Center for Mexican American Studies may become department within College of Liberal Arts

Christine Ayala

Students and faculty voiced their opinions in favor of the Center for Mexican American Studies to become a department within the College of Liberal Arts at a forum Wednesday.

The center offers undergraduate, graduate, masters and doctoral programs in Mexican American Studies funded and taught by multiple departments. If the center becomes part of the College of Liberal Arts, professors, lecturers and classes would be under one department.

Center director Domino Perez said the center turned down the opportunity as recently as three years ago when the center was under a different director.

“We were asked to imagine a plan where departmentalization is the finish line,” Perez said. “Historically, the center has been resistant. They did not want to be confined to any one college.”

Perez said after UT President William Powers Jr. asked her in January to consider plans for the center’s future and departmentalization, she drafted a preliminary plan to departmentalize within the next 10 years, although it may not take that long to accomplish. She said the center tends to focus on yearly goals, including classes and community outreach, rather than a long-term mission for the center’s future.

Perez said her proposal for the department includes a borderlands research institute that would focus on the Texas-Mexico border, although there are no specific plans yet.

Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said he favors departmentalization if students and faculty want the center to move in that direction.

“I believe building on our core strength, and given our geographical location, we have the opportunity to be the best center for Mexican American studies in the country,” Diehl said. “As the dean, it would be idiotic not to be fully supportive.”

This was the third forum hosted by the center this semester, intended to gauge what goals students and faculty want the center to have for the future. Before Wednesday’s talk, separate forums were held for students and faculty to discuss their thoughts on the center’s future, without the center or college administrators present to encourage an honest discussion.

Associate journalism professor Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez said that during the faculty forum, departmentalization was not the topic of conversation, although it should have been. She said the center should ask for the faculty’s opinions before making the decision.

“I feel bad that we weren’t a part of that conversation three years ago,” Rivas-Rodriguez said. “I would like for us to be asked that question, and I would like for us to vote on it. I would like for us to say, ‘these are the advantages and disadvantages,’ and have that discussion so it’s not just reflective of one person at the helm.”

She said the center will host a student and faculty planning session Jan. 11 to further discuss the option of departmentalizing.