Sacramento Bee columnist Peter Schrag slams a small group of professors and students who threatened to boycott the Hayward State (now East Bay State) commence because essayist Richard Rodriguez had been invited to receive an honorary degree and speak.
Rodriguez, according to the declarations of the protesters, opposes bilingual education and affirmative action (as do most California voters), which makes him unfit for such an occasion.
The charge is a caricature of the elegant, nuanced and altogether fresh writing he has produced on the complex relations among race, ethnicity, class and culture in the United States. The threatened boycott was not just a confession of educational failure but another cheer for segregation.
Rodriguez bowed out to avoid disrupting the ceremony. “I didn’t want to make myself the point of the day. The real point of the day is the graduating class, (which) deserved a sunny and happy event, without the Chicanistas turning the day into a witch-burning.”
As Schrag writes, Rodriguez doesn’t fit neatly into any political camp. He’s too sophisticated a thinker for that. Schrag observes that the critics, mostly bilingual education professors and students, planned, before Rodriguez’s withdrawal, “to have their own ceremony in which participants were encouraged to wear serapes and other ethnic garb, as if the whole purpose of their education had been the preservation of various indigenous cultures, not unfettered learning in an 800-year-old Western academic tradition.”
The essence of that tradition is tolerance and openness – the willingness to listen to and consider new ideas and to honor their expression, even in disagreement. By whatever name, Hayward State owes that heritage to Paris, Oxford and Bologna, not to the closed systems from which heretics are banished or, worse, burned.