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UCSD arts professor Ricardo Dominguez did not use school funds inappropriately, according to the findings of a University of California official investigation into Dominguez’s involvement with a controversial art project.
On Jan. 11, the UC system began investigating Dominguez’s use of just under $5,000 of grant money to fund the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT), a GPS-enabled Motorola cell phone meant to aid immigrants crossing the border by providing information about water caches in the desert and offering moral support in the form of streaming bilingual poetry.
Critics, most notably Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, say TBT helps facilitate illegal entry across the U.S.-Mexico border and therefore should not have been funded by taxpayer money.
“The investigation came to an end on July 21,” a relieved-looking Dominguez told CityBeat. “Now, the funny thing about this is that everybody was copied on the e-mail, all the major players, except us and my lawyers. So, it was only by accident that I discovered that on July 21—this was only a couple of days ago that I discovered this—that the final report came out. And, basically, after all this sort of stuff,” Dominguez said, pausing and leaning toward his laptop to read from the e-mail, “‘The final conclusion is based on our review procedures. We concluded that neither the university funds nor effort were used inappropriately during the development of TBT or the project.’ So, that’s one victory for artwork.”
But Dominguez isn’t completely off the hook.
He’s still paying legal fees to fight yet another university investigation and audit of his actions and involvement in what he calls “electronic civil disobedience,” which is the title of one of the classes he teaches at UCSD. In May, Dominguez spearheaded a virtual sit-in to protest UC policy changes. He and his students flooded UC system president Mark G. Yudof’s website, forcing it offline.
Dominguez said that shortly after the virtual protest, he was informed that the UC system would be looking into possible criminal charges and revocation of his tenure.
While that investigation continues, Dominguez said the good news is that TBT has been chosen to be showcased in several national and international art shows. A few TBT prototypes are currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Here Not There: San Diego Art Now exhibition and the piece has also been accepted into the 2010 California Biennial, plus a few exhibitions in Europe.
“It legitimizes it for the legal teams,” Dominguez said, explaining that investigators did not look at TBT as an art project until curators at contemporary-art museums recognized it as one.