Students, staff to skip CSUEB keynote talk
June 7, 2005
By Katy Murphy, STAFF WRITER
Author's views on bilingual education, affirmative action hit nerve
HAYWARD — Richard Rodriguez, a prominent journalist and author who disagrees
with affirmative action and bilingual education, will address thousands of
graduates Saturday as the keynote speaker at California State University, East
Bay's commencement ceremony.
Some students and faculty don't plan to listen.
Angered that the university would choose a speaker who considers Spanish
in the United States to be a private language that doesn't belong in the
schools, many graduates and faculty in the School of Educational Leadership are
boycotting the event.
"I feel that it will be a crushing insult for students who come from
immigrant families, who may be the first in their family to earn a diploma, to
hear this man's theories about distancing yourself fromyour parents and your
home culture in order to succeed," Kristen Lombardo, a master's student in the
school of Educational Leadership, wrote in a letter to the university's
president, Norma Rees.
Born in California of Mexican immigrant parents, Rodriguez earned his
bachelor's degree at Stanford University and went on to study in London and at
University of California, Berkeley. In his 1982 memoir, "The Hunger of Memory,"
Rodriguez wrote that he assumed the "public" identity of the American mainstream
— rather than his family's language and culture — in order to succeed in the
Rodriguez is a journalist for the Pacific News Service in San Francisco.
His essays have appeared in Harper's magazine and on the editorial pages of the
Los Angeles Times.
Rees said Monday that she had learned about the concerns of faculty and
students only a week earlier.
"This was news to me and a great surprise," she said, adding that
Rodriguez was well-received by students and their parents when he spoke at the
freshman convocation in September.
University spokesman Kim Huggett said that while Rodriguez wasn't chosen
as a controversial figure, there should be nothing wrong with the presentation
of provocative ideas on campus.
"If we don't have speakers that make people think, we're not doing our
job," he said.
But Lombardo, who teaches a dual-immersion class in English and Spanish at
Burbank Elementary School in Hayward, finds Rodriguez's observations on
education and immigrant identity offensive. She said she has only skimmed
Rodriguez's decades-old memoir, but that she has read some of his essays
"I think he'd be a great person to have in a debate forum," Lombardo said.
"But as a commencement speaker, he's not appropriate."
In a response to an e-mail message Monday, Rodriguez wrote that his
critics should try reading his book before turning him into a "cartoon figure."
"What a disappointment to learn that political correctness still thrives,
in place of intellectual debate, at Cal State East Bay," he wrote.
Rodriguez went on to explain his views on education and affirmative
action: "It is NOT the responsibility of public schools to teach children to
speak to their grandmothers (that is a family responsibility). It IS the
responsibility of public schools to teach children to talk to strangers of other
races and ethnic groups — to the entire public.
"Affirmative action is seriously flawed because it ignores the importance
of social class. ... Affirmative Action has benefited the haves, because of
their racial or ethnic connection to the have-nots."
Last year, The Hunger of Memory was selected as a summer reading book for
Cal State East Bay's General Education Program. In September, Rodriguez spoke at
the first freshman convocation and answered students' questions about his views.
Rees said it was the "enormous success" of the convocation that made her
consider bringing Rodriguez before a larger audience.
But Barbara Storms, a professor in the School of Educational Leadership,
said the decision has hurt many students and faculty. For that reason, she said,
Saturday will mark the first commencement she has missed at the university.
"I do agree that people have the right to their own opinion," Storms said,
adding that campus is a good place for dialogue. "I just choose not to be there.
I choose to support our students, and I choose not to be there."