Tag Archives: race and higher education

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

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

University of Texas-Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Comment

Filed under Race and Tenure Reporting