By Kimberly Peterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
One UA dean's decision about hiring a Spanish and Portuguese department head has drawn fire from some faculty and students.
But the department's interim head said the hiring procedures were violated, thus forcing the dean's decision.
Charles Tatum was the previous Spanish and Portuguese department head until last spring, when he left to become dean of the University of Arizona Faculty of Humanities.
Karen Smith, an associate professor of Spanish and Portugese, was named interim department head until a new one could be found.
As dean, Tatum has the final authority in choosing the new department head, and relied on the efforts of a search committee comprising UA faculty members and one student to find qualified candidates.
After a hunt by the committee, the pool of candidates for the department head position narrowed to three professors: Robert Lima from Pennsylvania State University, Maureen Ahern from Ohio State University and James Parr from the University of California.
Of the three, Lima drew the most support from faculty and students. Last month, the search committee voted 22-11 and the faculty voted 9-7 in favor of Lima.
"He's a very dynamic person," said John Gilabert, a professor of Spanish. "He is also a Hispanic, and I think geography dictates we have a strong Hispanic representation at the university, which we do not."
Although Lima was the favored candidate, Tatum announced on Monday that the current search would be stopped.
Instead, Karen Smith would be kept as interim dean for another year and a new search for a permanent dean will begin.
Tatum's decision was strongly opposed by Lima's supporters.
"He was the favorite candidate, and (Tatum) is overriding not only the votes of the search committee, but also the votes of the faculty in the Spanish and Portuguese Department," said Elda Romero, a part-time student and coordinator of the Tucson Coalition of UA Students, Community, and Government Leaders of Spanish-Speaking Descent.
But Smith said Tatum made the decision to stop the search because Romero violated search procedures.
"She has taken confidential information and released it to the press," Smith said. "She called candidates, and that is a violation of everything the university stands for. If everyone participated in a search, how can you protect the candidates?"
Tatum's decision may be an example of larger problems at the UA, Gilabert said.
"I feel the administrators ought to pay more attention, and take into account the recommendations of the search committee, department votes, etcetera," Gilabert said. "In this case they did not."
Tatum was unavailable for comment yesterday.
As of yesterday, Lima had not been informed of Tatum's decision.
"I have not had any recent communication from the dean," Lima said. "I'm very pleased that the department and search committee supported me. It's a wait-and-see situation."
Lima would have been a good selection because the Latino communities need more role models, Romero said.
"The Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S. do not have positive role models to emulate," Romero said. "We are embracing professors from Euro-American backgrounds that are going to teach in the department. But we need Latino leadership because of the identity crisis that Spanish-speaking young people are having."
Some of Lima's supporters will be holding a press conference at 12:15 p.m. today near the Education Building to show opposition to Tatum's decision, Romero said. Supporters are considering suing the Spanish and Portuguese department for violating affirmative action regulations, she said.
"I think that everybody is human," Romero said. "Sometimes we feel pressures and don't make the right decisions. We understand that Dr. Tatum might have pressures with the many responsibilities he has. We are going to give him one more day to reply, and then we may file a lawsuit." Read Next Article