The president of the University of Northern Colorado yesterday rescinded an invitation to Linda Chavez to speak at May 12 commencement exercises after Hispanic students and the faculty senate demanded that the invitation be withdrawn.
“It is clear the decision [to invite Miss Chavez] is both uninformed and gave the appearance of being grossly insensitive,” university President Robert O. Dickeson said in a statement after holding public discussions on the issue most of the day at the UNC University Center.
Miss Chavez, chairman of the National Commission on Migrant Education, an appointment made by former President Reagan, has been criticized for her support of making English the nation’s official language and her opposition to bilingual education and affirmative action.
“We see her as a sellout. She only uses her surname for her self-advantage. She doesn’t believe in Hispanics or her heritage,” Charlene Hernandez, a freshman and member of the Organization of Hispanic Students, said of the former Reagan White House aide and Senate candidate in Maryland.
About the same time the protest on the Northern Colorado campus began to gain momentum, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, withdrew its invitation to Miss Chavez to address graduates May 25 on the Camden campus.
“She was invited, some Hispanic students protested vehemently, and the invitation was rescinded,” said Barbara Leap, director of public information.
Stephen Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, a group of largely conservative professors committed to the free exchange of ideas on campuses, said of the two protests: “It shows something about the prevailing climate on American campuses today.
“People who hold certain types of positions simply can’t be given a hearing,” he said. “The irony was that in this case Miss Chavez would not be speaking about English or bilingualism, but the triumph of democracy in the world. What we need is the triumph of democracy on American campuses.”
Much of the pressure on the two institutions to withdraw invitations to Miss Chavez appears to have come from the League of United Latin American Citizens. The group has long opposed her for her stands on English, bilingual education and affirmative action.
“Whether or not I speak at commencement, I’m going to Colorado,” Miss Chavez said yesterday. “I have a non-refundable ticket, and I will have my speech in hand. I will either give it at the university or give it to the press. It would be moral cowardice on my part to back down.”
Mr. Dickeson last week defended Northern Colorado’s choice of the political conservative and former head of U.S. English to address the special 100th anniversary commencement, noting that the university is one of the last places dedicated to “free inquiry.”
“When people on campus heard she was coming, they couldn’t understand how the administration could be so insensitive,” Miss Hernandez said.
About 5 percent of the 9,500 students at Northern Colorado are Hispanic, said Tom Barbour, director of university news and publications.
Rutgers’ Camden campus has 3,900 students, and 120 are Hispanic, Miss Leap said.
Miss Chavez said she tried to convince officials at Northern Colorado that she is no stranger to hostile audiences and could cope with protests.
“It’s ironic that my views on a single issue – bilingual education and learning English – disqualify me from access to a universitywide audience in this setting,” she said.
“It’s not clear that this was a student-organized protest. They appear most angry at my having been past president of U.S. English and that the referendum in 1988 passed by 60 to 40 percent in Colorado. They lost when they put it to a vote and this is a form of retaliation,” she said.
Miss Chavez actually left U.S. English two years ago when she objected to remarks made by John Tanton, the chairman and founder, that she felt were anti-Hispanic.
Miss Chavez also is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institution of Policy Research, and is working on a book, “At the Crossroads: Hispanics in the U.S.”