Esta página no está disponible en español.

The Detroit News

WSU Hispanics Demand Respect Program's Leadership Challenged By Group

By Christopher M. Singer

July 18, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Detroit News. All rights reserved. 

DETROIT -- Hispanics, among the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the nation, want to be taken seriously at Wayne State University.

Although Wayne State officials say Hispanics already are getting respect, a group of alumni questions the university's commitment to them.

A dispute over the leadership of the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies is at the heart of a dispute between WSU officials and a group of WSU alumni and students. "Boricua" is a traditional name used by Puerto Ricans to identify themselves.

Critics say the center should be headed by a person who holds a doctorate. It has been directed for 18 months by an interim official without a Ph.D.

"I think there absolutely is an issue," said Richard Bernstein of Birmingham, who was elected last fall to the Wayne State Board of Governors. "And it goes to the heart of the urban mission and the core values of Wayne State University. This program gives access and opportunity to people who otherwise wouldn't have that access.

"The programs that slide under the radar that are in the most difficulty at budget time. Right now, they need a director who is an advocate respected by the faculty. It's that simple."

Professor Jose Cuello, 56, quit as director of the center in 2001, saying he prefers research and teaching. Cuello, who holds a doctorate, said his successor should, as well.

"They don't want to replace me with a Ph.D.," said Cuello, who came from Mexico to Chicago with this parents when he was 7, and has been at Wayne State for 14 years. He is a professor of Latin American history.

"At an institution like Wayne State, which is governed by Ph.D.'s, when you're speaking to other scholars turned administrators, a unit that doesn't have a director who is a Ph.D., you don't get that respect," Cuello added.

As proof of Wayne State's commitment to Hispanic studies, officials of the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs, which oversees the 32-year-old center, note that it has been spared the budget cutbacks other Wayne State programs have shouldered.

Students participate in the center's programs during their freshman and sophomore years. It helps them find financial aid if they need it, and it offers counseling services. The center also researches Latino and Latin American issues and offers courses.

But supporters of the center are worried about its future. At noon each Wednesday, a group calling itself Friends of Chicano Boricua Studies throws up an informational picket line to underscore its dissatisfaction. It consists largely of alumni, rather than active students.

"There's a few students," said Luis D. Garcia of Grosse Pointe Park, an alumnus of the center and spokesman for the protesters. "There's other students who don't see the danger that's coming."

Hispanic students are a tiny minority at Wayne State -- 1.9 percent. That percentage is substantially below the percentage of Hispanics in Detroit or the region. Of 31,168 students enrolled at Wayne for fall 2003, just 615 are Hispanics.

There are no Hispanics among Wayne State's 240 deans and department chairs. Elsewhere on campus, the university has five Hispanics among 465 managers, 48 Hispanics among 2,452 faculty members and just one Hispanic janitor among 258 service workers.

"I don't think the university does understand how the Hispanic population has grown," said Garcia, whose family fled the Dominican Republic during a civil war in 1965.

The center's acting director, Katalina Berdy, is of Puerto Rican heritage. Alma H. Young, dean of the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs and Coleman A. Young professor of urban affairs, boasts of Berdy's expertise in cultural programming.

But Cuello dismisses that as "feel-good programming."

Berdy could not be reached for comment this week.

The Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies (CBS) "is a multifaceted, two-year program and that remains," Young said. "There's been no discussions about eliminating CBS."

The center was founded in 1971, an era of table grapes and lettuce boycotts by the United Farm Workers.

The university's Department of Africana Studies, by comparison, became a full department with a degree program in 1991 after a black student protest in 1989. Those protesters had also complained what was then a Center for Black Studies, offering 11 classes, lacked a director who was a tenured professor with a doctorate. The center was founded in 1972.

The Chicano-Boricua center currently has an enrollment of 600 and a budget of around $350,000.

"To cut our head off isn't the best way to get us to be efficient," Cuello remarked.

Felicia Calvo, a Mexican-American, graduated from Wayne State in 1992. Now, she's a quality control specialist at the MGM Grand Casino in downtown Detroit.

"As a student who was told by my (Dearborn Fordson) high school counselors that college would be a waste of time for me, CBS helped me get an education. I was on the dean's list," Calvo said. "As a student who didn't grow up in the Hispanic community, the center opened my eyes about my cultural background."

The Wednesday picketing will continue. The protesters are on the agenda for the Board of Governors session 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 30, Garcia said.

About the center

Wayne State University's Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies has four goals:

* Recruiting Latino students into a two-year academic program that is designed to ease their transition between high school and college and help them succeed. Courses offered by the center are aimed at sharpening students' skills in English, math and computers, and at appreciating their ethnic identities. Courses include Chicano Literature and Culture, History of Puerto Rico and Cuba and History of Latinos in the United States.

* Researching issues relevant to the Latino community and the history and current conditions of Latin America.

* Serving as a source of expertise on Latino issues for the campus and the community.

* Advocating for the awareness and advancement of Latino issues and help Wayne State's efforts to create a multicultural campus.

Source: Wayne State University

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback