicano/a) as compared to 
Cuban, South American, etc.  At the same time, the UC system usually 
treated Chicano studies as a non-legitimate discipline: "inchoate."  How 
it could develop in the absence of scholars and experts remained a mystery.
	Designed to improve the entire situation, Acuna's conditions for 
not suing were refused by UCSB.  At that point, he told the Santa Barbara 
News Press with typical Acuna in-your-face aplomb that he would sue.  
"What do you want me to do, act like a good Mexican boy, say "si senor," 
and go away?  Those days are gone forever."  Acuna felt he had no choice 
but to go to the court of law and of public opinion.
	The wheels of litigation then began to turn as Acuna's lawyers 
filed suit in September 1992.  Originally the grounds were discrimination 
based on race, national origin, political orientation, and age (Acuna was 
59 at the time).  Judge Audrey Collins, whose sympathies would become 
clear to everyone at the trial, threw out the first two grounds.  
Political discrimination was dropped through an attorney's procedural 
error.  Only ageism remained, but the team decided to go ahead:  "you 
work with what you've got" -- and there was direct evidence of age 
discrimination.  To have a court find UC guilty of discrimination in any 
form would be historic.

Act II:  The Secret Report Revealed
	Utilizing a Supreme Court decision in a Pennsylvania case 
concerning access to documents, Acuna's lawyers were able to obtain the 
full secret committee's report in 1993.  Now it could be told that the 
group which reviewed Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez's recommendation to hire 
Acuna consisted of three white men.  One, Wallace Chafe, had worked for 
the CIA for five years and was considered an expert on Native Americans.  
Asked in his disposition for his opinion about various scholars, he said 
that Noam Chomsky was a charlatan.  A second committee member, Giles 
Gunn, was a Professor of English literature who claimed to know the 
history of culture.  But he had no knowledge of Chicano Studies and had 
never heard of Acuna before.  
	Robert Kelley, the ad hoc committee's chair, was an unabashedly 
eurocentric historian who stated in his disposition that Acuna had lied 
in saying the U.S. started the war on Mexico of 1846-48.  In one of his 
history textbooks, Kelley still refers to undocumented Mexican workers as 
wetbacks in the 1986 edition.  The person originally nominated to be 
chair (but replaced by Kelley) was Otis Graham, one of the founders of a 
reactionary anti-immigrant organization, the Federation of American 
Immigration Reform (FAIR).
	Such was the all-white team assigned to evaluate an appointment 
that would have a major effect on UCSB's policies toward students and 
faculty of color as well as Ethnic Studies.  This trio received full 
support in their decision against Acuna from the Chair of UCSB's 
Committee on Academic Personnel (CAP), Jeffrey B. Russell.  An historian, 
Russell has stated that Acuna's work was Marxist because he used terms 
like "hegemony" and "subjugated peoples."  In his deposition of November 
17, 1994, Russell said the role of the scholar is search for truth; 
however, "absolute truth is whatever would exist in the mind of God, to 
which we have no access ... we cannot even hope to get close to it 
[absolute truth]."  In a March 7, 1991 lecture and confirmed in his 
deposition, Russell stated, " The purpose of the University is to 
proclaim the intricate mystery and the glory of God ..."
	Who selected those three men on the ad hoc committee?  The 
answer:  associate vice chancellor Julius Zelmanowitz, who puts together 
all such committees.  Zelmanowitz has enormous power; he is known for 
putting together a committee that will be sure to usher in a candidate 
smoothly -- or guarantee the candidate being rejected.  Before the trail 
Zelmanowitz publicly insisted on the "integrity" of the process with 
Acuna and that no campus procedures had been breached.  But in the trial 
itself, witnesses testified to improper phone calls, meetings outside 
review channels, and other violations.
	The ad hoc committee's report reads like postmodern McCarthyism.  
It beings by noting that Acuna is "an extraordinary visible historian," 
then goes on to term him "a cult professor."  In the Chicano world, "he 
is thought of as 'a master spirit' who can achieve remarkable things."  
Images of hypnotic priests and satanic rituals dance in the reader's head 
as the committee goes on to comment that Acuna has "an aura and prestige 
which far overshadows that of anyone else currently on [UCSB's] 
faculty."  They feared Acuna's influence would be decisive in future 
hiring, merit increases, promotions, research, writing.  It would 
determine the evolution of Chicano Studies.
	This dictatorial potential would be enhanced by Acuna being the 
first professor to hold his appointment entirely in Chicano Studies -- 
not as a dual appointment, where a professor is hired for Chicano Studies 
and another department, too.  That system has served, many believe, as a 
safeguard against Chicano Studies having independent control over its own 
faculty and growth. 
	The report then tried to go for the jugular of "weak 
scholarship."  After reading Acuna's work, as they claimed to have done, 
committee members felt "he is an inveterate polemicist and pamphleteer 
who ... shapes his analyses and narrative to serve a political purpose."  
Occupied America is a "moralizing work" and not objective; Acuna is "on a 
soap box, ranting."  His book is "counter-hegemonic"; it cannot qualify 
as "solid history."  CAP dismissed it as "a cult book."  Even committee 
member Giles Gunn later said in court that he didn't agree with some of 
the language of the report.
	Also in court, committee members admitted they had each read, at 
most, only one Acuna book.  But that did not prevent them from concluding 
that "placing an historian with Professor Acuna's definition of what 
constitutes scholarship in a predominant position" would be an error.  
His mind was not the kind needed "in a field as yet so inchoate and 
lacking in firm intellectual identity as Chicano Studies."  In a single 
sentence, the report demeaned both the person and his field of study.
	With those words the committee lay bare the heart of the matter: 
ideological control, particularly over Chicano Studies, which does not 
need further definition -- but by its very content implies an 
anti-imperialist, anti-racist historical perspective.
	What about Acuna's ten supportive "extra-mural" letters from 
scholars, some of them nationally known experts and some high-level UC 
professors?  CAP's chair Jeffrey Russell dismissed the letters by saying 
"with few exceptions they are solicited from people favoring politically 
"activist" over objective scholarly approaches.  Russell then quotes from 
every letter -- but only four could possibly be described as praising 
Acuna's activism or polemical views.
	Even before the secret committee's report became public, strong 
support for Acuna built in the community.  Students noted that UCSB's 
Chancellor had waited to announce Acuna's rejection until summer -- when 
it would be harder to mount protests.  On October 17, 1991, about 600-800 
demonstrated.  A march and rally in Santa Barbara on February 1, 1992 
drew some 2,500 people from California, Texas, and Colorado.  Acuna 
continued teaching at Northridge and writing.

Act III:  Moving Toward Trial
	Meanwhile, the lawsuit moved along slowly.  "I've never been in a 
case that was so hotly litigated," lead attorney Moises Vazquez told this 
writer.  UC tried to kill its adversary with paper:  filing a river of 
motions, sending an avalanche of letters and Faxes to be answered.  When 
Acuna's lawyers asked for UC personnel records, they received 45 to 50 
boxes -- probably 200,000 sheets of paper -- to plod through (on unpaid 
time).
	UC's often witch-hunting tactics included research every word 
Acuna had ever written, and reviewing it (on well-paid time) for 
supposedly subversive or radical content, anything that might hurt in 
court.  A high point came when UC sent a team of five men with three 
photocopiers to Acuna's home, to copy all of his papers.
	Acuna says UC contacted people all over the United States in a 
hunt for damaging information about his personal life.  He was audited by 
the IRS three times after filing suit, which again suggests a desperate 
search for dirt as does the court order UC obtained to make Acuna take a 
psychiatric examination.  Acuna is also certain that UC had agents 
monitor speeches he gave at public events.  Two were exposed, identified 
as campus police by students when he went to speak at a UCSB class.  UC 
also had informants among the students.
	To finance all this, UC spent an estimated $4 million before the 
October trial (a precise accounting will be available soon).  At the 
other end, Acuna's lawyers worked thousands of hours pro bono -- no 
salary unless the court awarded it -- and sometimes even paid for 
expenses out of their own pockets.  Small community-based fund-raisers, 
often with artists and performers donating their services, kept the 
lawsuit afloat thanks to people like Mary Prado, who also teaches at Cal 
State, Northridge.

Act IV:  The Trial
	The saga of David v. Goliath continued in the courtroom, 
beginning last October 10.  You could see it when you arrived:  the 
Gucci/Armani look of UC's Anglo attorneys with their expensive display 
equipment for evidence, and Judge Audrey Collins with her body language 
clearly indicating sympathy for UC.  Observers commented on her scornful 
eyeball-rolling at Acuna's arguments and her deferential attentiveness 
when UC's team spoke.
	Judge Collins' rulings also tended to favor UC.  First, as she 
mentioned above, she limited the grounds for his suit before trial, 
throwing out race and national origin; thus, she accepted as truth UC's 
claim that racism had not been at issue.  She also limited the time 
allowed for Acuna to prove his challenging case; his lawyers requested 
six weeks, she granted twenty hours.  She severely limited the number of 
experts his lawyers could call.  She limited the number of scholars who 
could testify in court about their letters supporting Acuna to just one 
person out of a possible ten.  Again and again Judge Collins put chains 
on Acuna's grievance.
	What does it mean that Collins owed her appointment as a judge in 
part to a letter of recommendation written by the man serving as UC's 
lead attorney on the case she was presiding over?  Even non-experts would 
call this a potential conflict of interest.  If Acuna's attorneys chose 
not to challenge her presence, they must have had doubts about getting 
anyone better in federal court.
	In the trial, the evidence for Acuna included numerous references 
in UC reports to his age as a liability -- references that were 
gratuitous or inappropriate.  For example, the ad hoc committee noted 
that Acuna "would be arriving at UCSB at age 59, and would necessarily 
have to spend much of his remaining time on the active faculty learning 
how to carry out this most difficult and demanding of instructional 
tasks, the teaching of students at the PhD level."  CAP's report 
describes as a drawback the fact that, "Acuna, at age 59, has never 
trained doctoral students."  The secret committee's report said that 
"many younger scholars would think him obsolete."  Because his 
anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist views are not as "thoughtful" as those 
of today's scholars, they implied.
	In court, UC's witnesses made statements that contradicted their 
earlier depositions.  For instance, Giles Gunn of the secret committee 
testified repeatedly that members never discussed Acuna's age in their 
meetings.  But when reminded of his deposition, he agreed "we did think 
that [Acuna's age] over."  Gunn denied the need to correct any 
contradiction between the statements; it was, he said, simply that "age 
was not the central factor."  The judge sustained UC's objection that 
Acuna's lawyer was being "argumentative" in identifying the contradiction.
	The only Raza witnesses for UC were two Latinas and one Latino 
>from the UCSB Chicano Studies Department:  Rosalinda Fregosa, Francisco 
Lomeli, and Denise Segura.  Back in 1991, the three had abstained in a 
vote called by chair Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez to recommend Acuna for a 
UCSB post.  The secret committee had made much of the divided vote (three 
in favor, zero against, and three abstentions).  
	However, in the trial none of the three stated that Acuna was 
unqualified for the position.  One, Denise Segura, testified that 
Broyles-Gonzalez had "intimidated" her into abstaining.  this was the 
latest of many unsubstantiated charges by Segura, who has reported sought 
the removal of every Chicano Studies chair since her arrival in 1986.  As 
usual, campus politics was playing its role in the saga of Acuna v. UC, 
and the bad guys were not all white.  At the same time, the main game 
didn't play at this level of smalltime academic antics; it was upstairs 
with the big power-brokers.
	After two working-days, the jury came back with its unequivocal, 
8-0 verdict for Acuna against UC's discrimination based on ageism.  
Dozens of supporters had been in the courtroom all month -- students, 
elected officials, teachers, workers, parents.  Now everyone celebrated 
the verdict.
	Judge Collins was to rule in December on whether to compel UC to 
grant Acuna the appointment (in which case he would receive $90,000 
compensation) or not (in which case he would receive $325,000).  Acuna's 
lawyers plan to continue the suit for general damages in state court, 
with a trial-setting conference in January 1996.  He has said personally 
that any income resulting from any court action would go to set up a 
foundation so that other Chicanos/as could bring legal action against 
discrimination.  ("Some money for my daughter Angela to go to college," 
would be the only personal use.)

Act V:  More UC Tricks
	Apparently UC doesn't intend to give an inch, no matter the cost 
to taxpayers.  To prevent the judge from having any reason to give Acuna 
the UCSB job, it submitted a new round of demonizing arguments and the 
Information Bulletins mentioned above.  It filed the motion asking for a 
new trial or a "judgment notwithstanding the verdict" by Judge Collins, 
based on the jury's supposed lack of evidence.  In case that wasn't 
enough reason, UC attorneys are saying, Collins should look at her own 
errors in allowing certain testimony that should never have been heard.
	Even before the trial, UC showed its intentions to wage all-out 
war on dissidents when it removed Broyles-Gonzalez as chair of the 
Chicano Studies department in 1994.  Yet she had just received an 
evaluation of "superior performance."  The excuse given, in veiled 
language, was her support for UCSB students who had waged an 11-day 
hunger strike to win more Chicano Studies faculty and other demands.  She 
told this writer that the reason was "retaliation for my support of Rudy 
Acuna, absolutely.  So much for academic freedom."
	Broyles-Gonzalez also states that the secret committee report 
distorted her statements at its meetings, which she was allowed to 
attend for one hour.  It quotes her as agreement on a criticism of how 
Acuna's work would be considered dated by younger scholars.  "I never 
said that; they twisted a different comment."
	At times the whole case echoes with conspiracy.  Acuna points to 
a strange coincidence.  Before filing suits, he published dozens of 
articles in the Los Angeles Times.  After filing, he submitted five to 
ten pieces on different issues but none were accepted.  Recently he 
learned that a vice president of the Times, Marilyn Lee, is a past 
president of the UCSB Alumni Association and a close friend of former 
UCSB Chancellor Barbara Uehling.  Lee's husband is associated with UCLA.  
The Los Angeles Times also terminated Broyles-Gonzalez as its theater 
critic after the Acuna suit began.
	Throughout the five-year struggle, Acuna's politics have not been 
simply race-based, and he says repeatedly: "we're not fighting white 
people; we're fighting capitalism.  There is a great danger in 
associating whiteness with capitalism.  You might forget stands taken by 
people like Eleanor Roosevelt, or Woody Guthrie with his song 'Jesus and 
Maria' about Mexican immigrants.  We also have to look at our own errors, 
like sexism and homophobia.  And it's true that we have to decide what 
kind of Chicano Studies we want.  It has to be progressive."
	The case of Acuna v. University of California Regents is about 
the mind's struggle for air in these suffocating times.  We can ask if it 
really matters whether there is freedom of thought at the university when 
so many youth are too poor to get past sixth grade.  Acuna's case says 
yes, it does.  When we talked on one of the last days in court, the issue 
was: why fight this endless suit?  You cannot win.  Acuna said:  "No, I 
can't lose.  You empower people by giving them historical memory.  Even 
if we lose the case, knowledge is gained.  Memory is established.  You 
can show why we lost, if we do.  You can expose what happened.  As 
Malcolm X said, 'if you don't know your history, you're no better than a 
lower animal'."
	Which is why the whole progressive world -- educators, students, 
civil rights advocates, anti-racist activists, workers, youth -- should 
be watching this case.




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