SANTA BARBARA — UC Santa Barbara officials formally announced a new doctorate in Chicano studies Monday, in what is being billed as the first program of its kind in the nation.
Acting Vice Chancellor Maria Herrera-Sobek said the university's approval for the program caps more than 30 years of struggle to validate the study of America's 35 million-plus descendants of Mexican and Latin American immigrants.
"I think this adds a real legitimacy to the department," said Herrera-Sobek, a former Chicano Studies Department chairwoman. "With the growing population, there is no way they can deny people the knowledge about this particular group. We're bigger than most countries."
Four graduate students at UC Santa Barbara's Chicano Studies Department will be enrolled in the program by next school year, and five more students will be added each year until the program reaches a 25-student capacity in 2009 or 2010.
Under the supervision of 12 full-time faculty members, students will explore history, literature, sociology, art, music and film in their quest for the new doctorate. The interdisciplinary aspect of the degree is the program's strongest point but was also one of the hardest selling points for approval committees during the four-year certification process, according to Pierre Keller, the lead reviewer for the University of California Coordinating Council for Graduate Affairs.
"It's not a program that has an identity that is as clear as, say, theoretical physics," Keller said. "But the review committee as a whole was impressed by the range of interests.... In some ways, the label of Chicano studies is somewhat misleading, since its interests are much broader and have to do with Latino studies in general."
Rudolpho Acuna, activist and founder of one of the largest Chicano studies departments in the nation, at Cal State Northridge, said he believes Americans have a lot to learn from this country's largest minority group, its history and its needs.
"Latinos are already one out of every two people in Los Angeles. If the U.S. is going to grow and survive as a country, it's going to need good relations between people. That starts with having knowledge about a people," he said.
Political actions such as hunger strikes, marches and lawsuits have all played a part in bringing Chicanos to the academic table over the last 30 years, Acuna said. This is a day for celebration, he said.
The head of Arizona State University's Chicano Studies Department, Cordelia Candelaria, agreed. "It's big in higher education and it's big for academia," she said. "It recognizes that this large library of Chicano studies research materials and archives has the stamp of the state of California and that it is deserving of this advanced degree."
However, some believe such areas of study are divisive and reinforce racial skirmish lines in America. UC Regent Ward Connerly is a prominent critic of UC's ethnic studies and is working to have them reconsidered. Connerly is promoting a proposition on this year's recall ballot to abolish collection of racial and ethnic information by public institutions. He could not be reached for comment Monday.
UCLA is set to be the next in line for a Chicano studies doctoral program; Keller confirmed that UCLA's application is pending.
The National Assn. for Chicana and Chicano Studies commended UC Santa Barbara this week, remarking on what a difficult road establishment of the program has been. According to its executive director, Julia Curry, UC Santa Barbara's degree could spawn more doctoral programs.
"This has been a project that has taken a long, long time, as a result of a combination of institutional problems, academic digression, availability of faculty, and resistance -- but never because people have not been working steadily toward this goal," she said.