Category Archives: Race and Tenure Reporting

Written/Unwritten is out!

It’s been a busy first month for Written/Unwritten and for me. The official release date was the day before the apocalypse, but even before the publication date response to the anthology have been overwhelmingly positive.

At one point in the process of getting the book together I sighed to a friend that it was taking so long that by the time it came out no one would even care about tenure anymore. But when I hear about a watchlist of faculty members deemed radical and dangerous, and listen to faculty of color who feel more taxed as students turn to them for help processing the election results (or are more aggressive than usual feeling embolden by the election of a president who is bringing racists into the White House), it’s clear that this book is more necessary than ever and that the narratives here can help individuals and institutions rethink how they support and maintain meaningful faculty diversity.

I was interviewed in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Tenure Denials Set Off Alarm Bells, and a Book, About Obstacles for Minority Faculty” paywalled) about the anthology:fullsizerender-24

The Chronicle also interviewed me about a reader I compiled with two of my colleagues earlier this year (“A Professor Created a Guide to Police Shootings for Worried Students. Now Her Colleagues Want It” paywalled)fullsizerender-25

In a major victory for all of us, I got “woke AF” published in a piece I wrote for The Atlantic (”What Is Faculty Diversity Worth to a University?”):

The stakes are even higher now. They are higher because service that might have been seen as extra can now feel essential. Black faculty report feeling more vulnerable, and the invisible labor is hyper visible in this post-Ferguson, post-Obama moment. All too often, when deans, provosts, and presidents call for panels, workshops, and university discussions, there’s a faculty member of color who has to wrestle with how to contribute (or with whether or not they want to) while still doing the work their colleagues get to do without the same burden. The stakes are higher because ethnic-studies and women’s-studies departments are being effectively dismantled. Their faculty must take time away from their own research and teaching to fight as legislatures target them and administrators try to cut their budgets or fire the tenure-line faculty in their departments.

Inside Higher Ed published a nuanced, beautifully reported consideration of the anthology (Separate and Not Equal):

Recent anecdotes put a face to the problem. Aimee Bahng, a popular assistant professor of English at Dartmouth College was denied tenure last year, despite strong backing from faculty colleagues, for example, and her supporters said another professor of color was denied tenure the year before under similar circumstances. Other faculty members of color have left Dartmouth of their own accord, leaving one instructor there to declare that “temporary, precarious and disavowed labor of people of color at Dartmouth is their purposeful and intentional diversity solution.” Dartmouth has acknowledged that it has trouble retaining minority professors but denies claims of racism in personnel decisions.

This review in the New York Journal of Books makes clear about the necessity of these narratives in this particular moment.

In today’s corrosive and divisive public-political discourse, the experiences, interpretations, and emotions expressed by the contributors to this volume might be variably termed as overly sensitive, politically correct, or—more crassly—whining. Spun somewhat differently, dissent, critique, questioning, and protest are taken as an outright attack in a crudely polarized political landscape where you are either “making America great again,” or its opposite. These essays are now, more than ever, a timely and courageous contribution to the exploration and critique of the operation of power as it refracts against diverse, non-dominant identities in American higher education.

To top it all off, I visited Barnard and talked about the anthology, specifically its contributors, with faculty of color, faculty diversity committee members, friends, my Montclair colleagues, and my Aunt Carmen, who was very happy that I spoke more slowly this time than I did when she came to hear me give a lecture last year (and was impressed that instead of the four or five people who attended that lecture the room at Barnard was full…sitting on the floor room only).  Jennifer Williams, who I talked to for the chapter “’Cast your net wide’: Reflections on Activism and Community Engagement When Black Lives Matter,” was there too.

Some of my favorite friends showed up: Manu Chandler, Jennifer Clark, Eve Dunbar, Kim Hall, Stephanie Hershinow, David Hershinow, Alison Kinney, Karl Steel, and Joan T. Walrond, who holds the record for buying the most copies of the anthology thus far.

Kevin Browne and Carla Shedd, two of the people I follow on Twitter for wisdom, moral clarity, and inspiration, were there too.

Kim, Stephanie, and Kevin tweeted my talk, and it’s been interesting to see how my comments on the anthology are interpreted in real time. Some of what they tweeted were direct quotes from my talk, but I was most interested in how they extended my ideas, in powerful ways. I’ve gathered those tweets via storify.

There’s been a lot to process with all of this. This is my first book, and I’ve been excited, terrified, hopeful, and relieved that it’s out. The night before the Barnard talk I panicked that I hadn’t gotten one part of the introduction right and that people might think less of me because of it. Then I realized that, to a large extent, the anthology isn’t fully about me, and, by extension, the talk was not actually about me either.  Don’t get me wrong, the day was definitely about me. I know this because my Aunt Carmen, my godfather George Bailey, and my cousin Neil were there. And there were cupcakes and an open bar afterwards. But the talk was really about the rather remarkable people who trusted me with their stories. This was my chance to introduce them.  It felt wonderful to have the opportunity to talk about their work and what they offer the academy. So I actually had quite a bit of fun.

I’m curious to know what’s next—where the anthology will take me and how others will engage with it into the holidays and the new year. To those of you who have bought the book already, thank you so much. If you haven’t bought it yet, UNC press has 40% off all of its books and shipping for orders of $75 or more are free.   Buy a copy for yourself, your dean, your provost, your favorite graduate students…you get the idea.

The book is dedicated to my parents. That’s my mother’s wedding ring and chain I’m wearing in the storify pic.

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Lessons from the Collection IV: Teaching While Black (Part I)

Robyn Magalit Rodriguez has put together an impressive list of essays that should be read by women of color in higher education and, perhaps more importantly, anyone who wants to actively support meaningful diversity. Her list covers a range of important issues, and you can see it here, but I’ve pulled out essays that deal with a specific problem that can be debilitating to faculty of color—how students react to them in the classroom. As the essays here evince, and I’ve noted in my conversations with women of color from around the country, faculty of color are judged more harshly than their white counterparts in college and university classrooms. They consistently receive lower evaluations from students, particularly at Predominately White Institutions. In addition to being demoralizing, especially for those who become academics because they want to teach, the institutional implications of such attitudes can have material consequences. Put simply, poor teaching evaluations can damage a candidate’s chances for tenure. They can become part of a narrative to prove that a candidate is not a good “fit” when the real problem might be that the candidate is simply different than those evaluating her personnel file.

What’s tricky about this is that no faculty member wants to claim that their poor teaching evaluations might be due, in part, to race and/or gender. And even white colleagues who want to be helpful might not know how to put this issue in some larger context. As a result, even folks who know the problem exists might not know how to address it. So, if you’re a white academic who knows that racism disrupts the learning processes at your institution how can you do more than nod sympathetically? The answers seem so easy, but I’ll list them here anywhere, as a primer or a reminder.

• Read these essays. Read them. Know the numbers, facts, statistics, and anecdotes.

• Share the essays with colleagues who you know share your investment in developing and maintaining diversity with all the appropriate caveats (“This might not be the struggle that all faculty of color face, but it behooves us to be mindful of this troubling pattern”).

• In any conversation that happens during any gathering of any group that calls itself a Diversity Committee, Committee on Diversity or any permutation of those words or what they are supposed to represent, be the voice that raises this specific issue. Never has the term “consciousness raising” been more apt.

• Build relationships with faculty of color and ask them about their experiences in the classroom. And then listen to what they have to say. With the appropriate caveats (see above), let them know you’re reading essays like the ones below so they know that you are trying to understand what they might be facing.

Agathangelou, Anna M., and L.H.M. Ling. 2002. “An Unten(ur)able Position: The Politics of Teaching for Women of Color in the U.S.” International Feminist Journal of Politics 4:368-98.

Aguirre, Adalberto. 2000. “Women and Minority Faculty in the Academic Workplace: Recruitment,
Retention, and Academic Culture.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports 27(6):1-110.

Dukes, Richard L., and Gay Victoria. 1989. “The Effects of Gender, Status, and Effective Teaching on the Evaluation of College Instruction.” Teaching Sociology 17:447-457.

Fries, Christopher J. and R. James McNinch.2003. “Signed Versus Unsigned Student Evaluations of Teaching: A Comparison.” Teaching Sociology 31:333-344.

Hendrix, Katherine G. 1998. “Student Perceptions of the Influence of Race on Professor Credibility.” Journal of Black Studies 28:738-64.

Rubin, D. L. 2001. “Help! My Professor (or Doctor or Boss) Doesn’t Talk English.” Pp. 127-140 in Readings in Cultural Contexts, edited by Judith N. Martin, Thomas K. Nakayama, and Lisa A. Flores. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

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Georgetown

This tenure case is a mess. There’s a lot to sort through—what areas of specialization are recognized by review committees, the weight given to media appearances when it comes to judging a scholar’s success, how tenure candidates read (and maybe misread) personnel recommendations.

Worth taking careful note of:

According to the grievance the candidate filed, each review leading up to his tenure denial had been “stellar,” and “There was no previous indication that my record was deficient in any way…”

If this is true (and I have no reason to believe it’s not), this is a case where a tenure failure is owned by the department and the institution. Depending on the length of time between reviews, it is essential that review committees make as clear as possible a candidate’s progress towards tenure. Even if a tenure review brings in a university committee that may not have seen a candidate’s pre-tenure reviews, it is unethical to drop a tenure denial in this final hour.

And unlike some other tenure applicants in 2012 and in previous years, he said, he was never advised to take an additional, seventh year before applying to strengthen his portfolio. “In fact, my performance in terms of peer-reviewed scholarly publications, teaching and service objectively exceeds that of other faculty members who were recently tenured in my unit and other departments at Georgetown University.”

It is also the job of the candidate to read review letters carefully. I’m convinced that one of the more difficult academic documents to read is the personnel review. It goes too far to call them CYA documents, but they are written in such a way as to protect the institution from future lawsuits. They are meant to send signals without committing to anything that can be pointed to in an appeal, grievance, or lawsuit. Unlike other arenas in the academy where the assessment is clear (particularly in publishing and teaching evaluations), personnel rhetoric wallows in ambivalence.

If you want to see how difficult it is to get consensus about what makes someone a good candidate for tenure, read some of the comments

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University of Texas-Austin

Faculty at University of Texas-Austin are alarmed by the number of faculty of color denied tenure this year

Key points from the article (all quoted from the original):

Thirty-two professors in the College of Liberal Arts expressed alarm regarding the large number of professors of color denied tenure across multiple departments this year.

The tenure committee denied six of 14 assistant liberal arts professors who applied for tenure awards in 2012, said Gail A. Davis, the College of Liberal Arts’ director of human resources. Because of privacy concerns, the racial background of assistant professors who are denied tenure cannot be disclosed, Davis said.

In the Center for Asian American Studies, 23 of 36 teaching faculty are not tenure-track.

This last point is particularly alarming. Without tenured faculty, this program could disappear in just a few years.

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Macalester College

Wang Ping is suing Macalester College for claiming that they discriminated against her when she applied for promotion.

Court documents note that a white, male colleague in the same department also applied for promotion around both times Wang applied, and was granted the promotions on both occasions, despite the fact he had fewer published works and less service to the community. There were also documented procedural violations in the promotion process.

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Lessons from the Collection; or, My 2013 Diversity To Do List

I don’t go in much for New Year’s resolutions (who does anymore?), but I do love making “To Do” lists. I read once that we are more likely to finish tasks if we write them down, and so here is my 2013 Diversity To Do List.

I’ve culled it from the conversations I had in 2012 with faculty and administrators from different parts of the country about diversity and tenure.   These discussions move beyond the challenges (and successes) in the personal narratives collected in the anthology and towards possible strategies and solutions.  They usually started with an invitation to give a talk about diversity and higher education and then meandered a bit as we discussed what such a talk might offer in practical terms (I want do more than preach to the choir or offer trite platitudes).

So, from time to time in the coming year, I’ll be taking up the issues listed below in this space.  I hope they will offer thoughts and suggestions along the lines of this post I wrote about double-diversity and Derrick Bell last year.  I certainly don’t have all of the answers (especially about geographic obstacles to diversity), but I list them now with the hopes that those with more experience and expertise will make recommendations about how to approach these topics, suggest relevant readings, or comment on my thoughts and suggestions:

• Improving the Post-Doc Diversity Fellowship

• How to prepare a search committee to (actually) hire for diversity

• What faculty of color want and need from their white colleagues

• Geographic obstacles—how to build diversity outside of cities where faculty of color tendcluster

• Most common mistakes departments make when hiring faculty of color

• What does good mentoring look like? Or, more specifically, what do junior faculty of color need?

• Diversity through curricular revision; or, the yeoman’s work of bringing in a specialist in ethnic studies (of any kind)

• How to use social media to bolster diversity (does Digital Humanities as a discipline offer a useful model to adapt?)

• How to start a conversation about diversity in your department

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A Different Kind of “O”ther: University of Kansas

Although the collection focuses on the experiences of faculty of color, this tenure case seems to center around the sexual orientation of the candidate. Dr. Albert Romkes is openly gay, and he was denied tenure by the University of Kansas based on the application of a rule that, according to the website developed in his defense, has never been formerly approved or used in any other tenure cases in the university’s 145-year history.

Don’t let yourself be distracted by the formatting and colors for the website. This is a compelling, troubling case.

Local reporting is available here

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Vassar

*************Update:  Kiese Laymon was awarded tenure*************

Vassar: A Question of Documentation and Process

Kiese Laymon is an assistant professor at Vassar who has written a post on his blog Cold Drank about his tenure review. Colleges and universities have tenure processes developed by the administration in consultation with the faculty and, when applicable, through negotiations with the union. Each institution handles the process in slightly different ways. At Vassar, candidates are reviewed twice before a final tenure review. According to Laymon’s blog post, his department voted 15 to 1 to award him tenure. The next stage of the review with the Faculty Appointments and Salary Committee (FASC) is where things get complicated…

A few weeks ago, Vassar’s Faculty Appointments and Salary Committee (FASC) recused itself from my tenure case. As rumors of my “bullying President Hill to get FASC off of my tenure case” limp around campus, I figured I should make it clear what my responses to FASC have been.

In February, FASC (The Faculty Appointments and Salary Committee) made the unprecedented request of asking for “documentation” on one of my unredacted book contracts, though they had proof of a contract. After giving them the contract, I wrote the following email…

The details he shares are troubling, and a few things about his post set off my “unwritten” alarm. Why would the committee request additional information when a candidate has provided documented evidence that he has fulfilled all of the terms of the contract? Is this common practice? Why was the evidence that was acceptable in his fourth-year review not sufficient for his tenure review?

What happened between the fourth-year review and the moment he recounts in his blog?

I don’t want to put Laymon on trial, and no one else who is not part of his tenure process should either. I also don’t want to put Vassar on trial (as if such a thing were even possible), but my alarm bells are ringing. I’ve heard versions of the “documentation request” too many times.

To be clear, I think institutions are right to confirm the claims of faculty members, but the question I’ve been asking myself for the last two weeks is whether or not Laymon is being subject to additional scrutiny because he’s African-American and/or because he works in a field that is not yet comfortably within the academic tradition. When challenged by Laymon, the FASC recused itself from his tenure review. I’m curious to know if it is common practice for a committee comprised of faculty members to opt out of the tenure review process.

So, I’ll be following this case (I hear it may end well for him). The institution has put teeth behind it’s diversity goals by hiring a significant number of faculty of color, but, as everyone in the academy knows, hiring and tenuring are two very different things.

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USC

Professor Denied Tenure Despite Decade of Service

She has received a multitude of awards from the university, including the highly regarded USC Raubenheimer Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in 2007.

In addition, the professor is on the editorial board of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.

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Pennsylvania

Discrimination Case Against Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Proceeds

Ke said he had positive performance evaluations from 2001 through 2004. He said other candidates who had not published scholarly papers were granted tenure, yet that was cited as a reason for denying him tenure.

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