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A UCLA professor and 6 students have gone days without food. Says Jorge Mancillas, so strong is his belief in the need for a Chicano studies department he's willing to make the... : Ultimate Sacrifice

June 01, 1993|BETTIJANE LEVINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's the sort of celebrity Prof. Jorge Mancillas never imagined.

He has camped without eating for eight days straight, pledged to starve to death right there on a grassy knoll at UCLA where, until a week ago, he was teaching.

At night, the assistant professor of biology and six students, also on hunger strike, huddle in small tents ill-designed to ward off discomfort and chills. But Mancillas and his band vow they will not relent until Chancellor Charles Young creates a department of Chicano studies--or until they are dead.

To one well-dressed Anglo student passing by the encampment, the idea seems absurd and extreme--and mighty like a publicity stunt. "Probably some charismatic activist lured the kids into this gimmick," he says.

But Mancillas, 40, says he was not led, nor is he the leader of this event.

"The students were determined; I could not have stopped them. They told me about it and I elected to participate."

And this is no stunt, he says. "We will die right here in front of Murphy Hall in order to shake people's consciences, to show the urgency of issues that are tearing our society apart."

But he says he counseled against starvation: "I had long meetings with the students to explain what it means to starve, what the consequences will be. I have knowledge of human physiology, so I understand the damage and devastating effect this hunger strike will have." The group decided to permit themselves water.

Mancillas says he is doing this because he was asked 3 1/2 years ago by the chancellor to serve on a committee to decide the best structure for Chicano studies at UCLA. At the time, Chicano studies was an interdepartmental program within the division of social sciences, using teachers from several different departments.

"The chancellor promised that whatever the committee decided, he would do. But when, after many weeks of research and deliberation, the committee recommended (on April 28) that a separate department of Chicano studies be created at UCLA, the chancellor ignored our recommendation," Mancillas says.

Mancillas and the other hunger-strikers say this is not adequate, especially in a city with 40% Latino population.

On May 11, 83 students who protested the chancellor's decision were arrested at a sit-in at the university's faculty center for allegedly having caused $50,000 in damages. All have been released, but charges have not been dropped. Since then, students in favor of a Chicano studies department have staged peaceful daily protests without incident. (Other college students have shown their support; on Saturday, Loyola Marymount University students marched through Culver City. State Sens. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) and Tom Hayden (D- Santa Monica), also support a separate department and say they will try to hold up state funding for UCLA until the demand is met.

Mancillas says he has met with Chancellor Young only "a very few times" over the past three years to discuss the problem. "I think he sees our effort as a political challenge. It is not. We are protesting this way because unless we do, life and politics will continue as usual. I do not want that kind of world for my children." Mancillas has a daughter, 16, and a son, 6, from a previous marriage. A member of the medical school's department of anatomy and cell biology for the past four years, Mancillas seems an unlikely candidate for such aggressive protest. He says he is "on the tenure track"; he has what appears to be a distinguished academic record.

Dr. Richard Lolley, head of the medical school department in which Mancillas works, did not return calls.

Chancellor Young was unavailable for reporters, his office said.

*

Born in Durango, Mexico, where his father was a rural school teacher, Mancillas grew up in Ensenada. He received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley; a doctorate in neuroscience from UC-San Diego.

He did neurobiology research at the Salk Institute and the Scripps Clinic Research Foundation, both in La Jolla. For three years after that, he did research in England at Cambridge University's famed laboratory of molecular biology, where Drs. James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA.

One of the main reasons he chose to teach at UCLA, he says, "is the memory I had of a very courageous Chancellor Young, who 25 years ago stood up to the Board of Regents in defense of the academic freedom of Angela Davis. I was only 15 at the time, but I was inspired by his action and have continued to admire him."

Mancillas hopes "the same courageous chancellor is still there, buried beneath layers of cynicism built up over the years." But those hopes are slim, he admits.

Mancillas' parents, ages 69 and 70, have come from Ensenada to stay in their son's Westwood apartment until the strike ends. They are "in complete support," Mancillas says.

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