Just go read this description of a job interview in a humanities program at a rich SLAC. The search Chair told our informant, Anonymous, that the young African American woman on the faculty had been denied tenure. Some flava:
Dr. Chair explained that the whole process had been very unpleasant and that the aforementioned white male colleagues had been “hurt” as a consequence. I said something innocuous in response like, “Oh well I suppose the tenure process is hard on everyone.” But Dr. Chair assured me that there had been problems for a while. “We just want this to be a nice place,” she said.
In addition to making her white male colleagues sad, Dr. Chair told me that the African-American woman who had been fired did not produce what she was expected to produce or teach what she was expected to teach. When I asked what those expectations were, Dr. Chair sighed and said something to the effect of, “She’s a black feminist, you know, and it’s just: not everything is about black feminism.” She said this to me matter-of-factly, as if it were a satisfactory answer to my question.
11 thoughts on “The so-called “liberal” academic workplace”
I know better than to read the comments.
The number of people leaping to defend or deny the racism and sexism in that department, or to school the writer on what racism and sexism “really” are, is truly disheartening.
Not surprising, mind you.
Yes. I tried to engage over there with a comment to the effect that “maybe she wasn’t teaching or publishing broadly enough,” but haven’t looked since then. The comments at IHE are typically full of race and gender ressentiment, which ironically only proves the point of Anonymous in relating her job interview experience.
Comment I left over there (actually, they are not too awful):
I would like to think that the university counsel would have a stroke that a tenure decision was being discussed in this way with job candidates.
On another note, it is not unusual in my experience for members of a department to be describe themselves as traumatized by a negative tenure decision and clueless as to their own role, as a department and as individuals, in that decision. It is also not unusual for people to hire in a field that they are deeply ignorant about and not engage deeply with the scholarship until the time of a high stakes review. It is shameful, but not unusual. They then blame the candidate herself for not having “taught” them, or persuaded them that her scholarship is relevant to the field.
I also left another comment over there in response to “Renaissance Man,” who claims to be shocked, SHOCKED I say by these allegations in “the most-left leaning institution in the United States.” Clearly, he doesn’t get out much or talk to anyone who doesn’t look and think just like him.
Your comment must be awaiting moderation, TR–I didn’t see it yet.
Jeez. That is horrific. Reminds me of the job interview dinner where the two drunk white gentlemen were complaining about how horrible political correctness was (a uni official of theirs had recently said something inappropriate about blacks in public). “In my country, in my country,” one of them said, “we have ethnic cleansing, and that’s bad.” He paused for effect, “but at least we’re able to say whatever we want to about our minorities without getting into trouble.”
My jaw literally dropped at that point. And I had nothing more to say for the rest of the evening. As the other gentlemen tried unsuccessfully to stay in his lane taking me back to the hotel, I silently prayed that 1. I would survive the trip back to my hotel and 2. I would not get a job offer from that school.
But the commenter’s scenario seems worse. That search chair’s conversation could be used in grounds for a lawsuit.
Good grief! I hope they also lamented false rape accusations and their power to ruin a young man’s life, too.
I don’t think that the search Chair’s comments could be legally actionable. People say all kinds of crazy $hit after a tenure denial. What matters is the paper trail they’ve assembled in the process. If language like that is included, then yeah, the junior proffie has a case to make. (But even most search Chairs as dumb as this one sounds have the sense not to write things as explicitly disparaging as that in the annual review and tenure files.)
I was horrified by that tale, and glad to see that the culprit institution could not possibly be mine (we’re a good 200 miles from the nearest Whole Foods). But, it crossed my mind that my own “RLAC” might potentially behave in this way, depending on the department and the personalities involved. It seems to me that class plays an important role here, as some of the more astute commenters over at IHE noted. The author chooses to emphasize the lunch at Whole Foods and the nearby high-end shopping, and I thought I detected a note of class superiority in the way that Dr. Chair dismissed the work of the black feminist scholar. [note: as far as I know, “womanist” was coined by Alice Walker and has not gone into wide use, but this isn’t my field.]
It also reminded me of a failed tenure case in philosophy at a Midwest institution a few years ago, where the female junior professor was attacked for being a feminist philosopher when that was exactly what she had been hired to do! Sometimes departments hire someone to fill a niche that they are being pressured to fill, but they are half-hearted about it because they don’t really value the niche. Then when the hire does indeed shake up traditional ways, established faculty lash back. I hope with TR that college officers at that RLAC are having a collective heart attack over this.
“It also reminded me of a failed tenure case in philosophy at a Midwest institution a few years ago, where the female junior professor was attacked for being a feminist philosopher when that was exactly what she had been hired to do! Sometimes departments hire someone to fill a niche that they are being pressured to fill, but they are half-hearted about it because they don’t really value the niche. Then when the hire does indeed shake up traditional ways, established faculty lash back.”
That’s exactly what happened to me, once upon a time. When I resigned, I asked them in a faculty meeting: “You knew exactly what I did. Why did you hire me in the first place?” It was a mystery to me!
In my chaotic environment, tenure means money+publication. Grants have to exceed the sum of $200,000 for last 3-4 years. Publication implies high ranking journals and other “distinguished” refereed venues. Quality of publication is typically ignored.
As a result, tenure decisions are close to calculable. A political element still exists since quality isn’t considered. For example, I’ll always vote against if the publications are useless (quite common for publications), while others may vote for.
I am open about my vote. Others? The dean is weak and pushable which means, he may grant tenure to faculty who shouldn’t be.
Your mileage may vary.
The idea of invoking “most left-leaning” as a magic bullet against the existence of warped ideas or bad practices is a pretty lame move. (New)Left-sexism from the ’60s and ’70s has been a whole categorical topic unto itself in previous discussions here, and anyone who lived through that era knows about it. And, “…[sigh], not everything is about [anything]…” is a pretty rhetorically weak answer to a seemingly honest question. It implies more than it says, which is not really anything, and invites or all but prescribes unthinking concurrence, especially from a candidate.
Like Northern Barbarian, I wondered whether the woman denied tenure had, in fact, been hired to teach race and gender. Because if her research was on race and gender, it would be exactly that double bind: we know we need to teach it,but we wish you would talk about something else so we don’t have to think about it.
A tenure denial is, almost everywhere, a failure of the department as much as the person involved – our position is that we are very careful in hiring, because we wasn’t to hire people who can succeed, and then help them do so. You can’t make someone succeed, but you can try to create the right conditions.
On the feeling bad end, the people who denied me tenure could never look at me; 25 years later, when one of my current colleagues met one of the people most responsible for the denial, I just remembered myself to him. It was a little mischievous, because I’m now at a much “better” place. But he told my colleague that I probably didn’t have good feeling for him. And I thought: it’s been 25 years! He was weak, not evil; but really, I don’t have feelings much either way. But he clearly still felt guilty.