Tenure Controversy Trips Up DePaul: Claims of Bias, Violations of Academic Freedom and Racism Continue to Dog the University's Tenure Process

By Hawkins, B. Denise | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, February 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

Tenure Controversy Trips Up DePaul: Claims of Bias, Violations of Academic Freedom and Racism Continue to Dog the University's Tenure Process


Hawkins, B. Denise, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Faculty members at DePaul University are calling for an external investigation into the university's tenure process following a round of tenure votes in which all of the White applicants were approved but none of the minority candidates were.

The university, at the center of a national firestorm in 2007 over the tenure denial of a high-profile Israeli-Palestinian scholar, once again finds itself embroiled in controversy over its tenure process. The university is now facing claims of racism and racial bias after it denied tenure to six professors--two Blacks, two Asian-Americans and two Latinos--but accepted .all of the White tenure applicants.

Faculty and students have rallied in recent months on behalf of two of the minority tenure candidates, both of whom appealed their denial decisions: Dr. Namita Goswami, an Indian-born philosopher, and Dr. Quinetta Shelby, an award-winning African-American chemist. In both cases, a faculty appeals board recommended the decisions be reversed.

In addition, the faculty senate last month passed motions calling on Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of the Catholic university, to take a closer look at Goswami's and Shelby's cases and adhere to faculty handbook guidelines regarding tenure appeals. Specifically, the senate asked for a hearing into violations of academic freedom in Goswami's case and for an investigation into bias in Shelby's case. An earlier external review board determined that bias had played a role in the denial of Shelby's tenure application.

Holtschneider, who is the final arbiter on tenure decisions, says he stands behind the denials but will take the faculty's motions "under careful advisement."

While Holtschneider maintains that racial bias was not a factor in any of the cases, he says the number of minority faculty being denied tenure is unprecedented and a cause for concern. During the 2008-2009 academic year, seven professors denied tenure included five women and one South Asian man.

During the 2009-2010 school year, just half of the 10 minority faculty members who applied for tenure received it--one after appealing the initial denial. All of the White candidates received the promotion. Three additional cases involving minority faculty are currently pending before either Holtschneider or a faculty appeals board.

"The tenure process appears to be broken at DePaul," says DePaul law professor Terry Smith, one of only seven Black full professors at the university.

As a result of the tenure denials, Holtschneider in September launched a wide-ranging committee charged with "gathering best practices about the tenure process." The committee, says Holtschneider, "is being put in place because we want to find a way to help people who want to be tenured to better understand the process."

The gesture has been met with more criticism than applause. …

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Tenure Controversy Trips Up DePaul: Claims of Bias, Violations of Academic Freedom and Racism Continue to Dog the University's Tenure Process
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