Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure

Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure

Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure

Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure

Synopsis

The academy may claim to seek and value diversity in its professoriate, but reports from faculty of color around the country make clear that departments and administrators discriminate in ways that range from unintentional to malignant. Stories abound of scholars--despite impressive records of publication, excellent teaching evaluations, and exemplary service to their universities--struggling on the tenure track. These stories, however, are rarely shared for public consumption. Written/Unwritten reveals that faculty of color often face two sets of rules when applying for reappointment, tenure, and promotion: those made explicit in handbooks and faculty orientations or determined by union contracts and those that operate beneath the surface. It is this second, unwritten set of rules that disproportionally affects faculty who are hired to "diversify" academic departments and then expected to meet ever-shifting requirements set by tenured colleagues and administrators. Patricia A. Matthew and her contributors reveal how these implicit processes undermine the quality of research and teaching in American colleges and universities. They also show what is possible when universities persist in their efforts to create a diverse and more equitable professorate. These narratives hold the academy accountable while providing a pragmatic view about how it might improve itself and how that improvement can extend to academic culture at large.

Excerpt

The catalyst for this project—for my decision to add a focus on diversity in higher education to my work on nineteenth-century British fiction— was hearing about the four women of color at the University of Michigan denied tenure in the same year. I heard about the case while I was in the middle of my own tenure battle, planning for a meeting with my university’s provost to ask him to reconsider his decision to recommend against tenure. Until I reached the provost’s review, my tenure process had gone well, so I was surprised by his denial. He ignored the recommendations of my department committee, the department chair, the (interim) dean, and external assessments from three senior colleagues in my field that I was advised but not required to submit. He even ignored his four previous, full-throated recommendations for reappointment. His denial was based on the fact that my accepted essays and the special issue of a journal I had coedited were forthcoming but not yet in print. My appeal was based on the fact that neither he nor anyone else assessing my work had told me that “in print” was the standard. To be clear, it wasn’t necessarily the standard I objected to but the fact that I didn’t know it existed; if “in print” was enough to get me fired, I argued, I should have been told. Instead, I had been told that my institution was looking for a “scholarly disposition” and that I should show steady, sustained progress in my research agenda. When I asked the now-retired provost if my file showed a lack of scholarly disposition or steady progress in my research agenda, his “no” was unequivocal. He approved of my research, my work pace, and where my work was being published.

In the week between his initial denial and his final decision to uphold it, I, along with colleagues from my department and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, worked on an appeal. We spent the Thanksgiving holiday reading the faculty manual, looking at other tenure cases, and reading the provost’s guidelines posted in different areas of the university’s website. Senior colleagues from different departments wrote to the provost to explain that they had been tenured, promoted . . .

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