Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The George P. Bush Award Debacle: Rescuing Our Image and Reputation in Mexican American Studies at UT-Austin

The George P. Bush Award Debacle: Rescuing Our Image and Reputation in Mexican American Studies at UT-Austin

June 3, 2015

Dear Educational Equity, Politics & Policy in Texas Blog Readers:

Those of you who follow this blog and my work/our work standing up to injustice, particularly at the Texas State Legislature where the struggles are legion, intense, and exhausting might be wondering why I have been silent on the debacle involving the secretive selection to honor George P. Bush—Jeb Bush's son and our current, newly-elected, Texas Land Commissioner—a Latino Leadership Award on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 at the University of Texas at Austin (Davila, March 31, 2015).

The short answer is that I count myself among the many—our faculty, students, and community included—that have waited patiently for a formal, official explanation and apology for this decision that has brought great harm to our image and reputation as a university.  This requested explanation isn't simply about the decision to give George P. Bush this award, but also why this decision reflects a pattern of governance and administration that has excluded us as faculty, students, and community in this and other areas related to the development of the newly-created Department of Mexican American and Latino Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Here is what our students at UT have explicitly demanded—posted  in full on this website—that also directs you to a petition signed by alumni, scholars and leaders throughout the country that have also registered their concerns:

Public Statement on Latino Leadership Award. As requested during the Student Conversation Meeting called by CMAS/MALS on April 23rd, we ask that the CMAS/MALS decision makers involved in the selection of George P. Bush as the recipient of the inaugural Latino Leadership Award issue a public statement that should include, first and foremost, a formal apology for excluding faculty, community members, and students from the selection process. Additionally, it should detail the selection criteria and the names and affiliations of all decision makers involved. We insist on this formal public statement because we feel that the current CMAS/MALS leadership has an obligation to clear affiliated faculty and students on a decision that was made in a secretive and unilateral fashion. We ask that the current CMAS/MALS leadership acknowledge that the vast majority of students have spoken up in objection to both the choice for the awardee and the way the decision was carried out, and voice a firm commitment to establishing criteria with students and faculty that reflect the values of CMAS/MALS and the wider Latina/o community in future endeavors (you may continue reading here, scrolling down to Dr. Maria Cotera's post).

Not only have we as faculty and students waited in vain for an official public statement (since an emergency faculty meeting held at 8AM on April 8, 2015), but here is yesterday's June 1st Huffington Post piece by Roque Planas that is the latest in a series of published pieces (see below) related to this decision:

  UT Austin Rethinks Awards Process After Latino Award To George P. Bush Sparks Uproar
I am far from alone in the sentiment that this is a significant philosophical and moral setback for one of our country's first Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) centers/programs established in 1970 at the height of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. The newly created department called the Department of Mexican American and Latino Studies (MALS), exists institutionally alongside CMAS and was officially established in September, 2014.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a MALS faculty member but belong instead to the Department of Educational Administration in the Education Policy and Planning Program at UT—and with a courtesy appointment in Cultural Studies in Education within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.  I also direct the Texas Center for Education Policy.  I nevertheless used to be a member of the teaching faculty within CMAS when I was first hired and continue today as I have since the beginning of my days at UT as an affiliate.  Currently, I am also a member of the CMAS/MALS Executive Committee and can attest, as well, to the fact that none of us on the EC knew anything about this until we received an invitation to this award ceremony from President Bill Powers who literally just stepped down from his post.

Because so many of us have deep and defining commitments to the decades-long, hard-earned, civil and human rights, progressive agenda that Mexican American Studies represents, I share links to the universe of published pieces to date so that the casual reader cannot reduce the outrage that this decision has sparked either to a personal attack or reckless hyperbole.  Far from it.  We all deeply regret that this crisis has befallen us and we are working toward a resolution that will repair our image and reputation as a Center and Department.

I'll begin first, however, with a succinct list of all the things that George P. Bush OPPOSES that a keyword search on Google would reveal (otherwise, simply read the Texas Republican Party Platform [pdf]):
  • In-state tuition for undocumented students, DACA, DAPA (for detention for misdemeanors), healthcare or citizenship ever

  • Public education/schools/teachers/board; supports vouchers and using the public's taxpayer dollars for private schools

  • Women's right to choose on reproductive health issues

  • Eliminating global warming; in fact, he's in that marginal percent that doesn't even think that humans are impacting global change

  • Communities' freedom to ban fracking—yes, their very freedom to pass ordinances to do so; this guy's family is in energy and he's now the Texas Land Commissioner and so this is a very big deal.

  • Medicaid for the poor and vulnerable.

  • Marriage equality—forget it; in fact, he supports "reparative therapy" for gays.

  • Affordable Care Act—same deal; supports all efforts to deny this to the public.

  • Civil Rights/Social and Economic Justice—no minimum wage increases; gun control, affirmative action (YES to increasing sales taxes, privatize pensions, restrictions in voting, and the United States leaving the United Nations!)

  • Last but not least, do consider that the Bush family is moving from oil to water—the new frontier in the energy wars—purchasing thousands of acres of land with pristine reservoirs of water in Paraguay.  

George P. Bush awarded first inaugural Latino Leadership Award

Texas land commissioner George P. Bush speaks Monday evening at the awards ceremony for the inaugural Latin Leadership Award.
Photo Credit: Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff

UT President Bill Powers presented land commissioner George P. Bush the inaugural Latino Leadership Award on Monday evening.
The president’s office worked in conjunction with the Center of Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies to select Bush as the first awardee, said Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, associate director of the Center for Mexican American Studies.
“We went through a series of 15 nominees, and we evaluated them for leadership, public service and areas like that,” Guidotti-Hernández said. “With him as the first Latino land commissioner, I think in its [179-year] history of the office, we thought it was an appropriate acknowledgement of what it means to be a trailblazer in Latino leadership today.”
As a son of a Mexican-American mother and as a Hispanic man who grew up in the U.S., Bush said he was honored to receive the award.
“Going to this University, being honored for the first time, it’s truly a honor and privilege,” Bush said. “It’s truly a challenge to take things to the next level, to give a hand to the next generation of students looking at opportunities whether its public service or grad school or finding opportunities that can improve their life. [There is] a lot of work ahead.”
Bush said he wants his agency to help both the center and the department.
“They’re doing research that I think is going to benefit our agency,” Bush said. “In terms of projecting the big needs facing the community, they mentioned health care, immigration, voter ID and so forth, which is helpful to our agency.”
While Bush accepted the award, approximately 15 protesters in the West Mall came to express their dissatisfaction at Bush receiving this award, as well as with his political track record.

Feminist activist Martha Cotera speaks in front of the tower in protest of the decision to grant Land Commissioner George P. Bush the inaugural Latino Leadership Award Monday evening. Cotera and other protestors cited Bush's political record on issues ranging from immigration to fracking and environmental concerns as reasons why he should not have been selected for the award. Carlo Nasisse | Daily Texan Staff
According to Daniel Yanez, an Austin community organizer, Bush appears to care about issues facing the Latino community, but he hasn’t done anything actually benefitting that group.
“As a politician, he has never come out for Hispanic or Latino or Mexican-American issues,” Yanez said. “To give him an award, particularly of this type — I have to laugh.”
Protesters addressed several of the issues Bush said he wishes to improve. Students gathered around to listen to feminist activist Martha Cutera, who took a strong stance against most of Bush’s political policies, ranging from immigration to fracking and environmental concerns.
“It’s difficult for students and faculty and staff to get involved in actions like this,” Cutera said. “We do not know how this honor came about. We are concerned that the values that this person has publicly talked about and in the Republican platform that he supports are anti-civil rights, anti-poor, anti-women.”

Additional published articles to date listed chronologically:
  • An Interview with Dr. Domino Perez, by Alfredo Santos in La Voz de Austin (May 2015)
By Elaine Ayala

May 24, 2015 Updated: May 24, 2015 6:40pm
When Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush was awarded the first-ever Latino Leadership Award by the University of Texas in March — three months into his first term in statewide office — Chicano activists and scholars in the state capital criticized how and why he was chosen.
They said politics was at work in honoring a newcomer who, frankly, had yet to show an affinity or inclination for Latino issues. They said it was premature, at the very least, to honor Bush.
They weren’t alone.
Protesters were equally critical of the process and lack of transparency by which UT officials arrived at the selection, and they specifically criticized outgoing President Bill Powers and two academics who head the UT Center for Mexican American Studies and the newer Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. The award was presented within the auspices of those two UT entities.
Though little has surfaced from UT since then — and no mention of the award seems to exist on the Texas Land Office site, nor the center and department sites — the episode has reverberated in national discussions, academic resolutions and an online petition by UT grads.
None of it is pretty.
The National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies adopted a scathing resolution by Texas Chicano scholars that charges Domino Pérez, director of UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies, and Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, chairwoman of the Mexican American and Latino Studies Department, of violating the group’s core values of “democratic participation, transparency, accountability, and faculty, student and community engagement.”
The resolution points to the “negative national attention” that the Bush award brought to the field and called Pérez and Guidotti-Hernández’s decision “capricious and arbitrary” in failing to involve any faculty advisory committees.
In between every “whereas,” the resolution laments what’s seen as a major fall from grace for UT’s center, where scholars such as beloved folkorist Américo Paredes helped birth this important area of study, one that the academy sorely lacked and which has since produced so many outstanding scholars and scholarship.
Together, they filled voids in the academy and diversified the American library, documenting the histories of Mexican Americans and Chicanos in the Southwest. Five hundred years of history moved into the light, and the marginalized moved to the center of the page.
The flagship university in the UT system helped make all that happen.
Some UT grads have posted a petition online, circulated nationally, that has received more than 300 signatures.
“We have long considered being alumni of UT and CMAS to be a badge of honor,” it says. “We now feel deeply betrayed by the decisions and process pertaining to this leadership award, which seems no more than an attempt to sell our reputation as a leading center for knowledge production on Latina/o communities to the highest bidder. The awarding of this honor to Mr. Bush has diminished the prestige of MALS (Department of Mexican American Latino/a Studies), CMAS (Center for Mexican American Studies), and the production of Latina/o scholarship at UT, and it taints the institution as a whole.”
The nation’s MAS scholars are actually calling for Guidotti-Hernández and Pérez to be removed. They want national searches. They want tenured professors. They want community and faculty advisory committees to be reconstituted and reinstated.
Activist and scholar Martha Cotera, one of the original protesters back in March, sounds a little sorry for the two professors in question. They were vulnerable to top-down micro-management she blames on the embattled, outgoing Powers.
“This is not a new thing,” she said.
She and a few other scholars and citizens will meet with new UT President Gregory L. Fenves on June 10. She’s hoping that the new president will be as concerned as they are about how a flagship university handles Mexican-American studies going forward.
In the meantime, there is an opportunity for George P. Bush here. Get the best revenge possible: Do work deserving of the Latino Leadership Award.
Elaine Ayala

Elaine Ayala

Minority Affairs Reporter, Latino Life Blogger, Metro Columnist | San Antonio Express-News

I hope this post lends both clarity and legitimacy to the outrage that this unfortunate decision has sparked, as well as illuminated George P. Bush's politics that are harmful not only to the Latino community writ large, but also to the planet. 

Lest the casual reader insist that our beef is that George P. is a republican, I offer in response that it's pretty pathetic when our republican Latino friends and colleagues are equally outraged by this decision because he has NEVER done anything for our community.  

Finally and most importantly for CMAS/MALS...if we are to rescue our image and reputation from this de facto, neo-conservative agenda that made its way into that precious intellectual, radical, and interdisciplinary space that many of us used to call "home," we not only need a national search for a chair that is also a leading scholar in MAS, but also a new administration with a track record regarding transparency, accountability, and an open democratic process.

 Thanks, everybody, for your attention to this important matter.

Dr. Angela Valenzuela
CMAS Affiliate and CMAS EC Member

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:34 PM

    WOW. You guys have a very compelling and explosive opposition to this action. Who actually made the decision to select George P. Bush? Those are the ones we need to direct our attention. My name is Alberto ALEGRE Calvo, a Marconi Radio Award winner *(very rare for a Tejano) I would like to help you in your cause. Call me at 210-584-7921 to talk about this on the RADIO.