It seemed that almost everyone at UCLA was wearing shorts last week. The campus was sunny, and many students took advantage of the warm weather by dressing casually and finding shady places to study.
With a week to go before final examinations, the only tension readily observable on campus was the conflict between students and the textbooks that they had neglected over the past term.
But minority student leaders say the appearance of calm was deceptive, that beneath the surface, racial tensions were growing, fueled by an administration that has tried to weaken ethnic studies and affirmative action programs.
A week earlier, about 400 Asian, black and Latino students, representing more than 30 campus groups, rallied at the steps of Campbell Hall to decry what they called "a well-coordinated plan of attack by the university against Third World students, staff and faculty."
The next day, May 26, the relative calm was breached by a near-riot when dozens of minority students, protesting the disqualification of a Latino student government candidate, stormed polling places, fought with election officials and destroyed voting booths and ballot boxes. The administration invalidated the election, and when another was held Thursday, students lined up to vote at fenced-in polling sites guarded by UC police officers wearing riot helmets.
The student violence reflects a dissatisfaction among minorities on campus, students say, that goes deeper than the issue of an election. It reflects, they say, a feeling that minority students have been the victims of racism at the university.
Anh Tran, a graduate student in Asian-American studies who helped organize the rally, said that several incidents over the past year indicate the administration's attitude toward minorities. She numbered among them the rejection of Assistant Professor Don T. Nakanishi, who is trying to become the first Asian-American tenured professor in the Graduate School of Education; the restructuring of programs to help minority freshmen and transfer students and the disqualification of Lloyd Monserratt, a Latino whose election as student body president was invalidated.
Tran said she and other minority leaders "felt it necessary to form an informed and unified front against this war of racism that has been declared by the university."
Supporters of Nakanishi, a political scientist educated at Harvard and Yale, claim that his ground-breaking research on Asian Americans has not been treated with the same respect given so-called "mainstream" research topics.
Furthermore, Tran said, because education is given such a high priority in the Asian-American community, it is particularly insulting not to include a well-respected Asian-American professor in the School of Education.
"When this person (Nakanishi) is challenged, you strike at the very core of Asian-American values," she said.
After being denied tenure last year, Nakanishi filed a grievance with the Academic Senate Committee on Privilege and Tenure, which ruled in his favor and recommended a second tenure review.
Because Nakanishi is undergoing a second review, university officials said they could not comment on his situation.
But Jeanne Giovannoni, associate vice chancellor of faculty relations, responding to charges that minority research topics are given short shrift by white reviewers, said: "Our statistics show that there is no significant difference between the promotion rates of minority and non-minority professors."
Yet, at a campus whose undergraduate student body is almost 44% ethnic minority, minorities compose less than 12% of the faculty, according to university statistics.
Three weeks ago, an Asian-American graduate art student dressed in a black kimono, weaved a rope into her hair and hanged herself from a tree in the middle of campus for two minutes to protest the unsympathetic treatment she said she gets from white teachers in her department. Minority students have also complained about the restructuring last year of the Freshman Summer Program and Transfer Summer Program, academic programs that prepare minority and low-income students to compete at the university.
'It's Not the Same'
Key personnel in the programs were relieved of their duties last summer, a move that has left the programs weakened and in disarray, said senior Margie Zamudio, a sociology major and former tutor in the programs.
"There is a program, but it is not the program that we have known," she said. "It's not the same."
Juan Francisco Lara, assistant provost for the College of Letters and Sciences, said that the 10-year-old programs are being revamped to better serve minority students by focusing on their strengths rather than their deficiencies.
But opponents of the restructuring say that the programs taught minority students to think for themselves, and that the university decided to act after graduates of the programs started questioning the ethnic sensitivity of the school's curriculum.