Tag Archives: diversity

Written/Unwritten is out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Race, Race and Tenure Reporting, Resources

Written/Unwritten: The Contents

 

IMG_4234-4

Foundations

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

Navigations

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

In Search of Our Fathers’ Workshops
Lisa Sánchez González

Identities

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

 Manifestos

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

Hierarchies

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

Activism(s)

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

Appendices

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Gender, Race, Uncategorized

From Theory to Praxis: Written/Unwritten at UC-Merced

All of my chatting and workshopping and tweeting and editing came together last week when I went to the University of California-Merced to talk about the anthology. At least that was the invitation—to talk about the book, and talk about it I did. I talked about how I came to add diversity work to an already fully and satisfying research agenda, I talked about why I wanted to pay attention to narrative instead of data, and I talked about each of the 12 essays in the book and shared moments from them that reflect the experiences of  faculty of color around the country.

More than this, however, I listened and took notes…a lot of notes. There was just so much to take note of—listening to deans and faculty in dialogue with one another about the best ways to increase diversity in their candidate pools, listening to tenured faculty (most of whom were white) offer practical and applicable advice to their junior colleagues of color, listening to the way the staff, faculty, and deans work together to make the campus safe for all of their students.

As I was preparing my talk, I knew the thing I needed to make clear was that all the good thoughts and feelings about diversity are mostly useless without leadership and institutional willpower.   I also wanted to offer small things that could be done without money and without too much time. Mostly I wanted to make as clear as possible to the faculty of color in attendance that the struggles they might be facing are happening elsewhere. The preface to Written/Unwritten is titled “It’s not just us. This is happening everywhere,” and my goal was to make clear what the “this” is that so many of us face.

My host was Tanya Golash-Boza, who you probably already know because of her work on immigration, Latin America, and human rights but who you should also know because she is working out how to build diversity into the fabric of her institution instead of just including it as an afterthought. Within minutes of meeting, our conversation was about the work of diversity:

  • How I’m wrestling with thinking about the difference between service and labor
  • The unintended consequences of trying to protect faculty of color from too much service
  • The importance of moving the conversation about diversity beyond microagressions and white privilege
  • The blind spots of diversity initiatives

It was exciting (and daunting because Tanya is NO JOKE) to wrestle with ideas that came to me as I was preparing for the visit. This was not a conversation with someone who has a vague sense that diversity is important and that microaggressions make things hard; rather, it was a dialogue with a colleague who is deeply engaged in the nitty-gritty work of diversity at an institutional level. That’s a rare thing for me.

Over the course of my visit a few key things stayed with me that I’ll be mulling over as I visit more campuses:

  • The challenges of “fit” when it comes to hiring
  • The importance of post-tenure support
  • The value of white academics who are willing to engage in this work

Listening and talking nonstop about diversity (even with my host at the irresistible Bear Creek Inn, or, as I shall call it going forward, Downton Abbey West), I’m more aware of the following than I was when I started this project:

  • Sometimes the hardest thing to know is the right question to ask and to whom to direct that question
  • It’s not enough to know the problem (any problem) you have to have a plan
  • It’s so important to have relationships with senior faculty of color outside of your institution
  • Duke’s Summer Institute on Tenure and Professional Advancement should be replicated regionally

I’ve been invited to conduct workshops and give a talk or two, but I’m still relatively new to this part of being an academic. You hear horror stories of poorly planned trips and overbooked schedules, so I’m especially thankful for how easy Merced made my visit in every single way with easy travel, lovely lodging, and a schedule that was engaging but still left me time to reflect on what I was hearing.   The deans I met—deans who took time out of overbooked schedules—were both gracious and wise and the faculty and students were incredibly open. I learned a great deal, and I’ll be adding their perspective to my work going forward. If you ever get the chance to visit, do so. The energy there is great. Put more than two faculty members together in almost any setting and you’ll hear talk about department politics, but here the talk was about research projects, community engagement, and teaching. I love that most about being an academic—the work, the teaching, and the service—and it was good to see that on full display for my entire visit.

For those who pay attention to such things, my introduction to Tanya was via twitter, and Tressie McMillan Cottom recommended me. I’m quickly losing track of the number of inquiries and invites I get that begin or end with “Tressie McMillan Cottom recommended you…” When I wanted to be her friend it was because I could see were both irritated by the same things and people, and I was hoping to have a short sociologist to chat with while watching “Scandal.” We don’t watch “Scandal” together anymore (apparently Cookie Monster holds more appeal than Fitz and Olivia), but I’m thankful for her generosity.

Hit me up if you want to see the power point (patricia.matthew@montclair.edu) but please be respectful of my work and my time.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Race

Forthcoming!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diversity Among the Elites

It’s the time of year when I’m grading finals and wondering if I’ll be teaching my summer course (this year on British Romanticism and the abolitionist movement).

And I’m wrestling with this essay I’ve been writing since January about little kids and Citizen and Kara Walker’s “Subtlety.”

And I have book revisions due in a few months to one of those dream editors who is so supportive and smart that he makes you want to work ten times harder and twenty times faster.

Plus, this month I’m at Bryn Mawr because Michelle Moravec has lured me into another digital humanities moment.

And I need to see my New York family before they totally disown me (my goddaughter is about to finish her first year of college; attention must be paid).

All of this is to say that all I can do right here is share the storify of some thoughts I had yesterday on twitter in reaction to two stories about diversity at Brown and Columbia:  “Does Faculty Diversity Need Targets?” and Leaks in the Pipeline

Here is how the story about Brown begins:

“Brown University made a bold promise at its inaugural National Diversity Summit last month: to double its proportion of underrepresented minority faculty by 2025. The announcement, to which the faculty was already privy, drew praise on campus and off, but also questions about how Brown would achieve such a goal. It sparked a larger discussion about the best way for institutions to aggressively diversify faculties, too, especially at elite institutions, when candidate pools remain relatively small.”

And I’m intrigued by these compelling figures from Columbia:

 Fall 2014 numbers, which are the most recent figures available, show that out of the University’s 3,806 total faculty members, only 921 are minorities, and 1,572 are women. These numbers continue to tick downward on the tenure track. Columbia has 1,096 tenured faculty members, but only 199 are minorities, and only 282 are women.

I’ll be critical (and maybe even scathing) later, but it’s worth noting the complete candor in this Columbia piece. It depicts a university having the right kind of struggle about developing and maintaining meaningful diversity. And it’s bracing and inspiring to see a scholar like Alondra Nelson shaping this conversation.

So here’s the storify:

People rarely post comments on either of my blogs, but if you have questions, ask them, and I’ll explore them at some point when I can see the sky again.

Leave a comment

Filed under Diversity Reporting

Clicks and Cliques Part IV: The College Language Association Panel

“It is the nature of privilege to find ever deeper places to hide.”
Elizabeth Spelman

I was in New Orleans last weekend to participate on a panel at the College Language Association’s annual conference. It was magnificent in so many ways. I heard great papers and talks, met academic pioneers, sighed during Edwidge Danticat’s keynote, and ate my weight in fried shrimp.  I danced to someone named Trombone Black at a juke joint in the 7th Ward and wandered around the French Quarter in the rain.  There were beignets.

CLA is not a conference I normally attend.  You’re more likely to find me at the British Women Writers Conference, the annual Narrative conference or, from time to time, NASSR.  But when Janeen Price and Jenice Hudson, two doctoral candidates at Florida State University, asked me to participate on a panel about how women of color navigate the academy (Creolizing the Academic Space: A Roundtable), I said yes.  I wanted the opportunity to put my posts and conversations about what I’ve come to think of as “Women’s Studies Culture” into a more useful context and I wanted to talk about my ideas with a diverse group of women of color from different corners of the academy.  We were charged with sharing our experiences as a way to offer perspectives and strategies for other women of color.  I chose to focus on gender and diversity.

In my thinking about the challenges women of color face when working with white women in the academy, I’ve shifted away from talking about “white women” as a monolithic group and towards discussing Women’s Studies Culture. Not only is this phrase a more precise description of the struggle, it points to a larger systemic problem—one that Jane Chin Davidson and Deepa S. Reddy discuss in their essay “Performative Testimony and the Practice of Dismissal” in Written/Unwritten. It allows for the fact that this struggle goes at least as far back as the eighteenth century when white women like Mary Wollstonecraft appropriated the abolitionist movement to forward their own causes.  My brief comments focused on the larger cultural shifts outside the academy that trouble the waters within it. I titled my contribution to the panel “The Minefield(s) of Sisterhood: Women’s Studies Culture and Diversity in the Academy” and framed my thoughts with a question from Audre Lorde and an exhortation from bell hooks.

Lorde’s question is one I’ve been carrying around with me for the last year or so. She posed it to the attendees of the 1981 National Women’s Association Conference in a talk titled “On the Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.”   After recounting the various ways that white women place themselves and their feelings at the center of conversations about racism, she asks her sisters at the NWSA:

What woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?  What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?

I offered my advice, my exhortation from bell hooks in her essay, “Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness”–an idea I’ve written about here and am exploring more fully in an essay for PMLA:

Marginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact…it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality that I was naming as a central location for the production of counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of marginality one wishes to lose—to give up or surrender as part of moving into the center—but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.

Between Lorde and hooks, I laid out four shifts we need to think about in order to understand what is happening at what feels like a a particularly tense time for women of color and Women’s Studies Culture in the academy:

  1. Cultural: We have moved away from the Age of Oprah when the most popular black woman in America built an empire around telling middle-class and upper middle-class white women how to “live their best lives” (without really challenging them to question at whose expense those lives are lived) to a time when the most visible black woman in America challenges racial stereotypes every time she walks in a room. Whereas Oprah—attached to a man but not married and with no children of her own, with her history of sexual assault, and her public weight battle—could inspire white women without challenging their notions of white femininity, Michelle Obama has made the kinds of decisions, primarily to put her family before what many see as a traditional professional career, that make white feminists nervous or angry.
  1. Economic:   The fact that white women have benefited more from Affirmative Action than any other group means that despite broader social inequities, they have more power, particularly in the academy, than they have ever had before and the Anne-Marie Slaughter model of trickle-down feminism (what is good for those at the top will eventually be good for those at the bottom) can make it difficult for many to understand their own privilege.
  2. Institutional: Women’s Studies, or Gender and Women’s Studies, is closer to the center of the academy than it has ever been before, and the closer it gets to the center the more aggressively it subscribes to the same hierarchies that it once challenged, and it does so under the veil of social justice. On this point, I was (and remain) curious to know if the increase of Ethnic Studies departments has meant more and more women of color opting out of Women’s Studies Culture and building their own academic profiles, careers, and, most importantly, agency, largely without white women.
  3. Social—Women of color have more outlets and opportunities than they have ever had before both to express their frustrations and their anger AND, most importantly, to build solidarity. I think that what was once seen as peer-to-peer dynamics has now been revealed to be part of a larger pattern and the narrative of the “angry black woman” who bullies white woman with her aggressive tone is being regularly challenged and the challenge is happening in public spaces.

If you haven’t attended CLA, you might not know that it was founded 77 years ago when the MLA excluded black faculty (in practice if not in policy) from its membership.  This is one of the reasons why it’s a conference that matches the kind of papers, talks, and discussions we seek at these kinds of gatherings with an air of celebration. It is a conference that turned marginalization into a radical and creative act.  Our panel include: Karla Holloway (Duke University), Judy Jackson (University of Kentucky), Theri A. Pickens (Bates College), Rhea Lathan (Florida State University).  The room was pretty full.   Every speaker, from the untenured assistant professors to the mid-career faculty to senior colleagues, shared experiences that resonated with others on the panel and those who spoke during the Q&A.  Well, it wasn’t actually a Q&A session.  It was something else entirely.  As the panel participants shared their thoughts, people moved beyond the academic knowing nod (you know what I’m talking) to actual exclamations and sighs. This spilled over into the Q&A in ways that surprised me and gave me concrete reminders about how important it is to articulate these challenges within institutionalized academic spaces.

I think that if you were to walk up to anyone in that room and asked them if racism and sexism was shaping how they moved through the academy, they would say yes and then inform you that water is still wet.  But it’s one thing to know a truth, to know that microaggression and systemic discrimination are real, and it’s another thing to have your individual experience affirmed. I think it was that specific kind of affirmation that made this more than an academic, theoretical discussion.  After the panel ended, some people came up to ask the panelists for advice. Most just wanted to hug us and tell us their stories.  There are so many, too many.

I wanted to give folks a bibliography they could take back to their home institutions, either to read on their own or to read with whatever trusted colleagues they can find.  Here it is:

Gender, Race, and Feminism
A Short Bibliography

 

Accapadi, Motwani Mamta. “When White Women Cry: How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color.” The College Student Affairs Journal. 2007 (26:2): 208-215.

Daniels, Jessie.“The Trouble with White Women.”

hooks, bell. “Choosing the Margins as a Space of Radical Openness” in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. South End Press (1990).

Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism” Keynote: National Women’s Studies Association (1981).

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Duke University Press (2003).

Ortega, Marina. “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color.” Hypatia 21:3 (Summer 2006): 56-74.

Palmer, Phyllis. Marynick. “White Women/Black Women: The Dualism of Female Identity and Experience in the United States.” Feminist Studies 9:1(Spring, 1983): 151-170.

Sandoval, Chela. “U.S. Third World Feminism: The Theory and Method of Oppositional Consciousness in the Postmodern World.” Genders: Journal of Social Theory, Representation, Race, Gender, Sex (1991): 1-24.*

Spelman, Elizabeth. Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought. Beacon Press (1988).

Williams, Patricia. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Mad Law Professor. Harvard University Press (1991).

*I’m grateful to Annick T.R Wibben for pointing me to this essay.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gender, Politics, Race, Resources

Teaching While Black (Part III)

If you don’t follow me on twitter you might not know that a third installment in my accidental series Teaching While Black is over at The New Inquiry

The folks over at Guernica, included it in ENDNOTES with a couple of other essays and articles, including a sharp, gorgeous essay in The New Yorker “Why is Academic Writing so Academic”?

Leave a comment

Filed under Race

On “Merit,” Processes, and Faculty Governance

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:
photo-63

and then this

photo-62

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’
He writes.

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

1 Comment

Filed under Race, Race and Tenure Op-Ed

Lessons from the Collection; or, My 2014 Diversity To Do List

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.

Of course, I did a lot of other stuff too and am beyond excited that I was invited to review Presumed Incompetent for Signs, but I didn’t do much on the actual list.

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under Race

Lessons from the Collection V: Teaching While Black (Part II)

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.

Literally.

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.

12 Comments

Filed under Race, Resources