DePaul University: safe for white male scholars only?

We’ve gone over this here before, friends–in “DePaul tenure process takes a turn for the . . . ” last May, and in “Women in Catholic higher ed:  do we exist yet?” last January, it sure looked like DePaul University was in the running to beat even Baylor University’s record of discrimination in advancement!  (I know–daringly ambitious, isn’t it?)  We read this morning that DePaul University is back in the news at Inside Higher Ed, which reports that last year, race was clearly a factor in the outcomes of tenure cases there: 

In the 2009-10 academic year, all those who were denied tenure were minority faculty members, and all white candidates won tenure. Of 43 applicants, 10 self-identified faculty members of color went up for tenure, but the University Board on Faculty Tenure and Promotion – the final committee to review candidates and, DePaul’s president said, the one with the most weight – voted to deny six of them (despite previous reports of more applicants and more approvals). The president ultimately signed off on an appeals board’s recommendation to reverse one candidate’s denial, meaning that in the end, 100 percent of white candidates got tenure, compared to half of minority candidates.

Of course, sex discrimination appears to have been operative in many of these cases too–the reporting over at IHEis a little difficult to follow, but it’s clear in the case of Philosophy Professor Namita Goswami that sex bias was a part of the package.  (How else to explain comments and opinions like these?)

One person said her best article was one written with her husband. Her colleagues cast her as a women’s studies scholar, saying she was not a good fit for the department; that her focus on postcolonial philosophy was too far outside the realm of traditional philosophy(though she was hired to teach postcolonial philosophy).

Philosophy departments at Catholic Universities are notoriously conservative.  But–if you don’t want a feminist postcolonialist on the faculty, don’t hire one, Father Dingus!  I should know–it happened to me, too.  Once upon a time I was hired to be the American  women’s historian at a Catholic university, and was criticized by my (all secular) colleagues for teaching feminist and anti-racist views of American history and engaging in feminist service on campus.  (My religious colleagues were very supportive of me, I should note.)  Fortunately, the Illinois AAUP is on the case and issued a report IHE describes as “highly critical of the department’s tenure committee. ‘The department was exhibiting a severe case of buyer’s remorse. . . . What they were doing was – astonishingly – punishing her for doing her job.'” 

A few days ago, Tenured Radical wrote a fascinating post about her recent decision to commit bibliocideon a project she’d been working on for the last decade, in large part because of the bullying she experienced from colleagues who disputed its quality and significance.  Even though she recognized the bullying for what it was, and even though she protested and eventually won promotion to Professor and a nice raise, the experience still poisoned her relationship to that book.  Now, we might well ask, what will be the toll of Professor Goswami’s experiences?  Will she commit bibliocide, too?  Scholarship suffers when scholars are treated badly by their colleagues.  How many important projects have been strangled in their cribs because of the malice of others? 

Don’t miss the fourth comment on the IHEarticle that claims to be by a DePaul faculty member and former department Chair.  Of course, take it for what it’s worth (not much!), seeing as it’s the non-peer reviewed world wide timewasting interwebs, and anyone at all could have written and posted it.  But, if it’s legit, it adds context to understanding the wider culture of faculty advancement at DePaul. 


Speaking of timewasting–well, it’s time to go break the ice in the troughs and spread some fresh hay in the barn, friends.  For the rest of the afternoon, it’s four legs good, two legs bad for me!

0 thoughts on “DePaul University: safe for white male scholars only?

  1. The language of “fit” in academic personnel practice all but inherently is, or at least all too often becomes, itself a language of discrimination. You get hired, you walk into the classroom, close the door, and do your thing. You walk out, exchange pleasantries, head off to the libe, the lab, or the archive, and do your thing. How the “fit” part goes in the suite ought to rank pretty low, and in any case lower than it too often does, in the scheme of things. (f)it’s more structurally fit, or, suited, for the country club, or up on Greek row.


  2. What I found utterly familiar and utterly maddening was Prof. Goswami’s comment that her fourth year review was improperly recorded but glowing with words such as “outstanding”. Then, in the fifth year, preparing for tenure, suddenly she was “unacceptable.”

    Sadly, this is an all-too-common practice in academic departments when a push is made to tank a colleague’s tenure application because while they might be good enough to teach with you for several years, they’re certainly not good enough to be on faculty with you permanently.

    And we all know that girls have cooties! *facepalm*

    (Obligatory disclaimer: my department and institution were remarkably straightforward, open and nurturing as I went up for tenure and seem to remain, to this day, fair and transparent. But I’ve been places and seen things that an honest academic never wants to see again.)


  3. Indyanna & Janice are on the same wavelength, I think, on “fit” and how and why candidates for tenure become unacceptable. I agree with what I hear both of you saying–“fit” is a question to be answered at the job interview stage, not the fifth year review.

    “It wasn’t a good fit” is a generically polite way for individuals to describe their former positions, but it’s for the use of individuals only. Departments and institutions should not talk this way, because it suggests that they didn’t do their jobs right in the first place.


  4. I agree with what I hear both of you saying–”fit” is a question to be answered at the job interview stage, not the fifth year review.

    I also agree with this. However, my experience is that there are consistent scenarios in which this kind of pathology occurs. In most cases they involve shifts in power structure within a department between hiring and tenure, such as where a faction (or single powerful individual like a chair) that was strong enough to get the person hired later loses power through attrition or other means and becomes unable to secure tenure.


  5. Good point. That’s still a sign of problems in the department rather than the fault of the candidate, though. (I realize you weren’t suggesting that it was the candidate’s fault!)

    In my case, the Dean had given my former department money for a line in American women’s history, but because the department never bought into the notion that they *needed* someone in that line, I was the fifth person hired for the job in 13 years. I wonder if that’s what might have happened in some of the cases above at DePaul–the individual who had the power to create the position and make the hire was not the person or persons who were voting on tenure.


  6. Our tenure process is kind of nuts, but we write a “case analysis” which has to cite only evidence in the file. That makes it almost impossible to reference collegiality or fit. What is the evidence on scholarship? What is the evidence on teaching? Obviously, you are interpreting, but stil, it’s evidence grounded. The personal comments only come in when we have the meeting, and we record people’s comments.

    As someone who has survived tenure denial, I wouldn’t assume that Prof. Goswami will, like TR, commit bibliocide. But I’ll bet she’ll have a few rough years as she regains her self-confidence.


  7. This is heartbreaking – and I say this as someone who, like many here, has watched women, faculty of color, and GLBTQ folks get creamed in the T & P review process, even if all of their colleagues are supportive, simply because of the assumption that they do more service. Not the assumption of their departments, mind you, but the assumption of the entire university community. Get hired here as a black professor and you will be asked to speak at a dozen events in February, around Juneteenth, etc., for the historically black fraternities, the AME church, local civil groups, etc. Within the walls, you’ll be asked to sit on a dozen College and campus level committees as a representative of diversity, and you’ll say yes, because these are powerful committees, and you care about them.Then, come tenure time, everyone wonders why the book is “merely” under contract, or why their might be just a few peer reviewed essays. And there’ll be murmurings about your scholarship, your activist leanings, etc.

    Blech. Not so different from DePaul – a better result here, perhaps, but it’ll leave a nasty taste in your mouth.

    But a deeper (and no less real) real tragedy here is the bibliocide committed by TR, and the potential for the same by Prof. Goswami. No good book should be chucked just because it gets smeared. What of the good books and essays and talks and lectures that might come from it? Awfulness. I can only imagine how seriously bad it must be at Zenith.

    On a very bad news day – with UCSC closing its American Studies major, Texas losing Jose Limon because of early retirement plans that are gutting the Humanities, and Rutgers on the verge of eating UMDNJ to satisfy Christie – the loss of TR’s book was the lowest, most hurtful blow. I wanted to read that book. We needed that book. When the ashes are cold, I will remember the loss of that book as an example of what happens to the very best and boldest.


  8. As I may have mentioned here before, my uni/department is muttering about “raising tenure standards,” a prospect that fills me with dread. If the process were more transparent (or had any transparency) and my dept more functional, I might be able to get on board, even as an untenured person. But the way it stands, it seems to me that “higher tenure standards” is another word for “fit” which is code for discrimination, if not in intent than in effect. (I was not, for example, permitted to see my third year review report. My own report! It should be illegal to keep people’s personnel files from them. Especially untenured faculty should have the right to know what is said and who is saying it.) It’s amazing how many ways there are to keep out women, people of color, and queer folks, and the fact that it’s usually coded means that many can protest that they made their decisions in good faith – I’m thinking especially of the examples Lance provided, or other people’s determination of a “good enough” publisher/ project. (The language of “fit” is also the most commonly cited reason for a department rejecting a partner accommodation as well.)


  9. Perpetua–that’s truly shocking. One might ask what the point is of a third-year review if the tenure candidate is never allowed to see it! I just can’t imagine that this is in your department or college code. You should check on that. I agree with you that this is very concerning in terms of gatekeeping and discrimination.

    Lance, you can still read TR’s book, although it will appear in the slightly less convenient form of separately published articles! (I’m just glad she’s not ditching the work entirely. And, we can all think of cases in which a scholar has published a really big article, and that article’s importance overshadows the book that scholar publishes out of the same project.


  10. I first became aware of the issue of “fit” in the KC Johnson CUNY case which turned into a rallying point for conservatives (which never made a whole lot of sense except that KC was a white male and his major antagonist wasn’t). I’m having a moment of “but what about the women in Afghanistan” on this one. Hey all you folks you yelled about how fit was code for political discrimination, you’re really upset about this and will be calling talk radio to express your outrage, right? Right!? (waits for outrage, gets chirping crickets). Sigh.


  11. I am glad you have been covering this case. The academy is merely an ideal without a sense of shared destiny and responsibility. The situation at DePaul is deteriorating and the more who engage this issue the better. Unfortunately, it is not only women and people of colour who are sacrificed. Remember Norman Finkelstein too. You probably don’t know but I chaired the committee (ILLAAUP) whose report you linked to my blog.


  12. Pingback: Historiann tells all! (And too much is sometimes plenty.) : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  13. Pingback: Tenure news (re: DePaul University) | Canada-Supporting Women in Geography

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