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Whitsett Chair at CSUN

July 26, 1986

Your article (July 13) on the Whitsett Chair problems at California State University, Northridge, is a welcome effort to bring to light a matter of great importance to the history department, the university and the community. Instead of openness in finding answers to the problems in the proposed endowment, for too long the approach was making backstage arrangements shrouded in secrecy and silence. That approach, as the article shows, is still preferred by some colleagues.

In fact, that is the prime cause of the messy situation that has developed. Since the article does not completely focus on it, let us elaborate what we mean.

Informal talks between a history department member and Whitsett representatives reportedly began in 1984, leading to the department chairman's involvement and formulation of terms, some of which later proved very controversial, for the endowment. The matter was not brought before the department until March 4, 1986, after department members read about it in the Daily News and requested that it be put on the agenda. The ensuing discussion proved how valuable, indeed indispensable, the consultation process is. One of the ideas that emerged is to define "California" in the broader, historical and cultural context of Western United States, Mexico and the Pacific, and avoid the narrow focus that does present problems of staffing and curriculum.

Your article states that Prof. Meyer became chairman in 1983 and that, according to several department members, the real reason for the controversy is an attempt by a small group of professors to discredit Meyer. This is inaccurate and misleading. Meyer is in his 10th year as chairman, and a review of his performance was stipulated by the administration in 1985. His handling of the Whitsett matter was naturally part of the review. It is also natural that members of the department hold his failure to consult with the department against him as a violation of trust and an approach that placed the Whitsett gift in jeopardy.

RONALD DAVIS

MARIN PUNDEFF

Northridge

The writers are professors of history at CSUN.

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