An open letter to President Koester


We are writing to express our deep outrage regarding Mel Gibson’s use of hate language directed at Dr. Alicia Estrada following the screening of Gibson’s “Apocalypto” at CSUN on Thursday March 22, 2007. Since university officials, including John Chandler, the Director of Public Relations and Strategic Communication for the university, have failed to demand an apology from Mr. Gibson, we are asking that you, President Koester, undertake this responsibility. Mr. Chandler’s characterization of Dr. Estrada’s questions and comments as an unfortunate “disruption,” and his support of the anti-intellectual and offensive manner in which she was silenced are unconscionable.

We feel obligated to remind CSUN officials that universities, CSUN included, are places where ideas are debated and where research and knowledge is supposed to be freely discussed. Dr. Estrada was aggressively removed from a classroom by an armed guard and silenced because she dared to question the work of an artist, who also happens to be a celebrity.

The responsible parties apparently do not understand that when artists choose to address controversial subjects in their work they can expect to be questioned, especially by experts in places of learning. To characterize such questioning, as a “disruption” is offensive to Dr. Estrada’s expertise and to academic culture in general, it seriously undermines a spirit of inquiry, which is important in a learning atmosphere and part of the mission of the university. Ironically, Mr. Gibson has a highly publicized pattern of belligerently offending entire social groups, and to excuse Mr. Gibson’s latest hateful outburst and intolerance is an embarrassment that undermines the values of respect for learning, free speech and cultural diversity that CSUN is officially supposed to respect.

University officials should have supported Dr. Estrada’s right to express her views and knowledge, and criticized the tactics of armed intimidation that were used to physically remove her and members of the Mayan community from a public event supported by the university. Even Mr. Gibson’s publicist, Howard Rubenstein, admitted to the press that his client, “?needs more anger management training…” Apparently, university officials do not concur, since they failed to state that Gibson’s hateful and explosive language is not what is expected of members and guests of the CSUN community.

In fact, Mr. Chandler offered to the press only positive comments and appreciative remarks regarding Mr. Gibson’s conduct-and expressed absolutely no dismay regarding Mr. Gibson’s hateful remarks-while he was quick to represent Dr. Estrada’s questions and comments as some sort of aberration. Mr. Chandler’s remark to the Associated Press that Gibson “?didn’t respond with profanity? he responded by answering questions” is a flagrant manipulation of the facts. Furthermore, Mr. Chandler failed to correct Gibson’s publicity managers’ pathetic and unconvincing efforts to portray Dr. Estrada as a “heckler.” We would like to emphasize that asking pertinent questions and expressing viewpoints does not constitute heckling by any definition of the word, and that Dr. Estrada’s record of service to the CSUN community has been exemplary, that she is a valued colleague and that in the larger academic world she is a highly respected authority on Mayan literature and culture.

Would CSUN officials have condoned hateful, offensive and pathologically aggressive language if it had come from a CSUN faculty member or a less famous guest speaker? Mr. Chandler’s responsibility as Director of Public Relations at CSUN is not to undertake damage control for troubled celebrities, but to ensure that we are fairly and accurately portrayed, according to the teaching and learning that takes place at CSUN. The university is not supposed to be an unchecked forum for celebrities to market their products, where they can expect to be protected from intellectual scrutiny and scholarly criticism and where they are not bound by common standards of decency. By excusing the bizarre and intolerant behavior of celebrities the parties responsible for Dr. Estrada’s silencing have brought embarrassing publicity upon our campus and trivialized the seriousness and integrity of scholarly inquiry and free speech.

Dr. Estrada, as quoted in the Daily News, has demanded “an apology not just for myself, but also for the Central American Studies Program, to the University, and to, most importantly, the Mayan community.” In demanding an apology from Mr. Gibson, Dr. Estrada has had to assume a responsibility which Mr. Chandler has inexcusably neglected and which you, President Koester should now undertake.

CSUN officials have failed to protect Dr. Estrada’s professionalism and free speech and instead have condoned Gibson’s offensive behavior without consulting Dr. Estrada, the Central American Studies Department, the Department of Chicana/o Studies or leaders of the Mayan community. Such decisions were obscenely unprofessional and prejudicial. We are asking you, President Jolene Koester and Provost Harry Hellenbrand, to immediately and officially correct Mr. Chandler’s inaccuracies, which have contributed to an inordinate amount of hostility directed at Dr. Estrada and her family, the Central American Studies Program and the Department of Chicana/o Studies. These hostilities have been extremely disruptive and include threats, which have been reported to the police. We are requesting a meeting with you, President Koester and Provost Hellenbrand to discuss these issues. We would appreciate an immediate response.

Sincerely, David Rodriguez, Ph.D. Chair, Chicana/o Studies Department

Ram?n Garc?a, Ph.D. Associate-Chair, Chicana/o Studies Department