Friday, March 5, 2010

War Over Knowledge

War Over Knowledge[1]
Guadalupe T. Luna

Chicana scholar Teresa Córdova states: “In the struggle to give voice to our experiences, working class people of color encounter multiple mechanisms meant to silence us.”[2] One form of silencing includes institutions threatening educators with lost tenure for “daring” to teach Latinas/os Studies. Comprising a “war over knowledge,” as an example is seen in the present struggle to derail Chicana/o Latino Studies (“CLS”) at Michigan State University.

This recent version of “silencing Latinas/os” initially involved the arbitrary and capricious working and disparate educational conditions for CLS faculty and graduate/undergraduate students. Rather than protect the students however, and through a pattern and practice of heavy hand tactics MSU administrators are employing and re-directing the facts to ultimately eliminate CLS at MSU.

The struggle began after CLS faculty appointed a new director for undergraduate students. Thereafter the director initiated a series of confrontations and polarizing events that alienated many undergraduate and graduate CLS students (both female and male) and faculty members (both female and male). All attempts to meet with the director to resolve the issues were rejected with statements that there was “no problem.”

The “no problem” position however is difficult to reconcile with the director verbally harassing students and faculty members. Students faced threats of retaliation such as in withholding student funding. Attempts of the director to drive senior faculty from their office and students from their study space at CLS also provoked difficult situations. Harassment of both witnessed the director changing the outside door lock to the inner CLS suites; gratuitously charging both male and female students with sexual harassment or sex discrimination; following a pre-arranged bus trip of students and faculty to another state with ensuing harassment and intimidation of the class and its faculty during the outings presentations and dinner. In sum, the whole culture, learning environment and production of knowledge within CLS shifted thereby causing students to flee to libraries and cafeterias and other safe places to study.

Rather than attempt to resolve the issues the director went outside the program and garnered the “support” of individuals who were neither involved in CLS, nor ever attended faculty meetings. Support for the director followed from individuals who were never locked out of their offices, nor witnessed or experienced any of the above hostile working conditions and educational environment. In one situation a MSU police officer called a student at home stating their protests “had to cease” in violation of administration and due process law.

Following faculty governance procedures the faculty resolved to vote to remove the Director but the Dean instead formed a Task Force. To hear the Dean in her charge which also included the option of removing the Director, go to:

Comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty as well as outsiders who had not attended faculty meetings, and after extensive testimonies from students and faculty the Task Force voted to remove the Director. The Dean however falsely and publicly reversed her earlier position and stated she had not given the Task Force the option of recommending the director’s removal. To the present the administration refuses to follow its own earlier mandate.

The above does not reflect the theoretical praxis that shapes the contours of CLS; nor is this an instance of gendered politics (recall female students and female faculty have all witnessed direct injuries). Neither is this an instance of the war over gendered identity politics (as the director asserts). The bottom line is that gendered identity politics obligate primary facts and evidence. And the primary facts and the Dean’s systemic shifting countervailing edicts reveal a hostile working and educational environment with attendant extra-legal harm to CLS students and faculty.

Yet an additional lesson remains. Specifically on top of failing to resolve the formally filed faculty and student grievances the fundamental issue emerging is that the University is on course to dissolve CLS. The University has responded to students’ not by addressing their legitimate concerns and grievances, but instead by retaliation and threats.

Further primary facts and evidence show that in a blatant disregard or faculty governance and due process the faculty names were removed from the CLS website. Even more egregious, upper level administration pressured faculty chairs from other units to threaten junior faculty who are protesting the director’s divisive administration and thereby rendering their potential tenure at MSU vulnerable. In one instance such pressures ultimately caused the constructive discharge of a junior Chicano faculty professor with much regret and disappointment to the remaining CLS faculty, students and supporters and causing yours truly to link his forced resignation with Title VII employment discrimination law.

CLS remains at heightened risk moreover when administrators refuse to reconcile the direct harm students’ experienced and without resolving their formally filed grievances. In the present for example the chances of Chicana/o students obtaining funding and teaching assistant posts remains elusive. Meanwhile students face a breach of first amendment rights or are threatened with the loss of inter alia scholarships; and without funding their chances of graduating disappears. The door to CLS elimination thereby, opening even further.

Colonial theory accordingly reveals evidentiary rules are manipulated when newer and arbitrary burdens of proof are shifted and where results do not match what power brokers seek to accomplish. See the Dean’s initial charge with her subsequent public denial of the Task Force’s results. Colonialism over gente de color is accomplished when such administrative recalcitrance “fails” to see causative factors leading to the disparate environmental educational culture at MSU and employ the immediate issues for its own purposes. It is not difficult to comprehend why the Dean has formed yet another Task Force comprised of individuals who publicly demonstrated hostility to CLS. In essence while the students’ are exhaustively challenging their forced alienation from a Program that initially drew them to MSU, the administration is thereby throwing gasoline into a raging fire.

Colonialism is thereby accomplished when long ignored intersectionalities are challenged in the production of knowledge. Recall the loss of tenure for faculty producing Latina/o knowledge, or the firing of the Cordova sisters in New Mexico for teaching Chicana/o histories, and the present forced departure of a CLS professor at MSU. Colonialism is revealed where MSU is not seeking to resolve a disparate educational and employment environment. In contrast and specifically, it is seeking the elimination of CLS and with its ultimate disappearance at stake, the University thereby succeeding in this war over knowledge.

[1]This essay is taken from the public record, through personal interview and direct knowledge. See also

[2]Teresa Córdova, Power and Knowledge: Colonialism in The Academy, in Living Chicana Theory, 17 (Carla Trujillo ed., 1998).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Nuestras Voces welcomes passionate and respectful commentary. The administrator will delete comments that insult or threaten other blog participants or that fall outside of the bounds of respectful discourse. Trolling, spamming and other annoying behaviors are strictly prohibited. In the rare event that your post has been deleted, do not post comments regarding that fact. Peace!