Moderator’s Note: In the best of circumstances, I believe all of us probably know someone like the auto repairman that fixes Rudy Acuña’s car and whom he calls “Dr. Mechanic.” I know two Dr. Mechanics, one in the city and one in the countryside. Both earn a middle-class living, comparable to that of many college instructors, and both take twice the amount of vacation time I am able to afford. They may not get that sabbatical every six years – which by the way, Rudy, is no longer automatic and is becoming an increasingly scarce resource at most state universities – but who needs a sabbatical when you can take 3-4 months off every year? Indeed, one of them is so well off he accepts non-cash payments for some of the work done. He welded some parts for me just the other day and refused money, asking for the chicosroasted corn that we produce on our farm. “That’s the real stuff,” he told me, winking, knowing that I am anti-money and anti-capitalist.
In contrast, the majority of newly-minted Chicana/o Ph.D. graduates are increasingly being channeled into part-time jobs that lack security or even health benefits, come with obscenely low pay, and offer dim prospects for tenure-track jobs let alone sabbaticals. According to one study by the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), about half of all new academic positions are non-tenure track, part-time, adjunct teaching positions. According to AAUPstatistics, the most widespread use of part-time teachers is at the two-year community colleges where they now constitute 51 percent of the faculty. Close to a quarter (24 percent) of the faculty at four-year liberal arts colleges are part-time faculty members and about 20 percent of the faculty at research universities.
So, I am not really sure why Rudy is so pissed off at Chicana/o academic scholars who have tenure-track positions – this is a position of great potential power and influence. Instead of bashing or dismissing them for their apparent “errant” ways (by the way, Rudy, who get to define that?), I would prefer we press them even harder to become more directly active in the service of their origin communities. I would guess a better target would be the millionaire administrators and development people whose fat paychecks are comparable to the money meted out to star athletes and who are responsible for the dismantling of the American professoriate – a group that very much remains a last bulwark against anti-democratic impulses and corporate domination. Or, maybe Rudy should go after the bankers, who after all are the only interests that profit from the dismantling of the academic Left along with the neoliberal privatization of everything?
I do not like over-generalizations and this piece by Rudy is so filled with over the top generalizations that I must protest. Yes, there are plenty of Chicana/o Ph.D. scholars who have apparently forgotten their community-base; some who conduct irrelevant, disengaged, and even banal research on mostly theoretical topics filled with obscurantist language that not even their postmodernist critics understand. Yes, there are plenty of vendidos who treat their own people as olvidados. However, I also see a lot of fine young scholars in Chicana/o Studies who are dedicated to social action and social change research and many of them are right now active in collaborative research projects with immigrant rights groups, labor organizers, and environmental and food justice NGOs, to name a few. There are still plenty of people conducting research on working-class struggles.
Finally, I will note that in my family, everyone insisted that I use the title, “Dr.”, even though I preferred that this not be the case. My family and friends and neighbors were very proud that I had earned the advanced degree and they relished introducing me as “Dr. Peña.” Ya déjalos, Rudy; this is definitely the wrong tree to be barking at and not everyone is going to use the doctoral title as a puff-up-and-strut badge. However, many of us do need and use that badge to get inside the halls of power as is the case when we testify as expert witnesses in court cases or in environmental impact studies. As my colleague Tezozomoc of the South Central Farmers told me last week – after I submitted a letter to the Mayor and City Council of Los Angeles objecting to a new proposed development at the famous 14-acre site – “You are our legitimator.” I am happy to play the legitimation role and understand that without those three letters after my name, well, it is even less likely anyone in power would even bother to listen; they still might not, since I am, after all, just a Mexican, but it can serve a purpose.
¡qué catedrático ni qué demonios! no eres más que un maestro!
Rodolfo F. Acuña | Northridge, CA | July 23, 2014
I guess it is because I have never mastered the English language – or any language for that matter – that I am intrigued by the meaning of words. The word scholar is one example of the vagaries of English meanings. In Spanish I am called a catedrático – a professor so I would assume that I would be a scholar — a person who has studied a subject for a long time and knows a lot about the field.
Like professor the word catedrático sounds more impressive than it is. However, my family had a way of bringing me back to earth and deflating my sense of self-importance. When I told a relative that I was a catedrático, he answered “¡Qué catedrático, ni qué demonios! ¡No eres más que un maestro!” (Like hell you’re a professor! You are just an ordinary schoolteacher).
Supposedly a scholar is an intelligent and well-educated person who knows a particular subject very well but who often knows little about life. Without a sinecure he would probably starve. For my relatives he/she was a person who teaches twelve hours a week (if that) and gets paid three times as much as the ordinary worker.
However, the great irony is that the more a catedrático teaches the less of a scholar he/she is in the eyes of his/her peers. The mentality runs if he is so hot, why isn’t he teaching two classes a semester? The truth be told, the word teacher has been downgraded to the point that some people repeat the stupid saying “those who can’t teach.” The people who say this are usually those who can’t deal with their own children.
The scholar often runs away from being a teacher, and in the fashion of academe they create their own class pecking order. I marvel at my former students – so called Marxists – who make it a point after passing their terminal exams to immediately start putting cremaon their tacos and add the term Dr. to their names imbedding into their persona.
When you tease them about it they answer, “I’ve earned it (the title).” So did my relatives earn respect but they do not tattoo it on their chests. Basically what I object to is the expectations that the title creates. It sets a context that demands veneration and compels everyone to recognize and acknowledge their official position in society. In real life it is like the service ribbons we wore above our hearts in the military.
Scholars are obsessed with their professional or academic ranking. They unconsciously or consciously perpetuate a pecking order of the sciences, social sciences, humanities and “non-content” areas such as education, which like physical education is a pedagogical field distinguishing it from content areas of study.
The influence of the title doctor is pervasive – just like the label scholar it conditions research topics and trajectories of enquiry. The result is a narrowing of research topics, reducing them to esoteric Chicana/o areas that admittedly have cultural value but detract the field of Chicana/o studies away from working class studies, which it was originally intended to pursue. It limits the questions asked by scholars and the entire field itself, creating an internal class pecking order.
It is important to study and understand the socialization of Chicana/o scholars and the distance that it creates between them and the community. Epistemology is important because it asks questions about “How” what we know and how we know it is logical. The questions we ask must be answered before we can start to develop theories or what course of action is justified. Without this process we remain an inchoate field of study.
Simplifying the epistemological process, it is similar to working out mathematical equations by breaking down fractions to their lowest common denominator. It gives one a coherent pathway for sound thinking. In order to know the nature of knowledge one must understand that others aren’t always familiar with a subject and that empirical knowledge is not based on books.
A mechanic does not have a doctor qualifying him but he sure as hell has more knowledge than I do about engines. Unfortunately, it is not a problem that we as a community can ruminate about because people feel attacked.
Along these lines it is interesting to read Facebook and read the individual Dr. Scholar Facebook pages and see what so-called Dr. Scholars are saying about the border crisis caused by U.S. policies such as the War on Drugs. Out of ten randomly selected Dr. Scholar sites – two of which were posted by Central American scholars there was relatively little or no comment on what is happening on the border. It is as if activism has been separated from their roles as the custodians of the Truth.
I have to admit that this partially due to the summer vacation. I weekly send out about 4-5000 emails with my blogs. The number of responses from Dr. Scholars that they are on research leaves jumps during the summer months to over 200. A lot of them are on sabbatical leaves something that my Dr. Mechanic cannot take.
Doing research without grants is no longer part of the job of being a Dr. Scholar who has to have extra time to be a scholar. This is ironic since I have met many medical doctors in Mexico who write excellent history as a hobby.
For over fifty years I have averaged six to twelve book reviews a year. They have little scholarly value but I do it because I want to stay current with the literature. The books supplement my activism. So quite frankly I am disappointed with the reasoning in the Dr. Scholars’ books. The research is good but their analyses of the past are weak. Unlike Dr. Mechanic they don’t know how the engine works.
|George I. Sánchez, an early proponent of activist research.
I am currently reviewing a book on the influence of Chicana/o scholars on Mexican pedagogical ideas and the reverse during the 1920s and 1930s. Dr. Scholar discovers George I. Sánchez and his role in Mexican education. Thus far in my reading he has not acknowledged what made Sánchez unique which was that he was an activist. The ideas of John Dewey and the rest were important but Sánchez and the Mexicans based their ideas not only on books but on experimentation. Sánchez was a leader in the Mexican American Movements of the fifties and sixties, so much so that I would gladly call him Dr. Sánchez.
As for the title that I most cherish it is Maestro or teacher. I learned more as a junior high school teacher than I did in all of my research. It changed me. So take no offense to my ruminations, I am not a doctor and offer no prognosis, just a teacher trying to learn how the pinche engine works.