New Mexicans want to pay for a quality president, a man who will be a beacon on which to stand. A, what do you call it…a HALO! Where did I hear that before.?(https://elloborojo.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/the-university-president-ceo-of-the-corporate-university/) So when then-president William Gordon retired in 2002 to take a provost position at his alma mater Wake Forest, another presidential search was underway. The Albuquerque Journal did a three part series in 2003 by Olivier Uyttebrouck on the impact of the university president for New Mexico. It was covered extensively in the local and campus press that year. I’m pretty sure other communities go gaga over presidential searches too. Apparently the university president is an important position of influence. As UNM is the flagship institution of the state, it is especially important for the differing interests of the state.
Another area of inequality is that of the faculty at UNM. Despite the student body of UNM’s 24,000 students being about 40 percent from “minority” background, only 19 percent of UNM’s tenure professors are either Hispanic, Asian, Black, or Native American. A further breakdown shows that 81 percent are non-Hispanic white, 10 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian, 1 percent Black, and 2 percent American Indian. About 63 percent of tenure-track professors at UNM are men, 36 percent women.(Sanchez, Jennifer. “UNM Faculty Wants: Better Pay, Prez’s Ear.” Albuquerque Tribune. August 26, 2003. Pg. A1.) The good old boy network is alive and well in New Mexico, and many groups are involved that attempt to challenge that.
One group that has been involved heavily in the presidential search process is the Hispano Round Table. The key goal the HRT pushes is for UNM to appoint a Hispanic president, or at the very least a native New Mexican president. And not without reason too. In UNM’s long history since its founding in 1889, there has never been a Hispano president. That is until the appointment of F. Chris Garcia in 2002 to replace Gordon, but this was always intended to be a temporary position, as Garcia was more keen on teaching and research than on administration, and he only served one year. While pleased that it happened at UNM after over 100 years, in the state with the largest percentage of Hispanos, they still were not satisfied, and wanted the next permanent president to be a qualified Hispanic. They had a list of 17 candidates for consideration. For many years the HRT have criticized other presidential searches in the past, and this one in 2002 was no different. They requested to be included in the presidential search, and to have a meeting with the Board of Regents of UNM about this issue, and both were denied.
The Hispano Round Table campaigned passionately for this issue because of the long history of national oppression (even if they don’t use those words) in New Mexico. They say a Latino president has been long overdue, would help correct biases prevalent at the school, and would help be a role model for youth. Many people in New Mexico, including some state senators quoted by the Journal, say they wanted a president who understand New Mexico’s unique culture, one where Chicanos and Native Americans make up a large percentage of the population. Juan Jose Peña, a former president of HRT and a long-time Chicano activist, stated in an editorial in the Albuquerque Tribune that they were working so hard on this issue because of past discrimination that hit Hispanos, and still “seeking equality, parity and respect for New Mexico’s Hispanos and the right to run our own institutions in our own ancestral homelands without being dictated to by outsiders and their quislings.”
There has been wide discrimination in the positions available for Latinos nationwide as well as in New Mexico. Many studies have proven this. HRT pointed out an example of Manuel Pacheco, a native New Mexican, who could not get nominated for a position at UNM but went on to run academic institutions in Texas and Arizona. The American Council on Education (ACE) did a survey in 1998 that showed that Hispanics made up only 3 percent of presidents in the nation’s 2380 institutions of higher learning. Other studies show the dismal reality of Latinos in administrative positions. Latinos and Native Americans remain one of the most underrepresented major ethnic group in colleges and universities. A further breakdown of ACE’s data above show that the majority of Latino presidents reside at two year colleges, and largely absent from more prominent private colleges and research universities. The studies also show that Latino administration candidates are held to higher standards than other ethnic groups, affected more by scrutiny and stereotypes others have of them, and career mobility affected by decision makers cultural bias against Latinos. Academic preparation and experience was more often used to screen out Latino candidates compared to other ethnic groups. The “style” and “type” of president was often favored toward whites, whether male or female. Latinos also tended to be excluded from informal national networks who have influence in searches for university executives. Furthermore, executive search firms serve as a barrier. Although many of these firms have “Hispanic experts,” those experts range of expertise is narrow. Discrimination in this area has wide ranging institutional roots.
The goal of having a Hispanic president of UNM was a worthy one, as it has been long overdue. But this goal is a limited one. Having one figurehead in a position of power does little to change the systemic nature of these inequalities, especially as they are based on colonization. After all the United States invaded Mexico in 1846 and took nearly half its land two years, later, part of which was New Mexico. These questions were of the nature of colonialism and neocolonialism, yet the HRT pursued liberal goals of getting more figureheads in power. These limited goals had limited results.
The issue of ethnicity of the president of UNM has been coopted also. Expecting scrutiny based on diversity, the presidential searches recently have made sure to have many token women and people of color among the finalists. Neutralizing potential opposition in these often controversial searches based on narrow identity politics ignoring systemic analysis of the structure of power of the university. It is worth noting that in the end the HRT supported the final candidate, Louis Caldera, who ultimately became president, solely because they wanted a Hispanic candidate. Caldera would show, through his past activities, that he did not serve the interests of Hispanos, and in fact served against them.
We will explore Caldera’s record in future articles here.
Note: Throughout I switch from different terms, Hispanic, Hispano, Chicano, Latino, etc. There is no consensus about which to identify, as different people identify with different lables, and some refuse to take some of these labels. Hispano is used throughout New Mexico, and many do not label themselves Chicano, which came from more militant elements in the 60‘s and 70‘s, and from those who identify more with their indigenous roots. Hispanic is seen as assiminationist, and Latino is equally problematic, although it is used to give a more national perspective. For the purpose of this article, all these terms can describe the same people, even though they may take different labels.
Uyttebrouck, Olivier. “Who is Fit to Lead.” Albuquerque Journal. August 12, 2002. Pg. A1.
Sanchez, Jennifer. “Round Table Pushes for Hispanic UNM President.” Albuquerque Tribune. November 19, 2002. Pg. A1.
Peña, Juan Jose. “Why the UNM Presidency Matters to Hispanos.” Albuquerque Tribune. May 6, 2003. Pg. C1.
Haro, Roberto. “The Dearth of Latinos in Campus Administration.” Chronicle of Higher Education. December 11, 2001. http://chronicle.com/jobs/2001/12/2001121101c.htm (accessed 11/6/2003)