Sole Latino studies professor says she will not return

By Matthew Stone

Hispanic Studies professor MarA-a Elena Cepeda has decided she will not return to Macalester this fall. Cepeda is currently on one-year academic leave and is teaching at Williams College.

Macalester hired Cepeda in 2003 after the Hispanic Studies Department had approved major changes to its curriculum. Cepeda was the college’s only U.S. Latino Studies specialist and the college’s only Latina faculty member or administrator.

Cepeda announced the decision in an e-mail dated Jan. 28 sent to administrators and various faculty members.

“[The] key factor contributing to my initial decision to accept Williams College’s offer and subsequently remain there,” she wrote, “was the fact that during my brief tenure at Macalester I witnessed a departmental leadership unwilling to support the very curricular changes that had been unanimously approved shortly before my arrival.”

The department’s curricular changes were intended to integrate a more civically engaged approach into the curriculum. Cepeda told The Mac Weekly in October that her field, Latino studies, is characterized largely by civic engagement and interdisciplinary study.

As the only Latino Studies scholar at the college, Cepeda said she experienced greater-than-average difficulty for a new faculty member.

“A lack of mentorship, the absence of a democratic decision-making process, and overall disciplinary and administrative inflexibility,” she wrote, “rendered it very difficult for me to remain true to my ideological, intellectual, and pedagogical standards.”

The grievances Cepeda listed in her letter echo many of the complaints voiced by Latino student organization A­Adelante! in an open community letter last spring.

“I encountered a departmental leadership far too invested in rigid gender, race, class, and cultural hierarchies to attend to the rapidly changing demands of the field, and too wed to authoritarian decision-making practices to implement its own new curriculum in a meaningful fashion,” Cepeda wrote.

She also noted that the Hispanic Studies department, with one exception, has been unable to retain any tenure-track female faculty members through to tenure.

Alex Flores ’08, a member of A­Adelante!, has been involved with talks with administrators and faculty members over the Latino studies program. Flores said that, at this point, he is pessimistic about the program’s future.

“I think [Cepeda’s departure] is the logical conclusion to the administration’s actions in the past year,” he said. Latino Studies’ future is in question “so long as the leadership of the Hispanic Studies department and the lack of leadership from the provost’s office continue to put a barrier between the traditional Hispanic Studies curriculum and the realization of true Latino studies.”

Hispanic Studies acting department chair Antonio Dorca was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. Provost Diane Michelfelder was also unavailable at press time.