Students, staff to skip CSUEB keynote talk
Oakland Tribune
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 United States.

 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

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 Rodriguez's decades-old memoir, but that she has read some of his essays and interviews.

 "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."