Last Monday, approximately 120 members and supporters of Students Promoting Empowerment and Knowledge (SPEaK) gathered on the Low Library steps at Columbia University to demonstrate against the pending appointment of Rodolfo de la Garza as director of Latino studies (LS).
De la Garza is the Mike Hogg Professor of Community Affairs in the department of government at the University of Texas at Austin and vice president of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, the country’s “premier Latino think tank.” A renowned expert in ethnic politics and the politics of Mexico, de la Garza recently produced five volumes on Latino political behavior.
Despite his impressive scholarship, de la Garza has a tarnished reputation among some CU students and faculty. He has been accused of belittling ethnic-studies programs and is alleged to have said, “There is no intellectual cohesiveness to Latino studies.”
According to a statement released by SPEaK, “Because departments hold the ultimate power of [hiring and] tenuring faculty, they can always trump the interests of the programs for which the faculty are supposedly being hired.” Robert Shapiro, a professor of political science (whose department was asked to evaluate the candidate’s academic requirements), says that de la Garza would make a valuable addition to the faculty. “He’s among the relatively small group of scholars who really attempt to do large-scale, empirical, and analytic research on the social and political behavior of ethnic minorities.”
Gary Okihiro, director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race (CSER), which oversees the development of ethnic studies, says de la Garza does not “fit within the vision of the center.”
“I want to look not only at race but also at gender, sexuality, class, and nation, and he isn’t interested in these things,” says Okihiro.
Steven Francisco, a Columbia senior and chair of SPEaK, describes a qualified ethnic-studies scholar as someone who has experience in many disciplines such as political science, history, and literature. He says that de la Garza lacks interest in an interdisciplinary approach.
SPEaK members will meet with de la Garza on April 24 to discuss their concerns.