There is no excuse for the violence that broke out Tuesday at UCLA. As always in such incidents, the perpetrators--mostly UCLA students who want a Chicano studies department on campus--hurt their cause more than they helped. But, that said, it is also clear that the long debate over Chicano studies at UCLA must be taken up anew and with greater urgency.
UCLA Chancellor Charles Young has been under pressure for several years from Los Angeles' large Mexican-American community to change the status of Chicano studies. Currently, it is an interdepartmental program in which faculty members from various campus departments volunteer to teach classes in their specialties on a part-time basis. A full-fledged department would have its own faculty and its own budget. Just as important, it would be seen as elevating the status of Chicano studies at UCLA. That is not an insignificant consideration given the fact that Mexican-Americans have historically been under-represented at UCLA. And it seems only logical that there should be a Chicano studies department at the most prestigious public university in the city with the nation's largest Mexican-American community.
That, unfortunately, was not the conclusion Young reached recently after consultation with UCLA faculty. His announcement that Chicano studies would not be given full departmental status set off a series of student protests that culminated in Tuesday's violence, which saw 89 people arrested and thousands of dollars in damage done.
As already noted, such vandalism is unacceptable. But in their zeal to prosecute wrongdoers, UCLA officials must not overlook the fact that the anger that spawned the incident will not go away just because some students are expelled or even jailed. And the students' rights to free speech and peaceful protest remain.
To keep this crisis from escalating, both sides must reassess how they have handled things. Students and their supporters must understand that violence undermines even a good cause. UCLA's faculty and administration must realize they are dealing with deeply felt issues that demand sensitivity and patience.
It is clear that this nation's Mexican-American culture is complex enough and unique enough to merit serious academic study. Clear too is that no university is more appropriate for such study than UCLA. On that much both sides can agree. Given the terrible financial pressures the entire UC system is suffering, it is understandable that launching an academic department might not be advisable now. But eventually a full department is the preferable option--and not just because it presumably would elevate the status of Chicano studies.
A more important consideration is that it would bring renewed attention, and pose a renewed challenge, to all ethnic studies departments at UCLA and other colleges. We hope that once UCLA has a Chicano studies department its classes draw mostly non-Chicano students, and that the administration will encourage that. And the same goes for African- and Asian-American studies, and courses in non-Western cultures. The more all of us know about each other the better off we all will be. In light of Los Angeles' recent sad history, we hope that is another point both sides at UCLA can readily agree on.