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Age Not a Factor in Hiring Choice, Court Is Told : Lawsuit: CSUN professor was passed over for UCSB job because of lack of qualifications, ex-chancellor testifies.

October 13, 1995|LESLIE BERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The former chancellor of UC Santa Barbara told a federal court jury Thursday that age played no role in her decision four years ago not to hire Cal State Northridge Prof. Rodolfo Acuna, a widely known Chicano activist and scholar.

In fact, Barbara S. Uehling said in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, "If you had asked me the day after the decision how old he was I couldn't have told you."

Uehling, now executive director of the private Business and Higher Education Forum in Washington, said it was shortcomings in Acuna's research and his lack of experience training doctoral candidates that convinced her in the spring of 1991 not to appoint him to the Chicano studies department, which was poised to begin a Ph.D program.

Acuna, a widely known Chicano activist and popular CSUN instructor, is charging in a federal lawsuit that he was rejected for the post because he was deemed too old. He was 59 when he sought the senior-level, tenured position in 1990, and he contends his age was noted several times in review committees' reports recommending that he not be hired.

But Uehling--who is Acuna's age, now 63--suggested in her testimony that those key phrases cited by Acuna were being taken out of context. Mentions of his age were really references to the length of his career, and the reviewers' opinions that his achievements for that amount of time fell short of UC's academic standards, she said.

Most UC job candidates, she added later outside of court, had published five to six times as much scholarly material as Acuna had.

Reading from a letter she wrote to U.S. Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles) in November, 1991, after he inquired about Acuna's rejection and raised concerns about the reason, Uehling told the jury:

"It is expected that persons at the senior professor level will have had full experience in teaching and research, so that they will be able to 'hit the ground running,' and not, as is the case of the appointment of non-tenure assistant professors, spend years learning essential elements of their academic responsibilities.

"Thus, the language in the documents for the most part expressed concern that, despite his age, seniority and experience in higher education, he had had no experience in the teaching or training of doctoral students, a most important, difficult and demanding task."

As UC Santa Barbara's chancellor, Uehling was the campus's top administrator before her retirement and made the final decision not to hire Acuna. She is expected to be the highest-ranking UC official to testify during the trial, which began Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins and could last two to three weeks.

Under direct questioning by Acuna's lawyers, Uehling acknowledged that she never read Acuna's work herself, including the 1972 book considered his most important, "Occupied America." She said she was only aware that it was regarded as a "good book."

But she explained later outside court that because the university receives scores of such applications each year, it was impossible to personally review every job applicant's work and is customary to rely on the opinions of trusted advisers, who take part in UC's complex "peer review" process.

Uehling also described "Occupied America" as a textbook and said that as good as it may be, it could not be considered the kind of original research that UC expects of its faculty.

"It's like the difference between an MD who knows a lot about a certain drug and can educate others about it, and the person who actually invents the drug," she explained outside the courtroom. "We want the people who can create the drug and teach others how to do it."

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