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Chávez important, but not for building

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Jessica Lee
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 2, 2003

On April 29, 1993, some 35,000 people walked the three miles from Delano to Forty Acres, Calif., in a massive parade following the casket of a man who deceased Senator Robert F. Kennedy described as "one of the heroic figures of our time."

Now, a decade later, the same number of students will soon pass by the Economics building that was renamed yesterday in honor of César Chávez, the Yuma-born Chicano hero who was a champion for farm workers' rights in the southwest.

They might wonder how Chávez was connected the UA.

The answer is: He wasn't.

As described in an Aug. 12 Arizona Daily Star article, President Likins supported the name change in a memo to the Arizona Board of Regents, "We feel strongly that this is a positive course of action for the university to take to acknowledge our Hispanic community in a positive way."

Although it is noteworthy that Likins highlights Chávez as an important figure in Arizona and U.S. history, it is not appropriate to give the current Economics building his name. As a land-grant public mecca for knowledge in the southwest, the UA has the job to educate its students about issues that involve Chávez and what he accomplished in his lifetime. However, it is not the role of the tax-supported university to officially honor him with a building name change.

In last Friday's Wildcat, rumor had it that two campus groups were possibly planning a Monday protest to the name change. Both the College Republicans and the Student Objectivist Society disapprove of the name change. Both groups decided to postpone demonstrations because there would not be many students around.

Erik Flesch, president of the Student Objectivist Society, is adamantly opposed to the renaming action on several grounds. "A union organizer, a controversial figure, is not appropriate to name a building after, especially if some of the departments within the building disagree."

While many would debate the morality and function of unions in society, the reason why the building should not be Chávez-christened is because he did not play a prominent role in campus academics ų he neither gave financial contributions nor helped shape the UA as the institution we now call home.

Harvill. Gould-Simpson. Douglas. McClelland. Marvil. McKale.

Jessica Lee
associate editor

In fact, all named buildings on campus honor individuals who were important in the UA universe. The only facility that deviates from this pattern is the Martin Luther King, Jr. building, which was also inappropriately named.

The naming advisory committee, formed to follow Arizona Board of Regents criteria for evaluating proposed name changes, agreed on the Economics building change in July although Alan P. Ker, associate professor and head of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics wrote a letter to the committee highlighting his department's opposition.

The Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics is not the only one to call the Economics building home. The Mexican-American Studies and Research Center, Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs, divisions of the mathematics department and the Economic Research Lab all reside under its roof, and various departments use the classrooms.

While working under the César Chávez ceiling will help recruit Mexican-American students to both the Mexican-American Studies and Research Center and Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs, such a building name could have unintended consequences for the AREC Department.

The committee has evidently stretched the definition of who can be nominated for a facility name change. ABOR guidelines read: "When naming a facility or programmatic unit for a person, family, or organization where there is no gift, the proposed honoree shall have achieved distinction in one or more of the following ways ų serving the university in an academic or administrative capacity with high distinction, or by contributing in other exceptional ways to the welfare and reputation of the university, to education, or to the community in general."

César Chávez, without a doubt, was a man worthy of an honorable legacy. His efforts led to better working conditions for farm workers throughout Arizona and California. His achievements are monumental and important to understanding the social climate of the last century. But Chávez did not directly affect the UA or Tucson community.

The naming advisory committee has pushed the university into murky political waters, setting a precedent that may lead the UA into trouble in the near future. While César Chávez and the achievements of workers' rights should be studied and honored, the UA has a finite number of facilities to name. Those structures should be reserved for heroes of the UA.

Jessica Lee is an environmental science senior. She can be reached at

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