A Request to Diversify Wesleyan’s Faculty

melanye-priceA group of students have drafted an open letter about the under-representation of faculty of color at Wesleyan, largely in response to the recent denial of tenure to Government Professor Melanye Price, but also questioning the University’s apparent lack of commitment to hiring and retaining Black and Latino/a faculty members.

It should be appearing as a Wespeak in the Argus today, but here’s the full letter – read the whole thing after the jump. What do you think?

Diversify the Faculty of “Diversity University!”

At a recent meeting for student of color leaders, President Roth asked, “How can Wesleyan help students of color? What are the important issues?” After much discussion and careful reflection, we have come to the conclusion that Wesleyan needs to make a sincere commitment to recruiting, mentoring, and retaining faculty of color, more specifically Black and Latino/a faculty members.

The university website states that 17% of Wesleyan’s faculty members are “persons of color,” roughly 62 full and part time faculty members of a total 356. Question, where are they? Better yet, can you name them? This number is misleading, as this statistic most likely includes recently retired faculty members and professors of international origin who may not identify themselves as people of color.

Furthermore, faculty of color tend to be concentrated in certain academic departments or programs such as Anthropology and African-American Studies while some have no professors of color at all. For instance, there are no Black and Latino/a faculty members in the natural sciences, Art History, Art Studio, CSS, or Film, just to name a few. Why is that?

Aside from the Office of Affirmative Action and the Office of Diversity and Strategic Partnerships, we have been hard-pressed to find institutional efforts to redress the lack of racial diversity in many academic departments and programs at Wesleyan.

Although there have been individuals who have tried to address these critical issues, they have frequently found themselves exhausted because of the dearth of institutional support. An important situation—right now—is the case of Assistant Professor Melanye Price of the Government Department.

This semester, many students were surprised to hear that Professor Melanye Price was not granted tenure. Though shocking, this decision is indicative of the Government Department’s dedication (or lack thereof) to retaining faculty of color.

Professor Price, currently the only Black professor and one of two people of color in the Government Department, was hired to teach black politics after the Government Department denied tenure to her predecessor, Jerry G. Watts, a Black man who also taught black politics.

After he left Wesleyan, Professor Watts went on to teach at Trinity College, where he received tenure a year later. This calls into question the Government Department’s commitment to people of color, both students and faculty, and its commitment to creating a diverse curriculum that reflects the history of a diverse student body.

While it is disheartening that Professor Price’s classes are the only classes in the Government Department that offer students the opportunity to discuss issues pertaining to people of color critically, it is even more disappointing that this was not taken seriously by the department.

melanye-price2

Despite the fact that Professor Price has been denied tenure, her name is still prominently featured on the university website, as she has been a frequent guest on National Public Radio and has written an op-ed piece published in the Hartford Courant.

In addition, Professor Price has an unmatched level of commitment to students. By our account, she has advised several student groups and program houses and served on numerous campus advisory committees, including the Dean of Diversity and Academic Advancement Advisory Committee. She also has been the featured speaker at many campus events, at least 10 within the last few years.

Please keep in mind that Professor Price has performed all of these services to the university in addition to her fulfillment of the standard teaching load and production of rigorous scholarship, most notably her new book Dreaming Blackness: Black Nationalism and African American Public Opinion published by NYU Press. These were not duties required of her, especially since they are not considered as part of the tenure evaluation process.

In our estimation, Professor Price has far exceeded the normal expectations of the Government Department for its faculty members. It is simply unjust that the department has not been critiqued for its severe lapse in judgment. Wesleyan has truly lost an asset that cannot be replaced.

Although this is only one example, it is the one that is most visible at the moment. The Government Department, however, is not alone in its poor treatment of faculty of color. As it turns out, the history of this treatment often goes unknown or unacknowledged.

edgar-beckham

Edgar Beckham is remembered for being the first African American Dean of the College and one of the first administrators to lead efforts based on the notion that diversity is integral to excellence in higher education. He led efforts to address the same issues that we are still trying to address at Wesleyan today, almost 40 years later.

According to the 1999/2000 Wesleyan Year in Review, “Professor of History Jeff Kerr-Ritchie‘s tenure appeal was denied. Though the University’s by-laws require that the Faculty Committee on Minority Recruitment and Retention (FCMRR) have a say in all tenure decisions regarding faculty of color, the committee was never convened in his tenure case.”

Another situation that occurred just last year is that of Professor Allan Isaac. Professor Isaac was an Asian American professor and also the only professor teaching Asian American Studies. Despite being supported by the English Department, he was denied tenure by the board of trustees.

This decision was later reversed upon appeal. As we can see, there is an ugly problem at this university and it is evident in contemporary departmental hiring, support, and tenure practices.

If there exists a trend in which a certain department has failed to recruit, mentor, or tenure faculty of color, a closer look must be taken at the process itself.

Is it really that professors of color are simply less qualified than their white counterparts? Is the conspicuous absence of professors of color in the natural sciences at Wesleyan only because there is a nationwide paucity of scientists of Black and Latino/a descent? Or do Wesleyan’s tenure and recruitment processes fail to accurately and fairly evaluate the skills, research, and community involvement of faculty of color?

In writing this letter, we hope to inspire all students to ask hard questions, to demand transparency, and to expect real answers from the administration and academic departments and programs.

Is it too much for students to ask for true diversity in the classroom and the curriculum? Better yet, what should students do about the fact that many academic departments and programs have no faculty of color at all? We believe that the focus of the academy should not solely be on recruiting more professors of color; rather, it should also concentrate on keeping the right ones when they come along.

According to this litmus test, Wesleyan has failed miserably. Many arguments can be made about the scarceness of people of color in higher education in the United States, but the fact remains that Wesleyan’s peer institutions have managed to recruit, support, and tenure faculty of color in departments and programs that Wesleyan has not.

We wish to highlight the 25 ongoing faculty searches across the university and note that it is more costly to conduct these searches than it is to mentor and retain faculty members already here. Looking towards the future, how are we to be sure that junior faculty of color will receive the appropriate mentoring to successfully complete the tenure process?

Ask yourselves this question, who failed Professor Price? At what point did the Government Department know it would not grant her tenure? We must hold Wesleyan accountable. Until the university realizes that it cannot offer a true liberal arts education without incorporating the expertise of professors of color, Wesleyan will continue to fall short of its own stated goals.

In Solidarity,

Phillip I. Marcus Jr. ’09, Jason C. Harris ’09, Melanie Nelson ’09, Amber Jones ’09, Emily Avener ’09, Elana Baurer ’09, Aviva Tevah ’09, Maddie Sage-El; ’09, Ruby-Beth Buitekant ’09, Alaina Elrington ’09, Melanie Jung ’08, Briana Deutsch ’09, Justin Douglas ’08, Molly Birnbaum ’09, AhDream Smith ’12, Schuyler Swenson ’09, Julius Hampton ’09, Corrina Wainwright ’11, Dan Manuyag ’10, Sumana Murthy ’09, Benjamin Hart ’11, Meredith Lowe ’09, Andrea DePetris ’10, Melgily Valdez ’09, Hope Steinman-Iacullo ’09, Kim Denson ‘10, Rahel Haile ‘10, Latoya Coleman ‘09, Tameir Holder ‘08, Jessica Bowen ‘11, Luz Burgos ’09, Jillian White ’08, Katherine Rodriguez ’10, Chelsea Rodriguez ’10, Cheryl Walker ’12, Julissa Pena ’12, Aaliya Zaveri ’09, Randyl Wilkerson ’12, Nick Petrie ’12, Kenton Atta-Krah ’09, Sonia Balram ’07, Lev Plaves ’10, Marsha Jean-Charles ’11, Danielle Campbell ’09, Portia Hemphill ’07, Nicole Reid ’07, Letica Fox-Thomas ’05, Rosa Seidelman ’10, Maya Odim ’10, Latasha Alcindor ’10, Devaka Gunawardena ’09, CaVar Reid ’11, Arielle Knight ’11, David Baurch ’12, Jonna Humphries ’10, Fhatima Paulino ’10, Nyasha Foy ’06, Michele Nichols ’09, Indee Mitchell ’10, Adeneiki Williams ’10, Dylan Marron ‘10

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236 thoughts on “A Request to Diversify Wesleyan’s Faculty

  1. Anonymous

    Um, Wesleyan DOES actively recruit faculty members from diverse backgrounds. It’s just that we don’t automatically give tenure to them because they’re not white; merit still is a salient factor, sorry to say. If that’s not good enough for you, then find a new school.

  2. Anonymous

    Um, Wesleyan DOES actively recruit faculty members from diverse backgrounds. It’s just that we don’t automatically give tenure to them because they’re not white; merit still is a salient factor, sorry to say. If that’s not good enough for you, then find a new school.

  3. Anonymous

    I have to question the conclusion, made by the letter-writers, that three cases of tenure denial (one of which was overturned) constitute a “history” or “trend.” Was such denial statistically unlikely? How many other professors were denied tenure in the same time period? It seems false – even misleading – to call three cases over ten years a trend, especially when there were surely other matters involved in the tenure decisions discussed.

    I am also wondering what the opinion is about professors of color vs. those who are not, but who teach subjects related to people of color. There is mention in the letter of the fact that Prof. Price is the only government professor who focuses on people of color. That means there will be a valuable subject missing from the major, which is unfortunate, but I do not see her race as necessarily salient to the matter of her academics. What if she were a white professor who taught the same subject? The denial of her tenure case would be a sad loss, but would it be a political event? As long as the subject is taught, and taught well, what does it matter if the professor is of color?

  4. Anonymous

    Hmmmm, I’m pretty sure from what I read that the cause was “recruiting, mentoring, and tenuring” faculty of color. No? I guess that is “bullshit.”

  5. Anonymous

    I have to question the conclusion, made by the letter-writers, that three cases of tenure denial (one of which was overturned) constitute a “history” or “trend.” Was such denial statistically unlikely? How many other professors were denied tenure in the same time period? It seems false – even misleading – to call three cases over ten years a trend, especially when there were surely other matters involved in the tenure decisions discussed.

    I am also wondering what the opinion is about professors of color vs. those who are not, but who teach subjects related to people of color. There is mention in the letter of the fact that Prof. Price is the only government professor who focuses on people of color. That means there will be a valuable subject missing from the major, which is unfortunate, but I do not see her race as necessarily salient to the matter of her academics. What if she were a white professor who taught the same subject? The denial of her tenure case would be a sad loss, but would it be a political event? As long as the subject is taught, and taught well, what does it matter if the professor is of color?

  6. Anonymous

    Hmmmm, I’m pretty sure from what I read that the cause was “recruiting, mentoring, and tenuring” faculty of color. No? I guess that is “bullshit.”

  7. Anonymous

    PRICE HAS NOTHING PUBLISHED. END OF STORY. It has nothing to do with the Government Department. Anyone who argues otherwise is race baiting. Sorry to ruin your bullshit “cause.”

  8. Anonymous

    PRICE HAS NOTHING PUBLISHED. END OF STORY. It has nothing to do with the Government Department. Anyone who argues otherwise is race baiting. Sorry to ruin your bullshit “cause.”

  9. Anonymous

    Yeah. I sat in on one Price class and I could tell she wasn’t a very good professor. She’s perfectly nice and entertaining, but as far as professorial competence, she was definitely lacking. Race isn’t a issue. Wesleyan hires the best possible faculty and in this case, Price wasn’t up to par.

  10. Anonymous

    Yeah. I sat in on one Price class and I could tell she wasn’t a very good professor. She’s perfectly nice and entertaining, but as far as professorial competence, she was definitely lacking. Race isn’t a issue. Wesleyan hires the best possible faculty and in this case, Price wasn’t up to par.

  11. Anonymous

    #18: yes I can, because I was on the student committee to help hire a professor. idiot.

  12. Anonymous

    #18: yes I can, because I was on the student committee to help hire a professor. idiot.

  13. Anonymous

    #2 and #4, both of you would ironically benefit from taking Price’s Politics of Prejudice class.

  14. Anonymous

    #2 and #4, both of you would ironically benefit from taking Price’s Politics of Prejudice class.

  15. Anonymous

    Number 17, who’s “we”? And who gets to define “best”? Can you speak for the whole Government Department? Better yet, can you speak for Wesleyan’s hiring practices writ large? I implore you to consider that wider institutional trends are at work here that transcend your ostensibly good intentions to hire the best people. History tells me that “best” is often encoded for “white.”

  16. Anonymous

    Number 17, who’s “we”? And who gets to define “best”? Can you speak for the whole Government Department? Better yet, can you speak for Wesleyan’s hiring practices writ large? I implore you to consider that wider institutional trends are at work here that transcend your ostensibly good intentions to hire the best people. History tells me that “best” is often encoded for “white.”

  17. Anonymous

    #14, please bear in mind that although Wesleyan is experiencing some loss due to the recession, it is still managing to finance 25 ongoing faculty searches. Not to mention that the board of trustees just approved tenure request for a number of professors toward the beginning of this semester.

  18. Anonymous

    #14, please bear in mind that although Wesleyan is experiencing some loss due to the recession, it is still managing to finance 25 ongoing faculty searches. Not to mention that the board of trustees just approved tenure request for a number of professors toward the beginning of this semester.

  19. Anonymous

    Dear #11,
    While I appreciate and respect your point of view, I have several responses to your post. First, CSS is a program so of course it does not hire its own professors, neither does African American Studies or FGSS, yet they still manage to include non-white faculty members/perspectives into their respective programs. Second, “Why should we assume she was failed?” My response is that it seems to have been common knowledge (according to #3) that her “teaching and publishing didn’t match the standards Wesleyan has for its faculty,” yet no one mentioned it until seven years later. At issue is how departments mentor junior faculty, white and non-white, and Government seems to have an especially cutthroat culture going on (from an outside perspective respectfully). Whether your feelings on this Wespeak are positive or negative, you seem to choose certain statements to critique. Are you saying there are no problems at the university in terms of the lack of faculty of color? Maybe you should take a macro view of the issue at hand instead of seizing on minor details in an attempt to delegitimize a serious problem and show you are worth your expensive advanced degree. One question, in the course of that degree, did you happen to come across lessons in which you learned about your privilege? Whatever. I was just being as snippy as you. Did it take away from my point? You may not be impressed by that op-ed piece in the Courant but Wesleyan’s homepage sure is, so maybe you shouldn’t be so egocentric, it’s not always about what you think. Speaking of facts, it’s funny how that never comes easily from the institution. Wesleyan isn’t the most transparent place. Does that mean that a lack of facts mean injustice does not occur? It’s unfortunate that we are forced to make generalizations because Wesleyan has a hidden history. Point me in the direction to get those details you so desperately yearn for, I promise to write a brand new Wespeak and I’ll even let you grade it. What does it mean to merit tenure? Since we are putting everything out in the open, why did Russell Murphy, the WORST professor at Wesleyan according to everyone merit tenure? I guess he must have once said something profound. I think you are guilty of the same argument you are trying to make. What did you call it before? “Logical fallacy.” Maybe you should go research how many of your colleagues are people of color. Better yet, have a meaningful conversation with them about their experience as people of color in the academy. Maybe you might learn something fun, new, and exciting about systems and how they operate. By the way, your last sentence “learn how to argue like rational people” is a great way to dehumanize someone, call them irrational, but what does it make you for responding?

  20. Anonymous

    Dear #11,
    While I appreciate and respect your point of view, I have several responses to your post. First, CSS is a program so of course it does not hire its own professors, neither does African American Studies or FGSS, yet they still manage to include non-white faculty members/perspectives into their respective programs. Second, “Why should we assume she was failed?” My response is that it seems to have been common knowledge (according to #3) that her “teaching and publishing didn’t match the standards Wesleyan has for its faculty,” yet no one mentioned it until seven years later. At issue is how departments mentor junior faculty, white and non-white, and Government seems to have an especially cutthroat culture going on (from an outside perspective respectfully). Whether your feelings on this Wespeak are positive or negative, you seem to choose certain statements to critique. Are you saying there are no problems at the university in terms of the lack of faculty of color? Maybe you should take a macro view of the issue at hand instead of seizing on minor details in an attempt to delegitimize a serious problem and show you are worth your expensive advanced degree. One question, in the course of that degree, did you happen to come across lessons in which you learned about your privilege? Whatever. I was just being as snippy as you. Did it take away from my point? You may not be impressed by that op-ed piece in the Courant but Wesleyan’s homepage sure is, so maybe you shouldn’t be so egocentric, it’s not always about what you think. Speaking of facts, it’s funny how that never comes easily from the institution. Wesleyan isn’t the most transparent place. Does that mean that a lack of facts mean injustice does not occur? It’s unfortunate that we are forced to make generalizations because Wesleyan has a hidden history. Point me in the direction to get those details you so desperately yearn for, I promise to write a brand new Wespeak and I’ll even let you grade it. What does it mean to merit tenure? Since we are putting everything out in the open, why did Russell Murphy, the WORST professor at Wesleyan according to everyone merit tenure? I guess he must have once said something profound. I think you are guilty of the same argument you are trying to make. What did you call it before? “Logical fallacy.” Maybe you should go research how many of your colleagues are people of color. Better yet, have a meaningful conversation with them about their experience as people of color in the academy. Maybe you might learn something fun, new, and exciting about systems and how they operate. By the way, your last sentence “learn how to argue like rational people” is a great way to dehumanize someone, call them irrational, but what does it make you for responding?

  21. Anonymous

    We’re in an economic recession, Wes has lost a ton of money, very very few professors are going to get tenure.

  22. Anonymous

    We’re in an economic recession, Wes has lost a ton of money, very very few professors are going to get tenure.

  23. Drew

    Guys, tenure is an extremely competitive process. Wesleyan gets hundreds of applications for every open position. They have their pick of scholars, and they do and must attempt to pick the best. Race is definitely not the issue. It is about performance, and if Professor Price was not performing she should not be tenured. There are thousands of out-of-work Gov PHD’s who would love to have her job, and would do it better. Let’s have affirmative action for the BEST scholars, and if someone isn’t performing they should make room for someone who is worthy of what is basically a plum job.

  24. Drew

    Guys, tenure is an extremely competitive process. Wesleyan gets hundreds of applications for every open position. They have their pick of scholars, and they do and must attempt to pick the best. Race is definitely not the issue. It is about performance, and if Professor Price was not performing she should not be tenured. There are thousands of out-of-work Gov PHD’s who would love to have her job, and would do it better. Let’s have affirmative action for the BEST scholars, and if someone isn’t performing they should make room for someone who is worthy of what is basically a plum job.

  25. Anonymous

    CSS doesn’t hire its own professors. Maybe you should look into these things before posting.

    Also, “Ask yourselves this question, who failed Professor Price?” Why should we assume she was failed? What if her teaching and publishing don’t match the standards Wesleyan has for its faculty? It’s great that she worked with student groups and all, but that is in no way equivalent to doing important research, which is what we expect of our faculty. An op-ed in the Courant? Wow. I’d be more impressed if you mentioned a publication or two in a prominent academic journal.

    I really don’t see why, without knowing anything close to all the facts in this case, we are expected to generalize about Wesleyan’s hiring/retaining practices. Of course, it can’t possibly be that Price actually doesn’t merit tenure. Oh, no. It must be some systemic issue…etc. This is a logical fallacy called “generalizing from incomplete information.” Learn how to argue like rational people.

  26. Anonymous

    CSS doesn’t hire its own professors. Maybe you should look into these things before posting.

    Also, “Ask yourselves this question, who failed Professor Price?” Why should we assume she was failed? What if her teaching and publishing don’t match the standards Wesleyan has for its faculty? It’s great that she worked with student groups and all, but that is in no way equivalent to doing important research, which is what we expect of our faculty. An op-ed in the Courant? Wow. I’d be more impressed if you mentioned a publication or two in a prominent academic journal.

    I really don’t see why, without knowing anything close to all the facts in this case, we are expected to generalize about Wesleyan’s hiring/retaining practices. Of course, it can’t possibly be that Price actually doesn’t merit tenure. Oh, no. It must be some systemic issue…etc. This is a logical fallacy called “generalizing from incomplete information.” Learn how to argue like rational people.

  27. Anonymous

    while i certainly agree with the general point that this letter brings up, i completely disagree with the use of prof price as an example.

    price is by far the worst teacher I have had since middle school. not only does she not deserve tenure, she did not deserve to be hired.

    …and I know several of the people who signed the letter agree.

  28. Anonymous

    while i certainly agree with the general point that this letter brings up, i completely disagree with the use of prof price as an example.

    price is by far the worst teacher I have had since middle school. not only does she not deserve tenure, she did not deserve to be hired.

    …and I know several of the people who signed the letter agree.

  29. Anonymous

    #5- I could be mistaken but the article had a bit more to do with Price. Re-read it with a critical eye, maybe you might be in the Govt Dept. I completely agree #6

  30. Anonymous

    #5- I could be mistaken but the article had a bit more to do with Price. Re-read it with a critical eye, maybe you might be in the Govt Dept. I completely agree #6

  31. Anonymous

    to #2. read some sociology and maybe you’ll understand the problems behind a need-blind system.

    You can’t just say that people get hired for who they are without understanding the context and history within which they grew up. Try getting your phd when you are the product of a society which enslaved your ancestors as recently as 150 years ago.

    You can’t just expect things to change without turning the wheels yourself.

  32. Anonymous

    to #2. read some sociology and maybe you’ll understand the problems behind a need-blind system.

    You can’t just say that people get hired for who they are without understanding the context and history within which they grew up. Try getting your phd when you are the product of a society which enslaved your ancestors as recently as 150 years ago.

    You can’t just expect things to change without turning the wheels yourself.

  33. Anonymous

    How many black phd students can you identify? They have to do severe aff. action to get blacks into graduate school (for non law, non med). It’s a little crazy.

  34. Anonymous

    How many black phd students can you identify? They have to do severe aff. action to get blacks into graduate school (for non law, non med). It’s a little crazy.

  35. Anonymous

    Price has published almost nothing in six years since she got her PhD. Her first book is yet to come out. THAT’s why she’s not getting tenure. It has nothing to to with her race.

    I would appreciate it if these diversity-seekers would stop bad-mouthing the Government Department before they know the facts. Professors are supposed to do research and publish; not just teach and stand there and look diverse.

  36. Anonymous

    Price has published almost nothing in six years since she got her PhD. Her first book is yet to come out. THAT’s why she’s not getting tenure. It has nothing to to with her race.

    I would appreciate it if these diversity-seekers would stop bad-mouthing the Government Department before they know the facts. Professors are supposed to do research and publish; not just teach and stand there and look diverse.

  37. Anonymous

    This is disgusting. We hire who we hire, race has nothing to do with it. We shouldn’t hire people of color just because they aren’t white. plus, students have a say in who we hire.

  38. Anonymous

    This is disgusting. We hire who we hire, race has nothing to do with it. We shouldn’t hire people of color just because they aren’t white. plus, students have a say in who we hire.

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