The Iron Law of Meritocracy states that eventually the inequality produced by a meritocratic system will grow large enough to subvert the mechanism of mobility. Unequal outcomes make equal opportunity impossible. The Principle of Difference will come to overwhelm the Principle of Mobility. Those who are able to climb up the ladder will find ways to pull it up after them, or to selectively lower it down to allow their friends, allies, and kin to scramble up. In other words: “Whoever says meritocracy says oligarchy”—from Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (Chris Hayes)
My favorite non-fiction book of 2012 was Twilight of the Elites. I liked it enough to brave the crowds at the Brooklyn Book Festival to see Hayes talk about it with a few other people. When I read Hard Times with my students, I urged/begged/challenged them to spend time thinking about the second chapter (“Meritocracy and its Discontents”). Just my summary of the chapter got them all worked up. Its arguments come to mind on a fairly regular basis (it’s too soon to know yet, but it might eventually rival The Alchemy of Race and Rights in the space it occupies in my brain), so when I tweeted this last week:
and then this
I had it in mind. And I had it in mind when I read“The Tenure Code” a post about a tenure case that fell apart because the word “solid” was used by an external reviewer to describe the candidate’s scholarship. Written by the ultimate insider, a 20-year veteran of an elite private school, the post both discusses and exemplifies the problems with twenty-first century notions of merit and shows just how absurd and arbitrary the tenure process, steeped as it is in the hocus pocus of meritocratic fantasy, can be. Ilan Stavans uses this tenure case to point out what is wrong with the process at Amherst College, and I would posit that what ails Amherst trickles down on the rest of us.
I’m particularly interested in a few claims Stavans makes.
He describes the campus committee (the C6) that reviews tenure files:
To be elected to the C6 they must have spent about a decade making themselves known in the community, which in turn makes them electable. By this time, the demands for tenure have changed from when they went for tenure. So they often demand of a candidate’s record more—much more—than their own records are able to display. This means that by their own implausible standards they wouldn’t receive tenure themselves.
Let’s pause for a minute to unpack this. It takes about ten years to build the credibility required for election to the committee. On the one hand, this could be a positive. Having a sense of an institution’s history and goals and a stake in its success is why tenure and faculty governance should matter. But the problem is that too many academics seek only to affirm their own experiences and ideas rather than judging the file in front of them. Stavan quips “Everyone knows the formula: Academics + power = mendacity” and he’s right, but what I want to understand is how this formula stays in place.
I know how it was put in place. Those who devise the systems of evaluation in higher education are suspicious of their own notions of merit and so develop ever-absurd hoops for faculty to jump through. And jump you must. There’s no use wringing your hands or shaking your fists at the system. You can, but they’ll fire you and fill your place with an equally qualified adjunct,and then with a visiting assistant professor in a position that might eventually turn into a tenure-track position that will lead to a national search where there is little or no chance of the adjunct or the visiting assistant professor making the shortlist. Fighting pre-tenure is not a plan. But there are those who can fix. They have power.
By “they” I ultimately mean the upper administration, but it’s also those committees like the C6 at Amherst. This is a committee comprised of tenured faculty from different disciplines who have no real understanding of fields outside of their own. The tenure track pushes new professors to hew to a fixed path, so part of being successful is not just maintaining an active research agenda but maintaining one approved by the institution. Straying from that can lead to problems and the strategy developed to gain tenure too often solidifies into practice.”Academic freedom” becomes a banner to fly to protect speech and ideas instead of as a tool to dismantle unfair review processes.
In theory, the review process is supposed to protect a file from the benign ignorance of a committee like the C6 and external letters are a key part of that process, but as Stavans explains they can be used in ways their writers never intended, especially at places with an odd sense of what excellent looks like:
Exceptionalism at Amherst is such that the C6 expects—and the college community expects the C6 to expect—outside reviewers to use only exceptional language in tenure letters. If a candidate isn’t “superb,” “extraordinary,” “unparalleled,” “remarkable,” and “at the top of her field,” then the assessment is coded with mediocrity: Good isn’t good enough.
Even when exceptionalism isn’t the goal, tenure files can be torpedoed by poorly worded letters.
I shudder to think about what happens when the candidate works in a marginalized field that might not be taken seriously by her own department never mind a campus-wide committee like the C6. And, if you’re thinking, “well clearly we need to put some people of color on the C6 committee, Tricia” I would answer that those committees need more than “some” people of color—more specifically they need people of color who have managed to gain institutional credibility–the kind that comes not just with tenure but with tenure in departments that have a firm footholds at their colleges and universities. So when UT Austin fires faculty working in ethnic studies, and UCLA has a program instead of a department of Afro-American Studies and Princeton offers certificates but not degrees in African Studies, Latino Studies, Latin American Studies, South Asian Studies** it is difficult and perhaps even impossible to build a coalition of faculty who have the credibility to make substantive contributions to personnel processes.
External letters are supposed to be part of a tenure file, but being a scholar in ethnic studies means that the pool for external reviewers (faculty who are senior enough to have credibility with the candidate’s home institution) is not particularly deep and everyone in it that pool is overworked. I suspect many of them are doing the work of building majors, programs, and departments in fields that are largely undervalued. I would be curious to know how their request for external review stacks up with Stavans’
Personally, I get an average of between six and eight tenure-evaluation requests a semester. Such is the volume, let alone my other commitments, that I regularly decline, often to all, unless the candidate is a former student of mine.
12 to 16 is a lot, so managing the flow is required, but I am particularly interested in who gets a yes from him, specifically his academic kin. To use Hayes as a hammer, perhaps more bluntly than he might want me to, even as Stavan is critiquing a system he is perpetuating it by only helping out his own. And who can blame him? He is right when he discusses the amount of work that goes into these reviews, though I’m hearing that letters from former professors are falling out of favor (I suspect that what happens is that external reviewers engage in some sort of you-write-about-my student/friend/ally-and-I’ll-write-about-yours).
Near the end, he explains one strategy he and others use in the face of some requests for review letters:
I’m told that in some institutions, declining such invitations amounts to a rejection ending up in the candidate’s files. For that reason, I do what I most dislike but others have suggested as the pertinent approach: I don’t respond.
The reason I decided to title the anthology written/unwritten is precisely because of these silences, the gap between what is said explicitly and what is deliberately left unsaid, those unwritten moments that may speak more than anyone intends. In this case, silence does not mean lack of support for a candidate’s work but lack of time to support a specific candidate (or perhaps it means both things at once). The unwritten goes beyond damning with faint praise. And when what is written includes words like “solid” in a place where everyone is exceptional and, (even though this is actually impossible), everyoneis above average there is no room for even the mythology of merit.
**To be fair to Princeton, they offer a lot of certificates in fields that some might find surprising. It’s also worth noting that, at some point, someone thought it odd that Princeton is the only Ivy League University that doesn’t offer a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies
If you want a laugh or a giggle, check out my 2013 Diversity To Do List. I did exactly ONE thing from that list. Just the one thing. And it took me forever.
I’m not letting that stop me from making another one. Because, apparently, my super power is that I am disgustingly resilient.
(NB:This facts means that at any given time at least one person in my circle of friends loves me deeply and would fight to the death for me but also wants to stab me in the neck and/or push me down the stairs because who the hell can be so perky so damn much of the time!)
So even though I did very little that I planned to do last year, I’m going to make another list for 2014:
I’ll be reading Mentoring Faculty of Color.
I’m also participating on a panel at the College Language Association’s Annual Conference about how women of color can successfully navigate the minefield that is the academy.
An essay about Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist movements, and complicated abolitionist politics is in the works—a project I’ve been mulling over ever since I wrote about the tensions between white feminists and women of color.
Based on this from bell hooks, I’ll be writing an essay tentatively titled “Diversity from the Margins” for a fancy-pants brick and mortar publication. It will be a reflection on my shifting subject positions in higher education and the different—productive and unproductive—ways I’ve been angry over the years.
I can’t wait to respond to this blost post about what Dionne Bensonsmith calls soft service. I had such a visceral response to it that I ranted on twitter for a little while. But it’s an issue that I should pay more attention to, and I need to say something more productive than “THIS! THIS! THIS” and “boo white academics!”
For all that I didn’t do this year, I am glad about the work I managed to get through because it meant I got to finally meet Kim Hall and Brittney Cooper and work with Michelle Moravec (and have a THATCamp pajama party with her!)
It brought smart new readers and writers to my twitter community and to the blog. According to WordPress, folks from 74 countries visited this blog, including at least one person who is in Russia (Snowden, you sly dog you*).
And it meant that I got to sit down with Tressie McMillan Cottom in the middle of Manhattan to talk with her about diversity and social media and everything else under the sun.
I’m enormously grateful to everyone who reads the blog, tweets about it, and shares the posts via Facebook.
My promise to myself when I finished my PhD and started on the tenure track was to make sure that I didn’t let my quest for tenure keep me from doing what was right and ethical, even if it was inconvenient or professionally unwise. And when I got tenure I wanted to make sure that I put the privileges that come with it to good practical use, to use whatever institutional power I had to hold the academy to account for how it fails those who exist on its margins while also offering ideas about how it might improve. I’m looking forward to continuing that work in 2014.
*just kidding NSA! I love America. Pinky swear!
I think we all know that it’s not enough to be “smart” and “hardworking” and a “good student” to succeed as an academic. There’s a skill set that is almost invisible and accrues over time, perhaps over generations. I see this when I talk to second-generation academics, folks who grew up around professors or parents who have advanced degrees. They know the ins and outs of how things in academia work without fully realizing that there actually are ins and outs. A word like “polished” comes to mind, but it’s more than that; it is understanding the invisible rituals that makes the classroom a second home and advanced research seem natural. Even if they are socially awkward, they have an ease about them when it comes to moving around ideas that can be foreign to those who are first-generation college students.
Well-intentioned faculty can spot talent in students who have the skills to succeed in graduate school, but they can’t always offer the view of graduate school that students need to make informed choices about when, or even if, they should go. Raw talent isn’t enough, and there is less and less time in graduate school to learn how the whole thing works.
That’s where programs like the ones organized by the Group for Underrepresented Students in Humanities Education and Research (GUSHER) come in. They offer underrepresented students an opportunity to have a hands-on experience with graduate faculty and advanced graduate students doing the work of graduate school. These programs provide housing and meals and offer a stipend so that students can afford to take time away from work to participate in them. In as much as graduate school wrecks almost everyone’s self-esteem in some way, it can be more terrifying if the processes of it are completely mystifying.
Several students of color I know have participated in some of the programs below, and they have all returned transformed. I’m not being hyperbolic. I see it not only in the quality of their writing but also in how they approach their research and how they understand the challenges of graduate school. This does not mean that they’ve all run off to get their doctorates. In fact, I was most encouraged to hear that the programs help students make informed choices about whether or not a career in the academy is the best thing for them.
For now at least, SILC at Wheaton has been discontinued, and this is truly unfortunate, but there are several other programs that are still running:
One of the benefits of encouraging promising students to apply is that it allows for a dialogue about graduate school that happens outside of the pressure cooker of the graduate application process. I’ve taken to sending links to these programs to students who express an interest in graduate school, and even reading about the programs helps them think carefully about what it is that they actually want. Since the deadlines for these programs are in February and March, I send the links out to promising students just before they head off for winter break.
If you are a dean or a department chair, if you are on a diversity committee or work in a development office, I urge you to do the work of developing a program like this at your institution. They can be a powerful contribution to the work of developing and sustaining meaningful diversity in the academy. Good intentions and progressive ideas are great, but programs like this are even better.
It’s evaluation time and students have the chance to offer anonymous feedback about their experience in the classroom. As a tenured faculty member, I’m not required to undergo this process, but from time to time I do so anyway. Even when I don’t arrange for university evaluations, I ask my students for feedback about the semester. It’s always a bit unnerving, and I can never quite shake the feeling that it feeds into the consumerism mode of higher education, but I believe it can be a useful process. This year, as I’ve been thinking of what it means to be a professor of color in the academy for a solid decade, I’m thinking of the daily informal assessments that happen all the time, and I’m remembering the time I told a graduate student to take a seat.
I’ll never know exactly what pushed this particular graduate student to stand up in the middle of my Research Methods course and shout, “You can’t lecture me!” He’d been terse and combative from the first day of the term, but it’s been so many years (easily seven or eight) that I’ve even forgotten what we were talking about when he forgot himself. It’s possible that he was angry that I hadn’t paid enough attention to Byron’s use of ottava rima in Don Juan (no, I’m not kidding). I remember being amused when he wanted to know if I knew this pertinent fact about the poem (of course, I did). And when he wanted to explain to me that feminism was a crock because men were responsible for good things like the Sistine Chapel, I remember trying to gently but firmly move the conversation towards more productive ground. I also remember feeling some genuine sympathy for him. Here he was, forced to take a course that was not of his choosing with an instructor he might not ever have chosen to study with. All graduate students in our program must take Research Methods, it’s only offered once a year, and, at the time, I was the only instructor teaching it. He was white and his privilege expressed itself with a stridency I could tell made his classmates uncomfortable. He wasn’t the first student with this habit, but he was the most aggressive.
I don’t remember why this student stood up in a room of about twenty students and yelled “you can’t lecture me!” but I do remember that, in the moment, my gallows humor crowded everything else out; in reply I said, dryly, “well, actually, that’s my job. Literally. I mean it’s in my contract and everything.” I then told him he could either sit down or leave the class. He chose the latter. I don’t remember the rest of the class discussion, but I remember being surprised by how unfazed we all were by the moment. It wasn’t until after class, when two other male students (both of whom were white) offered to walk me to my car in case he was still hanging around that I started sorting through the implications of the moment. I was very new to my department, I was untenured, and I had been asked to restructure the Methods course and made some fairly radical changes to it. I knew I was going to have to explain what happened to both the Graduate Director and the Department Chair, both of whom were white and male.
For those who pay attention to what it means to be a person of color in today’s university system, the common narrative is that we face more service pressures than our white colleagues. We’re called on more often to work with student groups, to diversify committees with our very presence, to do the administrative work of turning ethnic studies classes into programs and programs into departments. These are duties many choose to take on and the savviest parlay that into currency to count towards tenure and promotion. But the disrespect, disdain, and rage we regularly deflect in the classroom bring on a different kind of pressure entirely. If we are the marginalized “other” in departments, balancing research and teaching agendas with internal and external service pressures, in the classroom we occupy two subject positions at once: Authority and Other. It’s a tricky thing to be on the margins and in the center in the exact same moment. The need to protect one’s authority and humanity while preserving the classroom space as a workshop of ideas where students can stumble, experiment, and question is a balancing act that requires more than good intentions on the part of faculty of color. It requires personal and institutional support. In this situation, I was lucky enough to have both.
This moment, this shout is at the most extreme end of the continuum of students behaving badly, but I’ve seen some version of it over my ten years as a university professor. And I know my experience is not singular. In fact, as someone who specializes in the very safe field of nineteenth-century British literature, I suspect I’m having a much easier time of it. Even this semester’s Austen lecture titled “Post-Colonial Theory and Mansfield Park; or is Fanny Price Actually a Sister?” sparked more interest than anger in my Austen seminar, and my students were totally up for the metaphors of race in the novel. They were intellectually skeptical to be sure (that’s what they’re supposed to be) but certainly engaged in the debate. If I taught race in a more modern context as I did in my intro to theory class this year, I’m sure there would be more shouting. I’m sure I’d face more moments like Professor Shannon Gibney is currently facing.
The professor received a formal reprimand:
The reprimand was due to the discomfort of two white male students who said they were being personally attacked while Professor Gibney led a discussion about structural racism in her political science and communications course. These very students interrupted Professor Gibney during the discussion, expressing that it was upsetting to them that it was being discussed at all. MCTC went so far as to identify Professor Gibney’s conduct in the class as a violation of the Non-Discrimination Policy and she was directed to meet twice with the Chief Diversity Officer to learn how to be more welcoming to people of all backgrounds.
Deborah J. Merritt’s “Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching” begins with this from When Sapphire Meets Socrates at the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Authority:
The complaints are never-ending, voluminous, and contradictory. I talk too loud or not loud enough. I walk too close to people and make them nervous. If I look at students, they are nervous. If I do not look at them, I am picking on them. If I do not call on them, I have a personal vendetta against them…
The black female professor continues:
When I talk to students in an attempt to ascertain what I do that is so different from the other professors teaching the same section of first-year students, they admit that I do no more in class than their white male professors—my class is no more rigorous, no more intimidating, no more work. In fact, they seem to like my class.
Merritt’s essay (which you should read in its entirety) shows that:
The nonverbal mannerisms that drive teaching evaluations bear little relation to learning. Many of the nonverbal behaviors that influence teaching evaluations are related to race, gender, and other immutable characteristics; they stem from physiology, culture and habit. Social stereotypes filter perceptions of these behaviors so that even when faculty engage in identical classroom behaviors, students may perceive those behaviors differently depending on the professor’s race, gender, and other characteristics.
On a larger scale, this seems key to understanding the limits of teaching evaluations in general and specifically how they are used when faculty of color are evaluated. Put simply, student evaluations can be just another form of shouting at professors of color, particularly women of color.
Consider these findings compiled by Therese Huston in her research report “Race and Gender Bias in Student Evaluations of Teaching”:
• Researchers found lower final course evaluation ratings for female minority faculty members, but not for male minority instructors
• Hispanic faculty received the lowest course evaluation ratings. Asian-American faculty receive slight (sic) better course evaluations than their Hispanic colleagues, but their scores were, on average, still worse than the scores of White Faculty.
• Students rate Asian-Americans instructors as less credible and intelligible than white instructors.
• Male non-native speakers received lower evaluations than female non-native speakers.
• Women received lower evaluations than men and faculty of color were judged more harshly than their white counterparts
• When Whites rate the performance of a person of color with the understanding that their judgments would be communicated to a third party for the purposes of evaluation, Whites consistently rate performance negatively
There’s more that I’m sorting through here, especially how students evaluate faculty teaching ethnic studies vs. those teaching in other fields. If others have more recent studies or narratives, I’m happy to read them, but the larger question perhaps is not just that this is happening but what we can all do about it.
In my first post, I offered advice (a script almost) of how white colleagues can support faculty of color in this particular area. My advice was rooted in my own experiences in my current department.
Generally speaking, my colleagues, whether I am with friends with them or not, belong to the “If You See Something Say Something” school of witnessing microaggression. If a colleague in my department witnesses someone treating me poorly because I’m a person of color, they say something and then follow-up with an e-mail or stop by my office to make sure I’m okay. If I share something that happens to me (the shout, pissing someone off because I’ve had to point out, yet again, that I’m not a secretary, hearing that vocal students think I’m a bitch, being told I’m hostile and so on), I’m met with compassion and a genuine attempt to understand what I’m processing. Ten years out, I’ve come to appreciate this and count on it, but when I was new I had no idea what kind of environment I was in and felt I had to defend myself to the Director of Graduate Studies and my Department Chair. I was not looking forward to talking to anyone about what had happened, never mind two white men—no matter how congenial they’d been.
The Director of Graduate Studies called me at home, and his first question was about whether or not I was okay. He then asked what I wanted to do about the student. It was such a simple, collegial gesture. This student had challenged my authority, and, though I had handled it well, I was shaken and worried about how I would save the rest of the term and my reputation with my students and colleagues. His first question about my well-being calmed me immediately, and his second questioned helped me get back on my pedagogical feet (I had no interest in “punishing” the student but didn’t want him disrupting my class). The conversation had gone so well that I was beginning to relax. Then my Chair sent an email that same evening asking me to drop by his office in the morning.
He’s not a loquacious man, and I was a bit intimidated by him. I would come to see him as Lou Grant to my Mary Richards, but after that shout we weren’t there yet. I believed we would come to some understanding about the situation (he struck me as fair), but I was not looking forward to the process. I went in ready to explain myself, to give him “my side” of the story.
He didn’t need it.
He wanted to know if I was okay. More than that, he wanted me to know that he’d had an experience similar to mine with another student and that he could imagine how awful it felt. His point wasn’t to diminish what had happened to me but to let me know I wasn’t alone, that even old pros, with all of the privileges of masculinity and whiteness got kicked around by students from time to time. And that it felt like shit when it happened. That last part was most the most important part. Too often, when marginalized people talk about their struggles, members from dominant communities rush in to point out that the experience is not unique so marginalized people (women, people of color, GLBT citizens, and so on) should just shut up and deal. The better approach, the one rooted in empathy, is the one from my Chair—it made us both human without diminishing my particular challenges as a woman of color. It also taught me to share my troubling or confusing interactions with students with colleagues I trust. They helped me understand the culture of my institution so that I could better respond to what happened in my classroom, to know what was just “normal” and what was deeply problematic.
My students in that Research Methods course were equally generous. I explained that the student wouldn’t be returning to class not because he had questions about feminism (or Byron) but because the classroom space needed to be as free from distracting chaos as possible. They were happy with my explanation and then went out of their way to tell me that he was aggressive in every single class. I was surprised by this fact, but ten years out I wouldn’t be. It’s been my experience that students who struggle with having a black, female professor struggle in other ways. Race in the classroom, whether it’s embodied in the instructor or represented on the syllabus, simply amplifies bad behavior. This is cold comfort (I’ll never get used to what my presence as a woman of color in the classroom can trigger in students…never), but the context helps me keep an important balance so that I can manage the many forms that shouts can take without disrupting my classroom.
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.
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
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. Jennifer.Henton@hofstra.edu
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. Jennifer.Henton@hofstra.edu
I was recently chatting with a favorite former student about graduate school job searches and sent her an essay I wrote for the ADE Bulletin in 2007 about my approach to my 2003 job search. It’s funny to read about the process this many years out, as I start thinking about an essay I’ve been invited to write for PMLA.
It has me thinking of how lucky I was.
I decided on the career I wanted, and then I went out and got it. Just like that. Easy Peasy. Seriously. One job search, one tenure-track job. And I’m still incredibly happy to be just where I am. Now one could argue that the job I wanted was a fairly easy one to want. In other words, I wasn’t interested in a job at a selective liberal arts college (SLAC) or at a Research I institution.
BUT, what I did want was a job that would allow me to think, write and teach about canonical literature at the same time that I could think, write, and teach about marginalized texts no one had heard of.
AND, I wanted to live somewhere interesting–probably in New York.
PLUS, as I wrote in the essay, at some point during my graduate career my vision for my professional future changed.
Make of that what you will.
One thing I’m struck by is how willing I was to walk away from this position if it meant I had to be a traditional Romanticist (someone who specializes in one of the six major poets of the period). I think one thing I’ve always held close is that while I very much wanted to be an English professor I was also genuinely curious about what else I could do. I figured that having a PhD would give me a lot of different options and that I would figure something out. I really believed that. In fact, I remember leaving one MLA interview and walking around Manhattan daydreaming about what I else I could do with my shiny, new PhD.
I received word on Valentine’s Day that an offer was forthcoming. Seriously. Valentine’s Day, 2003.
The thing that seems crazy now is that I wrote this essay as I was coming up for tenure, with no idea about whether or not I would get it. It started out as a talk I gave at MLA, and the ADE editor asked me to revise it for the Bulletin. I’m also amused by how flat my writing is–not exactly tentative but definitely the writing of a kid trying to figure out what the hell she was doing.
The night before THATCamp, I told Michelle that I didn’t think anyone would come to our panel. Too many people had told me stories of conferences where panels about race and/or ethnicity only attracted people of color. We joked that we might be the only two people in the room.
I got there a few minutes early so I could get my head in a space to have a “productive conversation” about the kinds of “strategies” we (the few I thought would be in attendance) might have around the silences that seem to dominate the conversation about racism and feminism.
But so many people wanted to attend the panel that we ended up moving here (to the main conference room):
Michelle, who has more experience with public conversations about race than I do, said to me “this is too big” and suggested that we split the group of about 45 women (2/3 of the conference) into smaller groups. It seemed like a good idea, but I thought we could start big and then turn to smaller groups.
I had other ideas about how this could unfold. Michelle did too.
They seem less important this morning than what happens now that we’ve started this conversation, in this particular space.
After the conference, Kim Hall, Michelle, and I met over drinks to discuss, among other things, what could happen next with all of the ideas, energies, frustrations, and hopes that were in that room. I wish I had facilitated the discussion differently (asked a more focused question, started where I ended, invited other participants to begin by sharing their experiences), but I think the Session Notes offer a terrific opportunity to continue the conversation.
I think they provide a fairly accurate account of how things unfolded (it’s great to see other conference attendees still filling in the gaps), and this post is an invitation to folks to read them and share their thoughts and reactions.
In order to keep the Session Notes focused on the conference, it’s probably best to write in the comments section here. Or you might write something on your own blog and link to it in the common section here (or send the link to me via twitter @triciamatthew)
In the spirit of that invitation I’ll share that one thing I’ve been thinking about since the panel was that I talked about wanting “strategies” without clarifying who I had in mind. It really depends on your subject position though, doesn’t it? If, for example, you’re a woman of color navigating this terrain, it might be useful to know about Jay Smooth’s very popular video about how to call out racist behavior (if you’re a white person who struggles with hearing that something you’ve said or done is problematic, this could be useful for you too). It’s a good place to start. What I was hoping for was a similar resource that can be a good place to start for white feminists, something that goes beyond “Unpacking the Knapsack,” that speaks specifically to feminism and racism. I know a few attendees had ideas, so I hope they share them.
Many, many thanks to everyone who attended. I know it wasn’t an easy conversation, but I am encouraged by the number of people interested enough in this persistent (pernicious) issue to attend the panel and thankful to all whose shared their ideas, stories, and questions.