Tag Archives: Tenure

Written/Unwritten is out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:
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and then this

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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

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University of Texas-Austin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Macalester College

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

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

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Diversity from the Margins

I’ll be writing more about this gem from bell hooks’ Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics for a brick and mortar publication. She offers a mindset worth holding tight to, regardless of where you are in your academic career. We get tugged in so many directions, by advice that, in myriad ways, tells us to somehow be different than who and what we are, just so we can become part of institutions that were designed to exclude us.

Don’t do too much service. Publish here not there. Specialize in this but also do this other new thing over here so you can get a job. Blend in but don’t sell out. Fit in but don’t compromise. Always professionalize. Be a role model but transcend whatever subject position makes those around you the most uneasy.  And that’s nothing compared to the demands we place on one another. Be Colored like this. Feminist like that. GLBandT in this particular space. Sign up; don’t sell out.

No wonder so many of us are making ourselves sick.

And maybe this advice comes from a good place, but mostly I think it comes from well-meaning folks trying to replicate themselves or validate their own experiences. Worse, it seems to want to make the people change instead of their institutions. It seems to start from the premise that being on the outside, on the margins is always bad.

bell hooks begs to differ:

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.

Put more lyrically, Lucille Clifton asks in her poem “won’t you celebrate with me”

“what did i see to be except myself?”

The work, of course, is to know who that “self” actually is absent the destructive anxieties that plague all ambitious academics, but particularly academics of color.  What I see in hooks’ argument is a call for those of us on the margins to be funambulists, to be tightrope walkers who stay above the trials of marginalization, to work and write from that place and to embrace it.

*hooks is quoted in “Balancing the Passion for Activism with the Demands of Tenure: One Professional’s Story from Three Perspectives.” Few, et al. Feminist Formations 19 (3: 2007) 47-66.

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

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

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

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

• Improving the Post-Doc Diversity Fellowship

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

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

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

• Most common mistakes departments make when hiring faculty of color

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

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

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

• How to start a conversation about diversity in your department

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Diversty Round-up: The 2012 List of Books on Diversity

I’ll confess that I always feel a little pit in my stomach when I see that a new book about diversity in higher education goes to print.  I started this project several years ago, and it was slow, difficult work getting it all together, and now it is making the slow journey to publication. It’s difficult to hurry up and wait.  I worry that the narratives I’ve compiled will seem like old news.

Then I remember that an issue as complex and deeply entrenched as this one requires multiple essays, articles, anthologies, and special journal issues.  The goal isn’t to be first but to expand and extend the discussion (it should probably be this in all areas of research but this is especially the case when it comes to diversity).   And I remind myself that more than professional advancement or ego boosts, we need as broad a community as possible to be as informed as possible about this issue.

This is not only a list books that came out this year (Presumed Incompetent) but of books that are important to this conversation that I returned to this year as I finished writing the introduction to the collection.  These are books I looked to as I planned the anthology, and they are books that I think everyone should read—especially white academics who want to do more than just say that they value diversity (or offer the earnest head nod whenever the issue comes up).    And I should say that I am very glad that colleagues in my home department are reading some of these books with me and doing the work to develop and maintain meaningful diversity.

If you know of more good books on the subject, please send the titles my way

(NB: Descriptions are from websites about the books where available).

If you’re going to start anywhere, start with: Deborah Gray White, ed. Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower.  Gender and American Culture Series. (U of North Caroline, P.,  2008).

Engagingly written, Telling Histories should appeal to multiple audiences. Taken together, these stories underscore the firm hold of racism, sexism, and classism within American society in general and the academy and history departments specifically. While presenting and often resolving theoretical and methodological questions, the book not only is valuable for graduate students but is also a significant contribution to the field and should facilitate bringing down barriers, both within and outside the academy, that constrain the professorial ranks, stifle voices, and preclude diverse academicians and scholars from writing and teaching without restraint. The contributors’ content is largely descriptive but it also provides analysis about the progression of scholarly trends and instruction in historiography to historians at all professional stages.

Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, et al, eds.
Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (Utah State UP, 2012)

Presumed Incompetent is a pathbreaking account of the intersecting roles of race, gender, and class in the working lives of women faculty of color. Through personal narratives and qualitative empirical studies, more than 40 authors expose the daunting challenges faced by academic women of color as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education, including hiring, promotion, tenure, and relations with students, colleagues, and administrators. The narratives are filled with wit, wisdom, and concrete recommendations, and provide a window into the struggles of professional women in a racially stratified but increasingly multicultural America.

Evans, Stephanie.
Black Women in the Ivory Tower: 1850-1954
(UP Florida 2007).

Evans chronicles the stories of African American women who struggled for and won access to formal education, beginning in 1850, when Lucy Stanton, a student at Oberlin College, earned the first college diploma conferred on an African American woman. In the century between the Civil War and the civil rights movement, a critical increase in black women’s educational attainment mirrored unprecedented national growth in American education. Evans reveals how black women demanded space as students and asserted their voices as educators–despite such barriers as violence, discrimination, and oppressive campus policies–contributing in significant ways to higher education in the United States. She argues that their experiences, ideas, and practices can inspire contemporary educators to create an intellectual democracy in which all people have a voice.

Janis Fay, et al, eds.
Racism in the Academy: The New Millennium.  American Anthropological Association. (2012)

The starting point for this study was through the auspices of our professional scholarly society, the American Anthropological Association. In 2007, then-president Alan Goodman appointed a commission charged with two primary responsibilities:
“(1) to collect information in order to better expose how privilege has been maintained in anthropology and the AAA, including but not limited to departments and the academic pipeline and

(2) to develop a comprehensive plan for the Association and for the field of anthropology to increase the ethnic, racial, gender and class diversity of the discipline and organization.”

Baez, Benjamin. 
Affirmative Action, Hate Speech, and Tenure: Narratives About Race and Law in the Academy
. Benjamin Baez (Routledge Falmer 2002).

I like everything that Baez has written on race in higher education. Everything.

Geok-Lin Lim, Shirley et al, eds.
Power, Race, and Gender in  Academe: Strangers in the Tower.  New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1991)

My favorite chapter from this collection is Gunning, Sandra. “Now That They Have Us, What’s the Point?” The Challenge of Hiring to Create Diversity.”

Matthew, Patricia A., ed. 
Written/Unwritten: Tenure and Race in the Humanities (not yet, but I couldn’t resist…)

 

 

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Problem, Plan, Proposal (not necessarily related)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bits and Pieces

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

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

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

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

Told to a candidate during an interview:

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

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

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

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Of Clicks and Cliques: White Women, Women of Color, Diversity, and Tension

In The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present, historian Christine Sansell describes a moment of connection that occurs between women who recognize a common struggle:

…the penetrating critique of life-as-women-lived it was a point of contact between strangers and far flung-sympathizers, when other signs of affiliation were absent.  This is what Jane O’Reilly meant in 1971 when she described the “click,” feminist shorthand for the decisive moment when women’s eyes met across a room, in unspoken recognition of some outrage disguised as normal life, men’s petty dominion over women’s time, attention, labor, and self-esteem, whether expressed in monopolizing a conversation or expecting a female employee to take notes at a meeting (234)

It’s a lovely notion—the feeling that at any moment one might suddenly know with certainty that she is not alone in the face of oppressive systems.  And I think it’s a moment that feminist academics seek.  This is not necessarily because they are women, though women are undoubtedly socialized to think in terms of community, but because the success of feminist ideological, curricular and political agendas within colleges and universities are built on such connections. Perhaps more than any other discipline, Women’s and Gender Studies links activism, scholarship, pedagogy and community building.  I tease a friend of mine about how many retreats women’s studies faculty attend and joke, “you all really have to get along, don’t you?”   They do.  We do.

My question, one that must be addressed in order to have a full consideration of the main issues this collection addresses, is this: what happens when that “decisive moment,” when that “click” doesn’t happen?  What happens if the dominant group of academic feminists (middle-class white women) doesn’t share similar oppressive experiences or, perhaps more importantly, have wildly different coping mechanisms?  My sense is that instead of a click there’s a sharp separating—an almost physical, huge step backwards that leads to a sharp divide. If the phrase, “the personal is political” is one of the key tenets of late 1960s feminism, the academic is personal seems foundational to the structure of Women’s and Gender Studies.  I recognize that there are other rifts (generational and economic come to mind immediately) but I am most interested in thinking about the racial divide.

Here’s what I’m noticing.  Many white women academics collapse their struggles with the struggles that face academics of color and this leads to a kind of blindness where they simply can’t see the oppressive realities that faculty of color face and, by extension, don’t see themselves as oppressors. The language institutions use to lump groups together exacerbates the problem. Consider, for example, the phrase “women and people of color”–a designation that pairs up two different kinds of marginalized groups in ways that can lead to conflict instead of collaboration. It prompts white women academics to see themselves as natural allies with the same challenges when faculty of color are always marked as racialized and, therefore, have a different set of obstacles to overcome.   In other words, while white women and women of color share some of the burdens of gender bias, it is all too easy for white women to lose sight of their own privilege and for that blindness to result in discriminating practices that extend into the evaluative process.

I am remembering how white women in grad school were much more comfortable working with women of color in crisis or turning to them for wisdom then sitting across from them as peers.  And I’m trying to work out how that pattern of engagement influences interactions around evaluative processes.  To further complicate this tension, generally speaking, women of color respond in completely different ways to oppression than their white peers. We have needed (and developed) a different skill set to survive the academy and we have been both punished and rewarded in complicated ways for our coping mechanisms.  I think this mode of coping can feel like an indictment to those who struggle differently and in a world founded on “clicks” that relies on the notion of a common battle they can be quite threatening.  The problems are often generational and exacerbated by a white privilege that is sometimes masked by the mixed- up ideas (part myth, part reality) of a shared oppression.

We, all of us, reproduce ourselves in our personnel decisions, and when we add in the complications of Women and Gender Studies departments that rely on faculty working closely together under the umbrella of “community” things get tricky and people are evaluated not so much on their skills and accomplishments but on whether or not they “click.” My sense, taken from the countless stories I have heard over the years, is that white women in the academy forget how far they’ve actually come and, worse, they run the risk of setting up oppressive systems that don’t actually replace patriarchal hierarchies they want to challenge but simply rewrite them along feminine lines.  This plays itself out in myriad ways—namely in the expectations placed on new faculty to support Women’s and Gender Studies agendas through service.  These expectations tend to have a moral element to them since the work of Women’s and Gender Studies is so closely tied to activism and advocacy.  Pretty much everyone agrees that there has been a long-standing tension between white women and women of color in feminist movements and I count this as progress. But how does that problem play itself out in the halls of academe? In other words, is there a dominant culture of Women’s and Gender studies that is inadvertently hostile to racial diversity? If so, what can be done to fix it?  What problems have you seen?  Have you seen this issue addressed directly in your institution?

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