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"Twelve Angry Men"

History has absolved me

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: January 19, 2012


"Twelve Angry Men"


Currently, I am putting together a book that includes my non-scholarly pieces that I have written since the mid-1980s, which I call "My Journey Out of Purgatory." My basic method is synthesizing history based on a timeline. I line up my documents, showing cause and effect. The study takes on meaning in the context of Tucson.

In reviewing the brutal and dishonest destruction of the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies "My Journey Out of Purgatory" the annalist study takes on a special meaning. I am reminded that the censorship of books, for lack of a better word, the suppression of Latino students is pro forma and never goes away.

The lies of the Tucson cabal and their distortion of the truth give my suit against the University of California Santa Barbara a historical meaning. Delusional, supporters of the hate Mexican movement invent myths in an attempt to destroy their critics. For instance, when I observed that members of the TUSD trustees were unqualified, like infants they spread the rumor that I had to sued UCSB for tenure. The truth be told, when I sued the University of California System I had been a full professor for 25 years.

I was more than happy at Cal State Northridge where I had the good fortune of implementing the Chicano Studies Department in the spring of 1969. It was an idyllic life, and over the years I had acquired an icon reputation. The students were from working class, first generation college, backgrounds who when they found out that I might go to UCSB brought me food and would ask me not to leave. The provost was fantastic and he offered me half a load to withdraw my application.

The only reason I had applied was because my wife was recovering from cancer and she wanted an environment where I would not be as driven. In 1991 I went to El Salvador and she was anxious during my absence.

To make a long story short, I was offered the position. Everything seemed to be going well until the university-wide committee got a hold of it and some disaffected Chicano faculty realized the full impact of my becoming a colleague and curried favor with the university administration.

At this point, if I would have been told that there was any opposition, despite the loyalty and support of UCSB students and the Mexican community, I would have pulled out. I had tenure and the perfect situation. When the University committee, the provost and president's report came back, it was so vicious that I had no other choice but to launch a campaign entitled, "?ŪTakeback Our History!"

There is always a time you have to fight back if you have any pride in your family, community and yourself.

During the course of the struggle, I self-published a newspaper called "FOR [Friends of Rudy] ACU?śA: ?ŪTake Back Our History! The University of California has enormous power within California. It has a budget of over a billion dollars and is one the largest employers in California. Reporter friends of mine told me that their editors were pressuring them not run stories.

The eight page tabloid led off with an article titled "UC Out of Control; Chicanos Demand Lawmakers Check Plunder." The subtitle read, "Acu??a v. UC; Nothing But the Facts." On the next page there was an article on the reviews titled "Twelve Angry Men."

The facts [as alleged in the reviews] ... contradict this distortion of fact ‘«™ at any stage of Dr. Rudy Acu??a's review, the administration, the faculty senate or the ad hoc committee could have abandoned the search. Instead, the reviewing agencies attacked Dr. Acu??a in a malicious and mean spirited way.

Records show that the reviews were neither academic nor serious. Only one of a dozen or so reviewers even claimed expertise in Chicano Studies.

Indeed, Provost David Sprecher, who everyone cited as an expert, changed his testimony during his deposition, attempting to rehabilitate his testimony by deleting references to Acu??a's political activities.

Following are a few of the exerpts found in the aggregate summary citing what the reviewing agencies said of Acu??a and what led to Acu??a to look for the real reasons for his denial.

"Occupied America is a 'cult book' ‘«Ű and certainly, as [this reviewing agency reads] in the comments of outside evaluators, it has had an immense impact on the conceptualization of Chicano history. So too, [this reviewing committee concludes] Acu??a himself may with accuracy be termed as a 'cult professor.' Occupied America, which appeared just at the time Chicano Studies was emerging as a teaching field and therefore when it was in great need of a core book, lifted Acu??a from relative obscurity to the position of almost solitary intellectual leadership in the Chicano movement and community‘«™

"A person of Professor Acu??a's stature and experience would stand so far above the rest of his colleagues that his position could verge on being dictatorial‘«™This would have a potentially dominating influence on the kind of research and writing that would be smiled upon, or rejected as wrong and unacceptable‘«™

"As the output of a 23-year career, the scholarly substance of the materials accompanying this case are very meager. Much of the work does not fall into our usual basic research category, and more than some does not appear to be of major scholarly significance. Professor Acu??a produced an angry special pleading, moralizing work entirely lacking distance, critical stance toward his subject‘«™.

"An inveterate polemicist and pamphleteer who ignores the rules of evidence, Acu??a fills his work with angry pronouncements on a wide array of subjects, and flagrantly, openly and apparently on purpose shares his analyses and narrative to serve his purpose‘«™

"Believing that such a person [Acu??a] might be insulated in a large established Department‘«™in a field so inchoate as Chicano Studies that kind of appointment would be an error, and one difficult to correct‘«™"

The 12 Angry Men made it clear that they did not believe that Chicanos were capable or professionally prepared enough to objectively review other Chicano scholars.

The reviewers showed further contempt for the field of Chicano Studies, implying that they did not consider it to be a legitimate discipline.

[My reaction was that if I were what they said I was then I was the chign??n and they should want to hire me]

The most difficult thing at this stage was to find attorneys. I had to piece the early case together and it would have fallen apart if not for Leonard and Beth Minsky, a father-daughter team at the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, a Ralph Nader Washington watchdog group.

The original complaint was written by the Center for Constitutional Rights. It missed the statute of limitations for the political discrimination cause of action which was by far our strongest suit. CCR attorney Sarita Rios admitted that CCR took the case but had little hope of winning because of the deep pockets and political influence of the UC. This left us with race and age claims.

Beth Minsky and my son, Frank, carried the case in the Bay Area. However, when the UC moved both the state and federal cases to Southern California, I lost my son as an attorney. So Beth and I with the support of Armando Dur??n recruited about fifteen Chicano lawyers who had no experience in litigating civil rights cases.

The UC hired Corbett & Kane, a union-busting firm. to win at any cost.

For five years, we pursued the age and race claims, and won on the age discrimination cause of action. As mentioned, I had lost my political claim which we considered a prima facie case. By far it was our best cause of action because, like the age discrimination, the reviewers made political judgments.

Federal judge Audrey Collins dropped race discrimination, which we were prepared to appeal once the case was finished. However, we won and the evidence for age and race are almost identical and my attorneys felt that we had nothing further to prove. Moreover, we were broke; I had run up over $50,000 in debts and fundraising had stopped due to preparation for the trial.

Our lead attorney Moises Vazquez was almost broke. We could not use money from fundraisers to pay his bills and his practice had suffered. The attitude was: "We made our point so let's get on with our lives."

We went to trial in October 1995. We had been forced to carry the case in federal and state courts ‘«Ű the former in Los Angeles and the latter in Santa Barbara. In 1994 we decided to force the issue and try the case in state court; we had gotten fair coverage in Santa Barbara. Many local residents resented UCSB because their own children could not attend it.

However, federal trial judge Collins, surprised us by taking charge of the case. The state judge had begun to warm up to us, but considered the case a hot potato and surely feared the UC. We had not challenged Collins because she was a black woman. We had our qualms; she was a former assistant district attorney and known to be conservative.

Slowly, other facts emerged: the head UC counsel had written her a letter of support when she was nominated to the federal bench; they were good friends. The former UCSB vice-chancellor had been her law professor at UCLA, and she was active in UC alumni circles.

During the trial Collins' clerks consorted with Corbin & Kane attorneys. During jury selection, Collins bounced several Latino and black juror candidates because she felt the pool had too many minorities. (Normally, the federal pool is predominately white and upper middle-class). Despite this the jurors reached a unanimous verdict in our favor.

The defendants were a piece of work. In discovery we had uncovered information on every one of them.

The leader was Robert L. Kelley, a bombastic blowhard, was tolerated because he was dying of cancer. He had been at UCSB since it was a teacher college. His minority grad students hated him, calling him a racist. He was best known as a fixer. When the history department's personnel committee and that of another department rejected a pay increase for a senior professor because of repeated sexual harassment charges, Kelley convened an ad hoc committee of senior history professors that overruled the personnel committee, saying that the professor was a "good citizen" because he had published extensively. They also overrode the recommendation of the department.

Ray Huerta, the affirmative action office, was in collusion with the administration. Discovery produced evidence that he justified the non-hiring of Latinos and other minorities. In the student takeover of 1975, students had demanded the firing of Huerta who enamored many white liberals by using liberal rhetoric. Huerta also had a poor reputation in the Mexican American community.

Wallace Chafe was the founder of the UCSB Linguistics Department. He was an expert in Indian languages. However, the more we dug into his background the more warts became visible. Chafe had worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was upset with a map in "Occupied America" that showed Texas and the Southwest as belonging to Mexico in 1821. Ironically, he had no objection to a map of the United States owning Indian land. He was a rigid man who in deposition called Noam Chomsky a charlatan, inferring that he was not qualified to teach in his department and was not a linguist. A couple more of the reviewers were also suspected of having ties to the CIA.

We found dirt on almost every member of the personnel committee. However, the driving force besides Kelley was Jeffrey Burton Russell, a history and religious studies professor, who showed obvious animus toward me. Russell chaired the review committee. At one point he said that my work was Marxist because I used the word "hegemony."

Leonard Minsky, a medieval scholar, was fascinated by Russell. In his Inventing the Flat Earth, Russell argues that this myth was spread by 19th century anti-Christians to defame educated Christians. Russell was obsessed with the devil and wrote a five-volume history about the devil: Devil, Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles and The Prince of Darkness. Russell, a convert to Catholicism, was a tenured position at Notre Dame but left because he did not consider it orthodox enough. Minsky theorized that Russell had demonized me ‘«Ű I had become the devil -- The Prince of Darkness.

The upshot was after spending more than $5 million, the UC lost on the evidence. There was no doubt in my attorneys' minds that we could have won on the political and race causes of action. Judge Collins awarded my attorneys a million dollars and me over $300,000 in lieu of the position.

It was a bloody battle which I had to personalize. The money came mostly from the Los Angeles area. The UC had done us a favor by moving it to LA; it was my base. Admittedly, I made inflammatory statements such as if I won I would ride a Zapata like white horse onto the middle of the campus and plant a Mexican flag.

I also said that the reviewers were so worthless even their own wives would not miss them when they died because they were bad lays. I probably over estimated their testosterone levels in life.

This was, however, necessary because of the overwhelming power of the University of California. Petty people are always threatened by the other whether it is people, ideas or books. But in the end, history absolved me as it will the Tucson MAS program.

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