Chicano community activists and UCLA students who have been pushing for the creation of a Chicano studies department at the Westwood campus claimed a "significant victory" Thursday after half the members of a faculty advisory committee recommended that such a department be established.
"This is an important first step," said Vivien Bonzo, president of the Olvera Street Merchants Assn. and co-chair of the United Community and Labor Alliance, a coalition of groups that support creation of the department.
But the university's ranking Latino official, who is opposed to a Chicano studies department, downplayed the committee's action.
"The vote is clearly split," said Raymund Paredes, associate vice chancellor and committee member. "The vote . . . indicates that there is not a strong sentiment" for establishment of a separate department.
The 14-member faculty committee, which was appointed in October by College of Letters and Science Provost Raymond Orbach, considered three options on forming a separate department. Three voted to maintain Chicano studies as an interdepartmental program, four voted to maintain the program with a review in three years, and seven voted to establish a separate department.
The committee's findings will be reviewed by the dean of social sciences and other administrators before reaching Chancellor Charles E. Young, probably at the end of the fall quarter, Orbach said.
Orbach denied charges by some community and student activists that the university is intentionally slowing the process because officials oppose the creation of the department. He said the matter is following normal review procedures and, in fact, is being expedited because of wide community interest. He said the normal process takes three to four years.
Since 1973, Chicano studies has been an interdepartmental bachelor's program that draws volunteer faculty from other campus departments. Last year, a faculty committee found serious problems in the program and recommended that admission of new students be suspended.
Members of the student group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) saw the recommendation as an attempt to abolish the program and after a series of meetings with school officials, succeeded in getting a renewed commitment to Chicano studies.
The debate spread off campus last fall after school officials would not meet students' demands for the creation of a separate department. Since then, elected officials such as county Supervisor Gloria Molina and state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), and organizations such as the United Teachers-Los Angeles and the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District have come out in support of creation of a separate department.
"It's inevitable," said committee member David Hayes-Bautiste, a UCLA professor of medicine and director of the school's Chicano Research Center. "Sooner or later (the creation of a department) will happen."
Supporters of a department say that it is needed to ensure the survival of bachelor's curriculum in Chicano studies at UCLA.
Opponents say that the university's rigorous admissions and curriculum requirements and problems with recruiting faculty would make establishment of a department difficult.