A firestorm of criticism has followed the selection of George Prescott Bush to receive the Latino Leadership Award.
AUSTIN — When Texas Land Commissioner George Prescott Bush became the first recipient of the Latino Leadership Award at the University of Texas at Austin on March 30, 2015, the decision ignited a firestorm of criticism in the national Latino community. The award was presented by the Mexican American and Latina/o Studies Department (MALS) and the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS).
First came a demonstration, then a nationally circulated petition calling for redress, including a withholding of donations to the institution and a change of personnel.
Now a resolution proposed by the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS), the major organization of academics in the field, lays out the group’s concerns about these UT units’ violations of their principles as a result of the actions of Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, department chair of MALS, and Dr. Domino Perez, director of CMAS.
The resolution complains that these “arbitrary actions in the management of the inaugural Latino Leadership Award reveals unresolved problems of transparency, accountability and consultation with stakeholders and constituents, which taken together constitute a dereliction of duty to administer CMAS and MALS consistent with the core principles and values of Mexican American/Latina/o Studies and is injurious and disruptive of the broad national constituents of faculty, undergraduate students, graduate students and the general community.”
It was a shock that someone relatively new to the Texas scene leapfrogged so many others with long track records.
If there is an upbeat side to this story, the petitions document a sampling of the many Latino scholars and leaders the university has generated in the past 40 years — and across a wide range of expertise. So it was a shock that someone relatively new to the Texas scene leapfrogged so many others with long track records and impressive achievements despite significant challenges.
Announcing the award, MALS Department Chair Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez referred to George P. Bush, son of Jeb Bush and his wife Columbia, as a “trailblazer in Latino leadership.” Certainly he was the only Latino on the Republican statewide ticket — in a state where almost half the population is Latino. George P. Bush was sworn in as commissioner of the Texas General Land Office on January 2, 2015. He will complete five months in office in May.
According to the University’s press release, the award recognizes his “service to the university, state and nation.” He served in Afghanistan as a Naval officer and became a businessman as a civilian, during which time, among other undertakings, he served as an adviser on oil and gas investments and successfully led a major fundraising campaign for Dallas charter schools.
At 39, Bush is the youngest in the family dynasty to be elected to office. As Land Commissioner, he oversees oil and gas exploration on public lands, monitors veterans’ benefits, and oversees investments of taxpayer funds that earn billions of dollars to support public education. He is also a guardian of the Alamo and archives dating back to Spanish colonialism.
His Republican Party is hardly at the forefront of immigration reform, voting rights,
and health care.
However, his Republican Party is hardly at the forefront of immigration reform, voting rights, and health care — issues with enormous impact on the Latina/o population. His public opinions on these matters seem mostly to hew to the Republican platform. He does, however, defend in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant students, a position held by the University of Texas and established by former governor Rick Perry.
MALS was established in the summer of 2014 to build on the 44-year accomplishments of CMAS and to attract a wider group of Latina and Latino students. In January, UT-Austin announced that it had been awarded a $500,000 Mellon Grant to “boost minority faculty representation.” The grant “will support the establishment of a Mellon Mays Undergradate Fellowship program…”
According to Perez the university will also establish a research center that will engage with students in “cutting edge research on such topics as Latino public health, Latino youth and millennials or language and cognition.” Just under 10,000 Latino undergraduate students attend the university according to its 2012 data — the most recent available.
To quote from their mission statement, MALS was “born out of the activism of the civil rights movement.” It is precisely those who remember that activism that were appalled that young Bush was chosen to receive the Latino Leadership Award.
Longtime social justice advocate Martha Cotera led a protest at the award ceremony.
Austinite Martha Cotera, a CMAS founder and longtime social justice advocate, led a campus protest at the award ceremony. But, perhaps the words of the new chair of that Department, Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez, sounded a warning bell. When she took over as chair, she cited the department’s importance given changing demographics to those “who want a professional edge in the market…”
UT President William Powers announced that the award would be given out henceforth as part of Hispanic Heritage month, which begins in mid-September. It is not clear why the Bush award was rushed out in March. Or whether a second award would be made this fall.
The petition which is being circulated among Latina/o academics and community activists, says:
We understand that neither Prof. Guidotti-Hernández nor Perez consulted with faculty affiliated with MALS and CMAS in developing the criteria or selecting the recipient of the award. Likewise, given that there was no advanced publicity and that MALS and CMAS have virtually erased the award from their websites, we can only surmise that the award was given for politically self-serving reasons of the MALS chair and CMAS director to buttress Mr. Bush’s electoral aspirations. Such actions betray the most fundamental best practices of transparency, accountability, and consultation of university administrators.
Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.
[Rag Blog associate editor Alice Embree is co-chair of the Friends of New Journalism and a veteran of SDS, the original Rag, and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Alice is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union.]