Remembering Dr. Hernán Vera, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
A native of Chile, Dr. Hernán Vera, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, passed away last week. He was a prolific scholar in research spanning a range of topics, including race and ethnic relations and sociology of knowledge.
A native of Chile, he received his PhD in Sociology from the University of Kansas in 1974. His co-authored books included, Liberation Sociology, White Racism: The Basics, Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness, The Agony of Education: Black Students at a White University, and Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic Relations. Hernán was also a very active affiliate faculty member of the Center for Latin American Studies. Late in his career, he taught the Center’s introductory Latin American Studies course. His passion for Latin America was infectious, as he attracted large numbers of students to the course.
Oral History with Dr. Vera: UFF-007, March 3, 2009
by Diana Gonzalez-Tennant
Dr. Vera was interviewed for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s United Faculty of Florida collection in 2009. The following excerpt is from a draft of his oral history transcript draft, UFF-007, and accompanying biography, written by interviewer Diana Gonzalez-Tennant.
Dr. Vera was born on February 16, 1937 in Santiago, Chile. He attended Colegió San Jorge, where he learned English and French. This school was owned and run by the fathers of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Indiana. The school was a progressive one, and he was exposed to a variety of academics as well as extracurricular activities. He graduated in 1954 and went to law school at the Universidad de Chile, and became a lawyer in 1962. He worked for the Banco de Chile for some time, the largest bank in Chile.
After working for some time in Chile, Vera was invited to teach in the Department of Government and International Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1968. While in the U.S., he applied for a fellowship and worked on his PhD in sociology. On September 11, 1973, right about the time that he was finishing his PhD, Pinochet staged a military coup in Chile. Dr. Vera was in the US at the time, and he and his wife Maria Inez Concha Gutierrez were advised by their families remaining in Chile that they should stay in the United States. Dr. Vera emphasizes, in his interview, the surprising brutality of the Pinochet government in repressing dissenting voices within Chile.
Dr. Vera arrived at the University of Florida in 1974 as an Assistant Professor in Sociology. Five years later, he came up for tenure and was denied. The following year he came up for tenure again, and received it. During the second round, however, he was informed by one of the Associate Deans that the Chair of the Sociology Department who denied him tenure the previous year had personally disliked Dr. Vera, and for that reason denied him tenure.
Vera joined the United Faculty of Florida union when it was first formed in 1976. He offers a variety of reasons for joining the union; one of the primary reasons he offers is that it was an act of solidarity. Another reason he offers is that discrimination, expressed through drastically varying pay scales, occurs often and is rampant. He states that when he became a full, tenured professor, he was paid $4,000 less than the least-paid Assistant Professor in his department. For this and other reasons, he strongly believes that the rights of workers, if even existent, without a union are abused far more than the rights of those with a union. Specifically, he feels that the union could fight to defend minorities, and was one of the only groups that did help minorities.
He became president of the union for at least two years and had very memorable experiences as UFF President. Specifically, one of the most memorable was on February 16, 1985, when he received a phone call from a journalist asking about then-UF President Marshall Criser and his involvement in silencing professors in the Chamber of Commerce. This scandal, eventually called “Chambergate”, was an involved attempt to silence professors’ voices and essentially eliminate academic freedom. Eventually it also led into a conference, held at the UF Law School, on academic freedom.
Dr. Vera then leads into discussing the McCarthy Era and its effects on UF. More specifically, he talks about the Johns Committee which investigated homosexuality in the university system under the guise of eliminating Communists from the University.
Dr. Vera presents these three instances of silencing of individuals who think differently—in Chile by Pinochet, at UF during Chambergate, and the John’s Committee—as important, related events in his life. His is a fascinating perspective on how what he termed the ‘Genocide’ of dissenting voices in Chile, is not a far cry from the destruction of Academician’s careers at UF through events like Chambergate and the John’s Committee.
It is important to note that Dr. Hernan Vera is an accomplished Sociologist and his perspective on structural discrimination is highly informed by his training. Other important aspects of note are that the interviewer and interviewee both identified as hispanic/latino/a, their specific roles during the interview—Dr. Vera as retired male Professor and the interviewer as female Graduate Student—and the research focus on the union, to some degree, all shaped and crafted the interview into a history and comparative of silencing.
I joined the union when the union began to exist in 1976. I didn’t know much about what unions were about in the United States, I considered myself more of a conservative-leaning scholar than anything else. But it was, as I saw it, an act of solidarity. It was something you did with your colleagues, for your colleagues . . . If you don’t have a union, or you don’t join a union, you have no rights to speak of.
-Dr. Hernán Vera, 2009