Hispanic studies debate persists

Meghan Gordon

Administrators and students from ReformaNU finally met Monday to discuss changes to Hispanic studies, but most students were left dissatisfied by the moderated format and prepared answers by administrators.

Weinberg Deans Eric Sundquist and Michael Sherry and department Chairwoman Lucille Kerr responded to prewritten questions while the Associated Student Government moderator prohibited the visibly angry students from responding aloud.

Weinberg freshman Steven Rodriguez said that although he gained a better understanding of faculty-hiring processes, he was disappointed with the format of the meeting.

“The questions that we asked were edited and reworded, and I don’t see what came out of this meeting,” Rodriguez said. “They’re being very ambiguous about what their plans are. They’re just passing the buck and not giving us the answers we want.”

The group sent a letter to administrators last month demanding better advising, more consistent course requirements and the hiring of popular literature Prof. Christopher Larkosh to a tenure position.

Although Sundquist said he would not answer specific questions about the department’s decision to not hire Larkosh in this year’s ongoing search for a tenured position, he emphasized that searches must be carefully considered because tenure sets a high standard.

“Every department, not just Hispanic studies, does its very best to judge who are its best candidates now and who are the candidates who hold the most promise for the future, (and) who are the candidates who have the greatest likelihood of achieving tenure,” he said.

And Sundquist said that most candidates for all faculty searches are usually qualified.

“If, in your eyes, Mr. X is more than qualified for the position, then you would have to have looked at the 107 applications,” he said. “You would have to have gone through all the steps to know that this person was more qualified than candidates who were considered.”

Sherry said that students should be involved in faculty searches more often, which could help the university attract top-notch candidates.

“Beyond pleasing students, student involvement can be very helpful to the university,” Sherry said. “We need to do everything we can when those candidates come, and their interactions with students may be a valuable part of that.”

Kerr also outlined specific policies for majors and minors because students said the guidelines were confusing and inconsistent.

In response to student criticism of the department’s advising, Kerr said too few students take the initiative to see advisers. She said only 67 of the department’s 224 majors and minors have seen an adviser since January.

Weinberg junior Lisa Newstrom, a Hispanic studies minor, said she was passed to four different advisers in this year alone.

“It’s very difficult to get consistent advising when you’re meeting with a different adviser each time,” she said.

After the meeting, she said she was disappointed with Kerr’s response.

“I don’t expect anything better in this department,” she said.

Kerr said she also is considering changing the name of the department to Spanish and Portuguese Languages.

“It may well be that the department needs to be renamed, where the languages are emphasized,” she said. “(The name) ‘Hispanic studies’ has led to a confusion about the kinds of courses that are or should be offered by the department. The department is a department where language, literature and culture in the original language is a central, critical component.”

Kerr said Latin American literature still will be a major component even if the department’s name changes.

Rodriguez said Spanish-language requirements for Latin American courses are a “hurdle” for students who need to know most about the topics.

“We want Billy Bob from the country to learn about our culture,” he said. “You should not have to know Spanish to do so. If people are still ignorant about a culture, then is the university meeting its purpose? I don’t think so.”

Sameer Gafoor, Associated Student Government academic vice president, organized the meeting and said it was a starting point for students to work closer with administrators.

“It broke some of the barriers that existed and it allowed people to see each other face to face and establish a point for further relations down the line,” said Gafoor, a Weinberg sophomore.

Speech junior Dinorah Sanchez said she met with administrators last year and hasn’t heard anything new.

“I’ve heard the same thing over and over again — that it’s going to take time. But since freshman year, I haven’t seen any drastic improvements,” Sanchez said. “If steps have been taken, they’ve been very minimal and almost invisible.”