Alice Embree :
METRO | Ambush at UT-Austin

A firestorm of criticism has followed the selection of George Prescott Bush to receive the Latino Leadership Award.

UT Austin Latino Leadership Award

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, right, with UT-Austin President William Powers at campus reception. Photo from the University of Texas at Austin.

By Alice Embree | The Rag Blog | April 30, 2015

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.
martha cotera

Activist Martha Cotera speaks out at the UT tower to protest the Latino Leadership Award being awarded to Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Photo by Carlo Nasisse / Daily Texan.

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.]

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6 Responses to Alice Embree :
METRO | Ambush at UT-Austin

  1. Glenn scott says:

    Well done Alice. This is just the kind of muckraking reporting that makes the ragblog such a valuable news source. This behind the scenes award to someone like George P Bush who has done so little to deserve this award makes a mockery of the award when so many Latina & Latino activists and academics are clearly more deserving! It is outrageous that the directors of MALS & CMAS were complicit in this decision. At a time when the Republican Party of. Mr Bush is pushing through the legislature a huge military build up along the border while cutting or blocking increases in healthcare , public education & social services is a frontal attack on the well being of the Latino/Latina community as well as all people of color in the border areas, not to mention activists of all races who might be seen as “threats” by this emerging behemoth police state on the border. It’s great to see veteran activists like marta speaking out . Please keep us posted on ways we can support this protest.

  2. Martha P. Cotera says:

    Great blog from a veteran activist, factual, insightful and analytical. We have heard lots of comments from readers, and on the issue of in-state tuition for immigrants, GP Bush approach is conservative, urging “gradual” reductions in tuition depending on years in the United States, and he has never testified, nor promoted any policy issues on the matter. If CMAS and MALS, the two entities acting on this award continue their stealth management of secured funds, faculty hires, and in establishing the proposed research institute, perhaps before we realize it, we’ll have a Hoover Institute (Standford University) model; a Latino conservative think tank supporting Republican partisan policies; established without transparency, accountability or stakeholder input. Actors in this saga have defended their actions in awarding GP Bush as “provocative” and as representative of Texas’ diversity and Latino reality (where 44%? of Latinos supported GP Bush). This is a defining moment for Latinos at the University of Texas, and for the Mexican American and Latino community in the state. Please sign the petition , you do not have to be a UT alumnus. (Sign it on Alice Embree blog or paste it onto your browser, gracias mil!

  3. Extremist2TheDHS says:

    Well done article. But really, except for a handful of academics and activists it affects no one and no one cares. If only progressives could gin up the same passion to protest other abuses of symbolic awards.. say .. Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize for basically figuring out how to find the Oval Office and giving a speech, and then bombing and droning the crap out dozens of countries since then. After all, a symbol for UT hispanics being misused is no more important than a global symbol for peace being ground into the dust.

    – Proud to be an Extremist2TheDHS

    • Anonymous says:

      It matters because a communities power to give an award was usurped by not going through the channels implemented by the University.

    • Monica AcostaZamora says:

      It matters because the commuties input was usurped despite University policy!
      Heads must roll!

  4. Austin Prairie Dog says:

    Good work. Keep digging!

    –Austin Prairie Dog

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