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Divide-and-Conquer at Cal State Northridge

Institutional Racism

by RODOLFO ACUÑA

In a recent exchange with Provost Harry Hellenbrand, he made the most amazing statement: he was offended by my assertions that California State University Northridge is a racist institution. Like they say on Facebook, I almost lol (laughed out loud). In my fifty-five years plus as an educator I have heard similar denials from administrators and teachers who would say, “How can I be a racist, my best friend is a Mexican.”

As a result of the Archie Bunker years society rationalizes, “Well Archie was a racist but so are blacks and Chicanos,” as if that made it okay. Or, just that reverse racism made it okay.

Admittedly, racism is not as bad as it was forty years ago. Today professors do not tell you that now that they have a Mexican on staff that there will be flies in the cafeteria. However, over the years racist slogans have posted in the Chicana/o Studies area. During Greneda Invasion (1983), a Latina student told me to go back to Mexico, and then frat student knocked me on my arse. In 1993 there was the “Lupe Incident;” the ZBT was caught singing a drink song to a 13 year old dead Mexican girl who they were screwing. But these were excused as youthful indiscretions.

But, let’s focus on recent events. On December 3, 2013, The Sundial, the CSUN student newspaper reported “African-American enrollment drops to… 5.9 percent of the entire student population.” The percentage of Black residents in LA City is over 8 percent. Ideally, in order to keep pace, the enrollment should be about 10 to 12 percent since the African American enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District is just over 10 percent.

Who is to blame? One answer is that CSUN does not recruit in areas with African Americans.

In 2012, out of 34,000 students 8,100 were Mexican Americans and 4,651 other Latino. This looks great if you compare it to Black student enrollment; however, should the oppressed be models on how well another group is doing?

CSUN’s service area has a huge pool of Mexican American students. CSU Fullerton with  36,402 students had 9,608 Mexican Americans and 2,955 Latinos. The LAUSD, second only to New York. is 75 percent Latino — 80 percent are of Mexican origin.

Institutional racism determines student retention. I went to the CSU System web site; 16 percent plus tenure track faculty members were Latinos. At CSUN 4.7 percent of the faculty is black and 12.5 percent Asian. I have just spent an hour searching the CSUN Web page and found little on faculty diversity.

In this search I felt like I was looking for the Scarlet Pimpernel.  The last time we got raw data was some forty plus years ago, CSUN claimed that over 10 percent were Latino. When they gave us the data we found that that any faculty member whose name ended in a vowel was listed. We lol when we saw the name of Warren Furomoto, Japanese American, his name ended in vowel. Consequently, we want to see the names; if CSUN has nothing to hide, it will comply.

From my experience there are sincere faculty members who want to change the institution. But, for the most part they resist change, resist affirmative action, and are insulted when you talk about closing the gap between the race and ethnicity of the students and the faculty. The retort is that they want to hire qualified faculty members.

Attitude is something that is hard to quantify. However, through experience I know that students of color get the least support from the mathematics and economics departments. Biology does a solid of mentoring Latino students.

Take the case of the former chair of the Economics Department Shirley V. Svorny. In an Op-Ed the Los Angeles Times titled, “Make College Cost More” (November 22, 2010), Svorny argued: “Artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren’t suited to the academic rigors of a university.”

A CSUN student responded: “The professor is implicitly saying that poor students are not smart. That is the most ridiculous argument for raising student fees.”

Studies such as The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray has great appeal. Basically it argues that IQ differences are genetic. Society can put all of the money it wants into educating African Americans and Latinos but genetically they are just not equal to the rigors of education.

The Pioneer Fund with ties to far right wing funders seeded Murray’s early research Murray’s “research”. Ishmael Reed wrote in CounterPunch, “Using Murray’s ‘theories’ which were embraced by the New Aryans at Commentary, the New Republic and the New York Times Book Review, black kids are uneducable.” S waste money on educating them?

CSUN Mathematics professor David Klein whose only redeeming quality is his support of Palestinians liberation comes to a similar conclusion as Svorny in an Orange County Register Op-Ed piece titled “Racial politics compound problems left behind by embrace of education fads.” (April, 4, 2004).

Math is the least Latino/African American friendly department at CSUN. All students come with math deficiencies. However, at teaching institution such as CSUN, our mission is to take students and work with them. Klein goes out of his way to go after Pan African Studies who called the Math Dept elitist. He claimed that Chicana/o Studies argued “that the math department has developed a culture that rejects students who are not math majors,” and that “the reaction of the math department is surprising since we believed that the university had progressed in the past 30 and some years.”

Klein argued that CSUN policies were driven by a “cycle of remediation.” He adds that “Ethnic studies departments, corporate foundations and at least one Cal State University campus have found common cause in supporting educational programs that ultimately deprive California’s future elementary school teachers of basic arithmetic skills. These misguided agendas should be confronted directly by the public and by its elected representatives.” Klein ignores that before these programs were in existence many schools did not have a single Mexican origin or African American teacher.

Whether it is Svorny on the far right or the ideologically eclectic Klein, the outcome is the same. They are not aberrations and represent the common sense of California State University at Northridge.

If this were a perfect world, the university would correct these imperfections. However, administrators such as Provost Harry Hellenbrand who are basically decent human beings tacitly support the Svornys, Kleins, and the Deans Stella Z Theodoulous. This is racist.

Students are at a disadvantage. Most business at the campuses is conducted when students and faculty are on holidays. Progressive struggles must be intense to succeed. In order to flush out the imperfections the heat has to go way up. It is analogous to a sweat bath or a sauna.  Most people do not get to that point; they cannot stand the heat. Even so the sweat does flush out some imperfections.

On the negative side it shows that people like Harry are intent on defending the system and let the Stellas lie and lie. If they admitted she was lying would mean that they would have to do something about it. It is analogous to being cheated on. If you acknowledge it, you would have to do something about it.

Administrators have learned that they can always divide and conquer.

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.