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Written/Unwritten: The Contents




Responding to the Calling: The Spirituality of Mentorship and Community in Academia
Houston Baker, Jr with Ayanna Jackson-Fowler

Building a Canon, Creating Dialogue
Cheryl Wall with Rashida Harrison


Difference without Grievance: Asian Americans as the Almost Minority
Leslie Bow

In Search of Our Fathers’ Workshops
Lisa Sánchez González


Tenure in the Contact Zone: Spanish is Our Language Too
Angie Chambram

‘Colored’ is the New Queer: Queer Faculty of Color in the Academy
Andreana Clay


Performative Testimony and the Practice of Dismissal
Jane Chin Davidson and Deepa S. Reddy

Talking Tenure: “Don’t be safe. Because there is no safety there anyway”
Sarita See


Still Eating in the Kitchen: The Marginalization of African American Faculty in Majority-White Academic Governance
Carmen V. Harris

Musings of a Lowly Adjunct
Wilson Santos


Balancing the Passion for Activism with the Demands of Tenure: One Professional’s Story from Three Perspectives
April L. Few-Demo, Fred P. Piercy, and Andrew J. Stremmel

 “Cast your net wide”: Reflections on Community Engagement When Black Lives Matter
Patricia A. Matthew


Talking Tenure Newsletter
Maria Coter, Paul Faber, Roxana Galusca, Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Rachel Quinn, Kirisitina Sailiata Jamie Small, Andrea Smith, Matthew Stiffler, and Lee Ann Wang

 University of Southern California Analysis of Data on Tenure
Jane Junn

Making Labor Visible
Kim F. Hall


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Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure is available for pre-order through UNC Press.

Buy before June 30th and receive a 40% discount (code 01DAH40).


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In case you missed the news, the anthology is coming out Fall 2016 and it has a new and improved title:

Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure. 

It works, right?  Some of those hidden truths are depressing but other truths offer hope and promise.

We have a Facebook* page.  I hope you’ll join us over there for diversity news, ideas, and strategies.




*Many thanks to contributor Wilson Santos for our Facebook logo.






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@triciamatthew 4 associate professor

If you’re like me, an academic with a blog or a website or some other public space where you write things that are intellectual and bookish without exactly being scholarly or academic, this post is for you. It can’t really be prescriptive because every institution has its own quirks, but it might also be helpful for readers of this blog to see how I approached my most recent personnel process.

My Calculated Risk

It never occurred to me when I joined twitter that I would discuss it when I went up for promotion. I’m a traditional scholar. The most radical thing I do is insist that considerations of the Romantic era include more than just the Big Six (#OccupyRomanticism!). I’ve published in print and on-line publications, but there is nothing digital about my humanities. In the middle of writing my promotion narrative, however, when I discussed the anthology I edited about the experiences of faculty of color on the tenure track, I realized I needed to explain how I was disseminating the ideas of a book that is not yet in print. Pointing to the blog attached to the project seemed like I was only telling part of the story, so I found myself typing @triciamatthew as I explained how I was using social media to share my work. I didn’t know whether or not it would be a good idea, but given how much time I spend being @triciamatthew and its role in my work on diversity and higher education, it seemed strange not to at least mention it.

I should pause here and say that I don’t know what choice I would have made if I were going up for tenure (they are entirely separate processes at my institution). I have no idea how I would manage social media as a graduate student or an untenured assistant professor. It’s nice to think I would manage things exactly the way I have, that I would have enough confidence in my file and in my understanding of the value of social media to discuss it in a tenure narrative, but I’ve experienced and seen how pre-tenure culture binds academics up (and I’ve seen how those bonds can stay in place even after people get that brass ring), so I don’t know what I might have done at some earlier point in my career.

I approached my promotion, especially assembling my file, with a spirit of celebration—not empty swagger but with real joy about all I’ve gotten to do since I finished my PhD in 2003. I realize how treacly this must sound, but I took to heart the final question this department chair asks when he reflects on how to judge an academic’s dossier and whether or not they’ve been successful:

First, there is the elusive definition of success. On whose terms do we define this? If success is not on our own terms, if our lives do not reflect what we value, then can we be successful? Make no mistake: I am for rigor and setting high expectations; but I wonder if too often we approach our work and the evaluation of our colleagues asking the wrong question, “How successful is this person?” when we might do better to ask: “How has this person been successful?” *

I took this approach to heart when considering how successful I’ve been in my academic career. It helped keep me centered throughout a process that was even more grueling than I anticipated. And when it truly looked as if I wasn’t going to get promoted this year, when I listened to Jill Scott’s “Hate on Me” for six hours straight as I rage-cleaned my apartment (NB: I live alone), I returned to that last question (“How has this person been successful?”) and still felt very good about the answer. I always wish I had more out in the world, but I knew my file showed showed a consistent, active research agenda.

Beyond joy and pride, I used common sense and had a friend I trust (a dean at another institution) look at my c.v. This is the friend I turn to when I need to make sure my lofty sense of things is grounded in reality. She is kind but unafraid to tell me the truth, regardless of whether or not it’s convenient. She pointed out areas I needed to clarify and we discussed how I could approach my particular situation as someone who specializes in two unrelated fields. I was hired when the department was looking for a Romanticist, but in the years since i got tenure I’d added writing about diversity in higher education to my research agenda. I wasn’t sure if or how it would count. I’m lucky to work at an institution where the right people think reading and writing about diversity is important and still necessary, but valuing an idea and recognizing the work as important enough to warrant promotion to associate professor are two different things.  If I had gone up for promotion as a specialist in British Romanticism who also published in a related field (a literary period before or after mine, for example), I would have felt entirely confident about how my file would be viewed. But my race and diversity research was prompted by my own tenure case (be sure to read the preface to the anthology when it comes out), and I’ve grumbled that the higher ups would probably think they hired me to be a Romanticist not to be Black (and angry and female all at once). In addition to being uncertain about how this work would be received during a review process, I was talking about the race and tenure work in the context of social media, twitter to be exact.

Although we don’t have a formal external review process, everyone I know includes letters from senior faculty in their files, so I did so too. I made sure to include letters from scholars with expertise in both areas I work in, explaining to the Romanticists that they didn’t need to worry about the diversity part of my c.v. and making clear to those writing about my race and tenure work that they didn’t need to pay attention to my essays on Romantic-era fiction. I included data (site statistics for all of my on-line publications) and tried to explain how my publications were making an impact in their respective fields.  I also completely reorganized my cv so that it would be easier to keep track of the different kinds of work I’ve been doing in the last ten years.

A Thumbnail Sketch

I’m at an institution with a 4/4 teaching load, though most faculty carry a 3/3 load through a program that gives us release time to focus on our research. We are eligible to apply for a sabbatical once every seven years (full pay for one semester and some sort of pay cut that puts a full-year out of my reach). I haven’t bothered to average out how many students I teach per semester, but I think it’s somewhere between 55 and 80 students. I often teach a January course and, from time to time, a summer course. My student evaluations are good (maybe even very good; I am, after all, the shit). I have a respectable service record, though I should probably move beyond my department more, and I supervise our English Education majors during their student-teaching semester (on average, five a year with three site visits per student). Working with future teachers is probably the most important work I do, so, even though I’ve moved to Brooklyn, I still drive to New Jersey public schools to work with them.

I joined the faculty right out of graduate school with a few essays in the pipeline.  When I went up for my promotion, I had co-edited a special issue of Romantic Pedagogy Commons, published half a dozen peer-reviewed essays (a combination of essays on nineteenth-century British literature, pedagogy, and a piece on the job market), and two book reviews. I had a book manuscript under review, another manuscript in progress (drafts of all the major chapters, though some of those chapter drafts are way too drafty), and an essay and book reviews in progress with firm commitments for publication. I don’t attend conferences every year, but it’s easy to see a pattern that shows I attend them steadily.

Before I submitted my file, I met with my dean, my department chair, and the chair of the personnel committee. My last full personnel review was in 2007 when I went up for tenure, and, though I had served as the chair of the department’s personnel committee since then, I wanted to make sure I understood the ins and outs of the process. Of course no one could guarantee anything, but the clear message was that I was ready to be promoted to associate professor.

Portrait of a Tweeter as an Assistant Professor

I think I’m what’s called a late adapter. I don’t have many Facebook friends, and the majority of them are family members, friends, and the very few colleagues I like to keep in touch with outside of school. I don’t use it as a networking tool and rarely post anything related to the academy, or even my own personal blog. I joined twitter because a guy in my building told me it could help me promote my work (to be fair, the “guy” works at N+1, so I was more inclined to follow his advice). I started my first blog during the first Obama election. I was recently tenured and my friend and I decided that when we weren’t talking on the phone non-stop or having television marathons (we once watched a season finale of “Heroes” at dawn as I drove him from New Jersey to LaGuardia) we should write. We blogged about politics, pop culture, race, gender and the usual stuff young lefties feel the need to comment on. When that relationship ended, I started my own blog called “new musings” and I recently changed the name to my own. That blog has shifted away from the political (there are people much smarter and faster than I am in that arena) and more towards writing about my what I’m trying out in my classes, what I’m reading and watching, and posts that might end up in a memoir someday.

I’m not all that social media savvy, and I’ve sort of felt my way through the more intellectual corners of twitter. On the one hand, although I publish as Patricia A. Matthew, my twitter handle is my nickname. On the other hand, my profile picture is the same photo I use for my department’s website. I’m pretty open with my colleagues and students about the fact that I am on twitter, but I don’t use it in any official capacity. I’m mindful that I should avoid tweeting things that might be professionally distracting but also don’t fret too much about what that means. My only iron clad rule is that I don’t make fun of or complain about my students in any public space. If I mention them at all, it’s usually to poke fun at myself or to show how clever and resourceful they are. In addition to wanting to protect their privacy, I would not want to say anything on social media that might make future students feel uncomfortable about working with me. I also don’t want to cultivate an environment in my classes that makes students feel as if they need to think about some larger audience as we do the messy work of literary analysis and critical writing. I also try to keep my blog and twitter account as free from distractions as possible, so you won’t find me criticizing my colleagues (even in subtweets or shade).

The posts on the race and tenure blog, the one I mentioned in my promotion narrative, are meant to be accessible and to provide an overview of larger issues that I (or someone else) might take further. They are, on one level, aphoristic but also point to patterns worth noting. I don’t offer much by way of analysis, though that might change after the book is out. Most of those posts could be fleshed out into traditional essays. I’ve tried as much as possible not to dwell on the personal unless it serves a very specific purpose (this is most clear in the “Teaching While Black” posts). The goal of the blog is to promote the ideas that didn’t make it into the collection and to collect stories about diversity and tenure that I heard about after I’d finished planning the project. When I started the blog, I didn’t really know what I had in mind, and you can see this by the odd categories I listed. I had some vague idea that I wanted it to be more resourceful than confessional (a lot of crap happens to me and academics of color I know that I don’t write about publicly) and I expected that it wouldn’t really be useful until after the book came out. I didn’t understand twitter when I signed up, and it has been the most pleasant of surprises to find that it has allowed the research I undertook to edit the anthology to do a different kind of work than I expected. It has made an impact and it has made the kind of impact that my institution considers valuable.

The Case for Academic Blogging with Social Media

I’m using the term institution very deliberately here because I suspect that individuals in my department and university don’t take the race and tenure blog very seriously. I don’t talk about it with too many people, but it’s clear that colleagues know it exist and it’s likely that some of them see it as some pet project—like a blog about recipes or cats but with colored folks instead. The general sense is that “diversity” is “important” and I have been supported in very concrete ways to get this work done, but individuals will probably only take the work seriously when the brick and mortar book comes out. Institutionally, I believe, it has some weight because it has lead to the kind of work scholars are supposed to, and I was eventually able to make the case that the only reason I’ve had these opportunities is because of this blog.

After consulting with a few institutional folks, I added a new section to my c.v., called it “Public Writing” and listed my race and tenure blog, its stats the most relevant cross-postings.  I also listed publications in non-academic venues and where they are cross posted. I want to be very clear here: I don’t believe that blogging of the kind that I do will prop up a weak file or distract from the absence of peer-reviewed publications that are still the gold standard in my discipline. In fact, I can easily imagine a scenario where a skeptical personnel committee or administrator might see blogging as a distraction from the “real” work of traditional, peer-reviewed scholarship. Although I didn’t plan for this to happen, the blogging I do leads to the kind of work most institutions value—publishing in peer-reviewed venues, conference presentations, and service beyond my department.

Here they are:

•  The first “Clicks and Cliques” post lead me to Michelle Moravec who nudged me to go to THATCamp East where we co-facilitated a discussion that lead to an invitation from the dean of Barnard’s library to conduct a smaller, more focused workshop on diversity and gender.

•  The editors at Signs invited me to review Presumed Incompetent.

•  I was invited to review Mentoring Faculty of Color and that review will come out in The Western Journal of Black Studies.

•  The New Inquiry asked for a more personal reflection based on the “Teaching While Black” series and the publication of that piece along with this post on my personal blog has lead to an invitation to conduct a workshop on the challenges on diversity in the classroom with graduate students.

•  I received an invitation from two (remarkable) graduate students to participate on a panel at the College Language Association that included some serious heavy hitters and we are now working on turning that panel discussion into a publication for the organization’s primary journal.

I bet you’re noting a pattern here. With the exception of submitting a proposal panel to THATCamp, all of the work I list here has been by invitation. People have found my work, read it, and figured out how they think it will be useful. It’s all happened in the last year or so. I’m not sure what will happen going forward. I know I’m thrilled at the idea of conducting workshops that will be of use to graduate students from marginalized groups as they learn how to think of themselves in the different pedagogical roles they will be required to occupy in and out of the classroom. I’ve daydreamed with friends about a summer workshop for new faculty from underrepresented groups to help them get over that first big publishing hurdle. I’ve started ending e-mails in response to those asking for advice with “The Black Professor is In.” It’s a joke, but there’s truth there too.

I’ve often wondered how the impact of the work I did for a traditional book project has taken on a different life because of social media. I feel I’ve done it backwards. This work (book reviews, conferences, and workshops) is supposed to come after the book is out. I’ve been careful to write on the race and tenure blog about things that are not in the anthology, but the conclusion is called “Tweeting Diversity: Race and Tenure in the Age of Social Media,” and I’m keenly aware of the fact that by the time the book comes out Twitter could actually be dead.

Despite an initial denial (the one that lead to Jill Scott on at full blast), I ended up getting promoted. It turned out that about 20 pages of support documentation (letters of invitation for the list above and thank you letters, correspondence showing visits to my on-line publications, my google scholar data) did not go forward with my file (thank God I had a back-up of my entire file on my laptop). My decision not to include the draft of my book in progress for fear that people would think I was padding my file (again, see the preface to the anthology) was not the right choice.

In that period between the denial and the final positive recommendation (yay!), I wondered if I had undermined my case by mentioning twitter. I wondered if my social media work seemed a waste of time (I do talk a lot about scrabble and there’s a long stretch of “Scandal” tweets when I still believed in Liv and whatshisname…seriously, I can’t remember his name). I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case. Those 20 pages were key. I’ve been encouraged to keep at this work, in this space. It won’t replace my more traditional writing and publications, and I wouldn’t want it to. But it does make me feel a different sense of responsibility about maintaining this blog as a resource. It also has me realizing just how important it is that those of us who use social media for our work make the case for its importance in our research whenever and wherever we can. I’m a big fan of thank you notes, and so when someone I meet via social media helps me  (or my students) with my work, I write a fairly formal thank you note detailing what they’ve done in case it will help them show their institution that their work matters beyond 140 characters or a blog post. I risk sounding silly be explaining when I’ve met someone whose work interests me via social media. Right now I realize that it might sound rather odd to most to say that I’ve met “Academic Person A” in the same space that valorizes Justin Bieber, but eventually I think it won’t.

On “being” @triciamatthew

There is, of course, a performative quality to social media. We perform our best lives on Facebook with vacation pictures and descriptions of our accomplishments. Twitter rewards sharp, witty, withering critiques. It feeds on snark and outrage. I’m pretty well adept in all of those things, but I decided that I would try to be on twitter what I can’t always be in real life—helpful and thoughtful. I try to be more reflective in that space. You will rarely find me in a twitter argument, and I try to keep destructive, snarky tweets to a minimum. I’m not always successful. For a hot minute I fantasized about taking Tim Wise DOWN, and even started composing tweets to do it. And then I wondered what I would really be doing, what good it would actually do for the causes I believe in, and how it might make other people with good intentions feel about their work.

That last part is most important. I don’t shy away from tough critiques if I think they’ll be helpful, but tweeting my ideas, especially those about race and gender, has shifted since I signed up for twitter. It happened right around the Zimmerman verdict. Michelle and I had an opportunity to do a workshop together. We talked about schedules and whether or not this was something I wanted to do on my own (in the end, scheduling made the decision). I loved co-facilitating with her and hope we’ll do it again, but I was also curious to see how it would be to work with a small group of women on my own. In the days before the workshop, George Zimmerman was found not guilty and I went on a twitter tear and called the Zimmerman verdict a failure of white feminism (or modern feminism or white modern feminists). I was throwing rhetorical thunderbolts (and gaining followers, I’m sure). It didn’t really hit me until later that I would be in a room of  women, most of whom would be white, leading them through a series of discussions about race and feminism.  How, I asked myself, could I expect them to trust me if they worried I would walk in with a knapsack full of rhetorical rage? What good could I do in that space if my justified rage made it impossible for an open conversation? I think it all worked out for the best. In person, I’m actually as friendly and open as I think I am on twitter. I also started the first session asking us all to think about privilege and laid my own out on the table. But I decided after the Zimmerman verdict to choose my hashtagging and ranting more carefully and mostly opted out of the #solidraityisforwhitewomen discussion. In the first place, after that workshop I simply could not think of “white women” in broad terms. The women I met there were too different (and beautifully human) for me to think broadly about white women as a group in 140 characters. I understood what was behind that hashtag and, to some qualified degree, agreed with it, but most of my participation in that moment was to note what I was learning from feminists from Middle-Eastern countries. It was an area where I had a lot of blindspots, and I decided I needed to read more than I needed to chime in with my own critiques.

@triciamatthew: NEXT!

I wish I could translate the diversity social media experience with my work in British literary studies, but it’s not working. I suspect it’s because in that arena I’m totally old school and the arguments I make can’t really be distilled into anything less than a conference paper. It also doesn’t have the same political efficacy as work on diversity in higher education. Those dead writers have been ignored for so long that a few more years won’t matter. The world may be better for my writing on medical discourse and the history of the novel, but it’s doing just fine without it. I’m also not in touch with my peers in this field via social media.  I wonder if the fact that my work is not more theoretically oriented limits its audience; a close reading of Valperga will not draw as wide an audience as a careful consideration of Barthes. I wish I could write my book in public like Michelle is doing, and perhaps I will post a chapter or two as I revise this draft.  I’m not sure it will be the best use of my time, especially at this stage. I suspect that my third book, which is rooted in the blog posts about the tensions between mainstream feminists an women of color, will be written in a more public way.

We’ll see.



* “DemandsofTenure:OneProfessional’sStory fromThreePerspectives”
April L. Few, Fred P. Piercy, and Andrew Stremmel. Feminist Formations. 19 (3) Fall 2007: 47-66.

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CFP: Blackness Without Race: Essays on the Subversion of Race by Way of Blackness in Literature, Media, and Culture

Posting for a friend:
Submissions and inquiries to Jennifer E. Henton.

Blackness Without Race:
Essays on the Subversion of Race by Way of Blackness in Literature, Media, and Culture

 Recent trends in national politics and popular culture suggest that race is now an antiquated or problematic category of human differentiation. Race is currently considered nebulous and ubiquitous, if not a flawed code that hearkens back to an archaic past. Supposedly, phenotypes or genetic material cannot sustain the biological connectivity between humans. Students suggest as much when they don tee shirts that state: “We Are All Africans” (thereby emphasizing that all humans originate from Africa despite their visual classification). Meanwhile, contemporary academic studies reflect the same stance: the category is useless in the face of transgressing experiences of oppression or cultural amalgamation (e.g. Against Race, The Melancholia of Race, and Desiring Whiteness). Yet many discourses emerging from black studies and critical race studies expose such ideals of non-race as a proponent and signal of dominant white culture rather than as an actual liberation from race, and many groups assert and “stand by” their racial category, remaining resiliently vocal about the pleasures of their demarcated belonging. Further, many racial minorities recognize and resist the nuances of aversive racism lurking behind decisive leanings towards racelessness and contemporary versions of colorblind ideals.

Recognizing that the struggle towards freedom from race has merits, this anthology, then, seeks essays that approach racelessness from the vantage point of blackness rather than the standard normative proffered by neutral models that may mask whiteness. Tangled as the topic may seem, transcending race by way of the racialized rather than the race-free or race-neutral—which dangerously places the parameters of discourse within the scope of whiteness—sets this collection apart from other attempts to devolve race. Other approaches may serve to reduce the experiences and pleasures of specific target identity group belonging. Transcending efforts—attacks on affirmative action, attacks on black studies, claims of racial equality met via the Obama-era pact—deny that the characteristics/distinctions/powers of specific group membership carry their own positive insignia. Within the varied contributions of black expression and the distinct responses to historical moments wherein Western European groups relied on and targeted African descendants for expansion/economics/psychical anxiety, black expression continues to firmly refute the race-transgression trend; blackness moves the discourse away from race but maintains the more evasive and elastic term blackness. Many assert that while race is a problematic restriction, blackness remains useful as a means of self-expression, self-recognizing epistemology, and cultural aesthetics.

Papers that pursue how blackness (U.S. and global) can and does exist without responding to or depending on “race” are also welcome. Few studies have explored how race might be quashed while blackness is both culled and intact. Ideas for papers on art, literature, film, philosophy, religion, food, dance, music, and media are invited to exchange ideas about how blackness works in this way.

Deadline for full essays of 7500 words is January 15, 2014.

Please submit word document essays using MLA citation system. Additionally, please submit a 300-word abstract preceding the full essay submission and a brief academic bio of all contributors.

Submissions and inquiries to Jennifer E. Henton.

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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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Problem, Plan, Proposal (not necessarily related)

I described twitter to a former graduate student as the place I go to keep up with politics, see what black faculty from around the country are up to, and to keep track of whatever bad shit happens to black folks on any given day.  It’s also one of the best ways to keep up with the latest conversations about diversity and higher education.  There is never time enough to respond to it, especially during the semester, but a few essays, articles, and blog posts have made it to my bookmarks and are worth noting.

A Problem
At heart I’m a numbers girl.  They impress me. Statistics make me feel safe and secure. It doesn’t matter that we can make them say whatever we want them to say; I trust that, in the end, they will bear the truth out.  And so while I planned an anthology that would focus on personal narratives rather than numbers, I’ve been secretly hoping that a study like the one that Julia Jordan-Zachary posted on twitter would pop up.    It’s not news to me or anyone who is paying attention that faculty of color are tenured at a lower rate than their white counterparts, but it’s nice to have numbers.  This study out of USC does a rare thing—offers hard numbers on the tenure status of faculty of color.  While it’s relatively easy to track the demographics of the professoriate, finding numbers about individual institutions’ retentions rates are trickier.

Mai’a K. Davis Cross worked with Jane Junn, a political scientist, to bolster her discrimination suit against the University of Southern California through the magic of data collection and math. Here is what she and her colleague in political science found. From 1998 to 2012:

92 % of white men in the social sciences and humanities were awarded tenure
55% of women and faculty of color* were awarded tenure
81% of white junior faculty (this includes men and women) were awarded tenure
48% of faculty of color promoted to associate professor
66.7% of white women were awarded tenure compared to 40% of Asian-American women

For now, I’ll let the numbers stand for themselves, especially since Cross and Junn were careful to exclude those faculty members who left before coming up for tenure and because Cross’s tenure case sounds like Jane Iwamura’s tenure case. For some, the natural question will be to ask what’s wrong with the faculty of color at USC. In response I’d say that this is exactly the wrong question. The disparity is a clear sign that the problem is not with the faculty but with USC’s review process.

And speaking of allure of numbers and stastics…
It might be a coincidence that a week or so after I asked Jordan-Zachary if there were any hard facts about women in publishing, she posted a link to study that shows how much (or how little) women publish in various fields.

A Plan
Powerhouse Tressie McMillan Cottom edited a heartbreaking collection of stories by African-American women about health in the academy for the Feminist Wire. The essay that intrigued me most was the idea of The Frenemy Project. I’m not crazy about the name, but it does capture the tension that can poison the very necessary relationships between and among academics of color. In some academic utopia black women are natural allies with those who have a lot helping out those who have a little. Absent that, deliberate community building is a necessary and practical truth. I’m lucky to have a small circle of women I trust and rely on, readers who I can show my work to when it’s in its roughest form and sounding boards that keep me mostly balanced. We offer unvarnished critiques of each other’s writing without tearing one another down (even in that subtle way that so many women have mastered oh so well). We fell together in a way that’s possible in Brooklyn and a few other enclaves, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting some smart somebody. It’s tricky in other areas where writers and academics find themselves mostly alone or far from peers and allies. And while this is not a problem that is unique to black women, or women, or academics, or writers, or even people, the stakes are much higher given how poorly women of color are treated in the academy. What I like most about this idea is that women can support one another primarily through a shared interest in their research and teaching. I much prefer this model to the myth of some warm-fuzzy community that requires us all to be friends and “sisters” (or, god forbid, “sistahs”).

A Proposal
Over at the SIUE blog a post considers an interesting question: “The Ta-Nehisi Coats Model; or, What if Universities & Companies had Diversity Plans like The Atlantic?” I don’t know if Coates’ position at The Atlantic is the result of a systematic attempt to diversify the magazine, but it’s important that, as SIUE points out, Coates’ is not only the only black senior editor at the magazine but the only one who doesn’t hail from an elite institution (though they rightly note that he is a product of Howard University’s best traditions):

When elite or high profile universities and companies seek to diversify or practice some form of affirmative action, they often seek out elite people of color to join them.

Some years ago when a leading administrator at a major university was criticized for not hiring any senior black professors in African American literature, the official became defensive and said “No, but we really tried to get Henry Louis Gates, Jr. He was just unwilling to leave Harvard.” The official seemed oblivious to the facts that Gates was hardly the only senior black professor in the country and that searches for black faculty could extend beyond Harvard. Unfortunately, institutions too often compete for only a select group of students and employees with elite credentials.

There’s a whole conversation to be had about the different ways writers are culturally and institutionally credentialed , and hiring someone to teach writing is different than hiring someone to teach history. But the idea that institutions need to broaden where they look for the best and the brightest just makes good sense. It might even lead to lasting diversity if a professor’s training was an actual fit with the hiring department. There’s no use bringing in someone trained for a Research I into a department with a mission that focuses on undergraduate teaching.

Part of the problem is that often institutions are only looking for diversity in the narrowest sense. To put it bluntly, they are looking for colored versions of what they already have. This can certainly lead to diversity of a kind, but it would seem that any organization committed to rigorous intellectual discourse would want as many smart voices at the table as possible and that the definition of “smart” would be flexible and that those voices wouldn’t only come from the Ivies and the Big Tens.

The USC stats are depressing, the need for the Frenemy Project points to a serious problem in the academy, and the truth of it is that few institutions are willing to do the work it takes to find the next big Coates, but what I’m struck by is how, especially in the USC study, the critiques of the academy are coming from within its ranks, using tools learned in its classrooms and tested in its peer-reviewed venues to show its shortcomings. It’s not as exciting or sexy as making revolutionary statements, but it will probably do more to dismantle some persistent barriers.

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Bits and Pieces

If you get a chance, be sure to read Christine A. Stanley’s excellent essay “Coloring the Academic Landscape: Faculty of Color Breaking the Silence in Predominately White Colleges and Universities” (American Educational Research Journal. 43:4 (Winter 2006): 701-736). It’s an impressive, wide-ranging report based on a more comprehensive authoethnographic qualitative research project. It’s affirming for those who fear they alone might be facing hostility as faculty of color and useful for those who want concrete suggestions about how to develop and maintain diversity at their home institutions.

So read the whole thing. But click (in your own way), if you resemble these remarks:

I wonder if I were a White male tenured faculty member, would I have been approached like this? (African American associate professor, health and kinesiology)

As do all institutions of higher education, the university I joined reflects the majority culture. Historically excluded from the academy, minority faculty have been admitted as guests within the majority culture’s house…expected to honor their hosts’ customs without question…keep out of certain rooms…and…always be on their best behavior.(American Indian associate professor, educational leadership and policy analysis).

Told to a candidate during an interview:

“While we’d like to diversify the department, we will make an appointment on merit, and will look for the best candidate.” (African [South African] assistant professor, psychology)

While walking with another colleague of color to a faculty meeting, a colleague said in jest, “This side of the hallway sure is looking darker lately.” My colleague and I exchange[d] glances with each other. This same colleague observe[d] the noticeable exchange and trie[d] to make light of the comment. “You ladies know I was just kidding, don’t you?” (Black associate professor, higher education administration)

I remember when doing my psychology internship at a major New York hospital that my natural impulse was to talk about my being from India, and to refer to myself as an Indian….Instead, I was met with a wall of silence as if I had broken an unspoken taboo of never calling attention to your own or other people’s difference” (Indian associate professor, psychology)


Filed under Diversity Reporting, Politics, Resources, Uncategorized

Lesson III: Double Diversity and Derrick Bell

It’s become fashionable to call for the end of tenure, to claim that it is costly, doesn’t actually result in “intellectual freedom” and rewards unproductive faculty who atrophy after they reach this professional milestone, hanging up their scholarly and pedagogical hats and easing into inertia.

Most of the people arguing for its abolition are white. And tenured.
Given that faculty of color are disproportionally clustered among the contingent ranks, most of the people who work without the security and benefits of tenure are not white. There’s something wrong with the math here and there is definitely something wrong with this picture.


Just look at the pictures of the five-person panel The New York Times assembled for one of its “Room for Debate” virtual roundtables to take up the question “What if College Tenure Dies?” The debate held only passing interest to me when it was first published, but it came to mind with the recent death of the brilliant Derrick Bell.

Bell is famous for, among other things, being fired from Harvard after he protested the lack of women of color on the law faculty. At the time he was the Weld Professor of Law and could easily have rested on his laurels, but rather than bend, rather than yield he pushed back. Or, to be more precise, he refused to come back at the end of his sabbatical until Harvard addressed this deficit.

Considered a foundational voice in Critical Race Theory, Bell is the author of And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (1987) and Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (1992). Students who sat in his lectures and seminars speak of him in worshipful tones, and in the days after his death, I couldn’t look at my twitter feed, my facebook page, or my favorite blogs without seeing someone mourning his passing. I know Bell primarily for his work in Critical Race Theory, but given what I’m steeped in these days, I couldn’t help but see his passing in the context of the current debates about the role of tenure in the twenty-first century academy.

The two biggest names in the Times debate were Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Presidents and Mark C. Taylor, chairman of the department of religion at Columbia University—two men comfortably settled into the privileges of academic seniority. Nelson is an ardent supporter of tenure while Taylor argues vociferously against it. He begins his contribution to the debate: “Tenure is financially unsustainable and intellectually indefensible.”

I know we live in an age when rhetorical thunderbolts abound, but it makes me queasy to see an intellectual, especially one firmly and safely ensconced in the academy, doing the dirty work for administrators who are all too willing to use economics as a way to explain why they are doing away with tenure lines and replacing those positions with the cheap labor that is contingency faculty. It’s particularly galling to have that thunderbolt from a scholar who I am sure is costing Columbia a pretty penny. I could go on about all the ways in which Taylor is wrong—particularly when it comes to thinking about how tenure makes it possible for institutions of all kinds to meet their obligations to society—but what really sticks out in light of Bell’s passing is the kind of diversity that will be left unprotected if tenure is abolished. Bell and others like him represent an ideal kind of diversity that wise, ethical, and long-sighted academics would be wise to protect.

Bell embodies what I’m calling double diversity. It is the opposite of the diversity ethos that I fear pervades humanities departments today–simple, crude diversity that tends to reduce faculty to their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. It’s the approach that has a department saying something like, “we need a Hispanic person” and then putting out an ad for Latino/a studies, conflating the scholar (and the scholarship) with someone’s identity. Double Diversity doesn’t just mean hiring brown faces or teaching texts by colored folks. Instead, it acknowledges that the academy works best when different teaching models, different research questions, different interactions with the world are equally valued and preserved.

Take, for instance, Bell’s approach to explaining critical-race theory by relating legal concepts through allegory. He does this with Geneva Crenshaw, a character he created for And We Are Not Saved. The dialogue he builds between Crenshaw and the narrator allows Bell to explore multiple sides of a complex issue in a mode that made often dry legal analysis interesting and accessible. The responses to this model were mixed, but the critique that stands out most sharply comes from legal scholar and judge Richard Posner. Posner, who currently sits as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, is described as conservative, but his dismissal of Bell’s approach is a critique that could easily have come either from a conservative or a well meaning but wrong headed liberal. According to the Times article on Bell’s passing he dismissed Bell’s approach, claiming that it “repudiat[ed] reasoned argumentation,” and that it “reinforce[d] stereotypes about the intellectual capacities of nonwhites.” Posner’s assessment appeared in The New Republic, and the whole piece is infused with carefully masked anxiety, hitting all of the high points of conservative terror. It begins:

“The postmodern left is defined by its opposition to the values, the beliefs, and the culture of the ‘West,’ the ‘West’ being conceived as the domain of nondisabled heterosexual white males of European extraction and their east Asian and west Asian ‘imitators,’ such as the Japanese (Hitler’s ‘honorary Aryans’) and the Jews. The postmodern left is radically multiculturalist, but it is more, for the “West” that it denigrates is not historically specific; it encompasses liberalism, capitalism, individualism, the Enlightenment, logic, and science, the values associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition, the concept of personal merit, and the possibility of objective knowledge.”

Bell is among others Posner names, as “ensconced in American universities” and who even have “a foothold in the law schools.” And, he continues, it’s this postmodern left that has “demolished to its satisfaction universal values and criteria…”


I’ve been an academic of some sort for more than fifteen years, and this terror is what guides many decisions in the humanities from admissions decisions to how job advertisements are written to hiring and retention practices. Given that those who rise to power tend to be those who subscribe to the “universal values and criteria” model of what is and isn’t “good” scholarship, it behooves the rest of us to push as hard as possible to protect scholars whose scholarship aims to stretch the academy’s rigid boundaries. The tension in the academy is often between the old and the new. So, while scholars and administrators alike claim they value new contributions to scholarship, often “new” actually only means a slight variation of what people in positions of authority view as acceptable. Anyone invested in whole new areas of scholarship or new ways of engaging with old areas of criticism needs the protection that comes with tenure.

It goes too far to say that the most diverse academics I know are people of color. That’s a generalization too broad to make, but I know what I see and I see it because I move in a world of academic/activists of color, and the truth of it is even those who may have been intellectually trained in the most traditional of methodologies always occupy two worlds, and fact of this truth means that we bring a double-view to the table. This, in turn, means that we have learned to look at whatever is in front of us from texts to statistics to students with a complexity that benefits the academy in myriad ways.

And the only way to insure that the academy doesn’t fold in under the weight of sameness is to protect us with tenure.

Tenured, I don’t think we atrophy. I know we blossom. This suggests that the problem isn’t with tenure but with those who abuse its privileges, and, cynic though I am, I believe those are more the exception than the rule.

Bell begins his popular work with the following claim:

“Black people are the magical faces at the bottom of society’s well. Even the poorest whites, those who must live their lives only a few levels above, gain their self-esteem by gazing down at us. Surely, they must know that their deliverance depends on letting down their ropes. Only by working together is escape possible. Over time, many reach out, but most simply watch, mesmerized into maintaining their unspoken commitment to keeping us where we are, at whatever cost to them or to us.”

I can’t help but think that those who seek to abandon tenure, whether they realize it or not, are pulling up rather than letting down the ropes, and I worry that if they succeed future Derrick Bells will be left at the bottom of the well.


Filed under Race and Tenure Op-Ed, Uncategorized


*************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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