A 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.
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.
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 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.
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