Change of plan for CSUEB speech
Daily Review - Inside Bay Area
June 8, 2005

By Katy Murphy, STAFF WRITER

 Inside Bay Area

University president, not controversial author, will deliver commencement address

 HAYWARD — Cal State East Bay officials said Tuesday that although author and journalist Richard Rodriguez was invited to make remarks upon receiving his honorary degree during the commencement ceremony Saturday, the university's president will give the official address.

 The announcement that California State University, East Bay, President Norma Rees will deliver the speech usually reserved for an honored guest follows an outcry by some faculty and students, who oppose Rodriguez's anti-affirmative action and anti-bilingual education views.

 But in spite of the recent controversy — and an early news release last week stating that Rodriguez would be the principal speaker— university spokesman Kim Huggett said the author never agreed to give the commencement address.

 "Somebody somewhere assumed that since he was the degree recipient that he would be the commencement speaker," said university spokesman Kim Huggett.

 A release issued by the university last week said Rodriguez would be the "commencement keynote speaker." It quoted Rees as saying, "I know that he will deliver an inspiring and informative address for our graduates."

 Huggett said the university retracted that statement in an official version issued Friday. The corrected release was not received by The Daily Review until Tuesday. In an interview Monday, Rees stressed that Rodriguez was an "honorary degree recipient" who would have the opportunity to speak, but she didn't say that she would be giving the graduation address. On the program, no one is listed as the commencement speaker.

 Although the university president typically makes remarks at the beginning of the ceremony, Huggett said Tuesday that he couldn't remember the last time the president gave the principal address. It happened this year, he said, after the list of potential guest speakers "dwindled."

 But Huggett spoke with some optimism about the situation. He noted that in addition to successfully pushing through her name change proposal for the school — which used to be California State University, Hayward — Rees has overseen a major freshman recruitment program and groundbreakings on three major construction projects this year.

 "This has been a momentous year in the life of the university, so perhaps it's appropriate that she carry the main message," he said.

 Some faculty and students in the university's School of Education Leadership — who believed until Tuesday that Rodriguez would be the commencement speaker — said they were insulted that Rees would choose someone who believed Spanish did not belong in the classroom.

 Rodriguez, who was born of Mexican immigrant parents, has written several books, including his 1982 autobiography "The Hunger of Memory," in which he said he assumed the identity of the American mainstream in order to succeed. His essays have appeared in Harper's Magazine and in the Los Angeles Times.

 Lettie Ramirez, an educational leadership professor at Cal State East Bay, said Tuesday that the development won't likely change the students' position. "They feel that this is their day, and it's not a celebration for them with him being honored," Ramirez said.

 Kristen Lombardo, a master's student and bilingual teacher at Burbank Elementary School in Hayward, said she and other students and faculty in the Urban Teacher Leadership group still plan to boycott the ceremony and hold their own, featuring keynote speaker Edmundo Norte. Norte is a professor at Cal State East Bay.

 "I'm very confused, because I saw on the Web site a whole press release and bio of (Rodriguez) as the commencement speaker," Lombardo said.

 Rodriguez couldn't be reached for comment on Tuesday.

 Katy Murphy covers education in Hayward, Castro Valley, San Leandro and San Lorenzo. Call her at (510) 293-2479 or e-mail