Tag Archives: tenure

Guest Post: What’s Going On With Theater At Wesleyan?


Some of you have probably seen on Facebook that there is something going wrong with the Theater Department, and might have further questions.  Maia Nelles-Sager ’17 wrote a piece explaining the state of the Wesleyan Theater Department and submitted it to Wesleying. We are deciding to post it because we think it represents an all-too-often occurrence where departments are neglected and visiting professors are overworked.

As with many things at Wesleyan, there are inner workings of the administration  to which students don’t have access. In the case of the post below, these things are having a direct impact on the formal education that we have come here to receive. As a prospective theater major, this post is something near and dear to me. I’ve seen a big cry for transparency in our community, and I hope you all will take time to see why many students are looking for it in the case of the Theater Department. Read past the jump for Maia’s post.

A Petition Is Circulating to Keep Physics Professor Christina Othon on Campus

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It’s no secret that Wesleyan has a problem holding onto great professors (see: our 2014 article on Professor Sarah Mahurin2012 article about tenure, and 2011 article on our hiring stats and issues). The lack of transparency surrounding why we can’t seem to keep anyone appears to be another issue entirely. Chances are if you’ve been here for a while, you’ve seen at least one phenomenal professor be denied tenure and/or not asked back, only to have the department say that the prof just “wasn’t a good fit.” What the F does that even mean?

Right now, students, led by Nisha Grewal ’17, are fighting to keep Assistant Professor of Physics Christina Othon, who’s been at Wesleyan since 2010, on campus. You can sign the petition HERE and check out the Facebook page supporting Professor Othon staying on campus HERE.

Here’s Grewal’s petition, which garnered over 100 signatures by early afternoon on Thursday:

The Tenured Report

Eight tenured, six promoted, effective July 1.

According to the Wesleyan Connection, eight Wesleyan faculty members have received tenure this month: Gloster Aaron, biology; Nadja Aksamija, art; Sally Bachner, English; Hilary Barth, psychology; Daniella Gandolfo, anthropology; Phillip Resor, earth and environmental sciences; Elise Springer, philosophy; and Deb Unferth, English. Go nuts, faculty friends. You’re free! An additional eight professors have been promoted.

Which brings us to an interesting query floating around popular media in recent months (and, well, decades): should tenure be abolished?

Not that, you know, those professors don’t deserve it. I can’t really speak for seven of them. The one I’ve studied with is indeed fab. But is tenure beneficial to students—or anyone—in the long run? Noting that as few as 31% of full-time college professors had tenure in 2007, a 2010 Slate article answers “No,” laying out the case with one snappy analogy:

Imagine you ran a restaurant. A very prestigious, exclusive restaurant. To attract top talent, you guarantee all cooks and waiters job security for life. Not only that, because you value honesty and candor, you allow them to say anything they want about you and your cuisine, publicly and without fear of retribution. The only catch is that all cooks or waiters would have to start out as dishwashers or busboys, for at least 10 years, when none of these protections would apply.

Tenure Awarded to Angle, Gallarotti and Gottschalk

Congratulations to the faculty members who were promoted to full professor:

Stephen Angle, philosophy

His research focuses on neo-Confucian philosophy, and his books include Sagehood: The Contemporary Significance of Neo-Confucian Philosophy (forthcoming from Oxford University Press) and Human Rights and Chinese Thought: A Cross-Cultural Inquiry (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Giulio Gallarotti, government

His research and teaching focus on international relations, political economy, international organization, and diplomacy.

Peter Gottschalk, religion

His books include: Classifying Religion: British Scientism and the Discovery of Hindu and Muslim Indias (forthcoming from Oxford University Press), Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, co-authored with Gabriel Greenberg (Rowen & Littlefield, 2007), and Beyond Hindu and Muslim: Multiple Identity in Narratives from Village India (New York and Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000 and 2001).

Elizabeth Willis, associate professor of English, was appointed an endowed professorship, the Shapiro-Silverberg Associate Professor of Creative Writing.

[The Wesleyan Connection]

“Diversity University”, in scare quotes?

The students and alumni behind last week’s open letter about diversifying Wesleyan’s faculty have a follow-up message addressing many of the responses to it and clarifying their intent, with a lot more names signed at the bottom.

Clearly many of you have strong feelings about this issue. Comment away, but try maybe raising the general level of discourse* in your responses?

Read the full letter after the jump.

What is Diversity University’s Commitment to Actual Diversity?

“In occupying Fisk Hall we seek to dramatically expose the university’s infidelity to its professed goals and to question the sincerity of its commitment to meaningful change. We blaspheme and decry that education which is constant with one cultural frame of reference to the exclusion of all other.”

–Statement presented to the administration by students in Fisk Hall, February 21, 1969

As is clear from the statement presented to the administration during the Fisk Hall Takeover in 1969, the discussion we are engaging in today is a similar discussion that students, staff, and faculty were having in 1969.

Wesleyan has two ongoing problems: 1) the university lacks faculty of color in many academic departments and programs; and 2) the university ostensibly supports a curriculum that more often than not excludes racially diverse perspectives.

Granted, the argument can be made that there are many types of diversity; however, our fight today is for racial diversity in places frequently omitted from the discussion: representation among faculty and within the curriculum. Who would have thought that, in 2009, America would have a Black president before many academic departments and programs at Wesleyan recruited and tenured faculty of color? Is it not a matter of concern that students of color are disproportionately taught by professors that do not look like them and that usually do not have an in-depth understanding of their cultural particularities?

Maybe the “change” we seek in the world needs to come first from within the university. This “change” must radically alter the university’s priorities. What does it mean to have a liberal arts education without multiple points of view? Is it only “liberal arts” because of the presence of both arts and sciences? By the year 2050, America will be a minority-majority country with over 50% of the population being people of non-white backgrounds. Broadly speaking, Wesleyan’s curriculum does not prepare us as well as it should for the diverse world we will encounter tomorrow; we need a curriculum that teaches us to engage and understand real difference.

A post from Michael Roth’s blog entitled How to Choose a (our) University states “I hope our visitors can sense our commitment to creating diversity in which difference is embraced and not just tolerated.” While hopeful, this “difference” is not always embraced, as apparent from the anonymous and bigoted Wesleying and ACB posts in response to our last Wespeak.

We repeat, “Wesleyan needs to make a sincere commitment to recruiting, mentoring, and retaining faculty of color.

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.

Newly Tenured Professors

Congratulations to the following three faculty members who were all awarded tenure this week by the Board of Trustees:

Norman Danner
associate professor of computer science
Danner’s teaching interests focus on open-source software development. His research interests are primarily focused on the development of practical programming languages with guaranteed resource usage and low-latency networks for anonymous web-browsing.

Fernando Degiovanni
associate professor of romance languages and literatures
[Degiovanni] specializes in issues of nationalism, cultural politics and canon formation in Argentina, focusing on the first popular series of national “classic” authors in early 20th century. His research explores the ways in which opposing intellectual projects attempted to build and impose contrasting versions of the Argentine cultural tradition in times of massive immigration and democratic institutionalization.

Greg Voth
associate professor of physics
Voth’s research involves experimental studies of the dynamics of soft-condensed matter and fluid systems. Current experiments include those that use high-speed video imaging to measure particle trajectories in granular and turbulent flows.

Former Wes Prof Discusses Being Fired By Students

Former AFAM Professor Annemarie Bean‘s time teaching at Wes last year is chronicled in a revealing NY Times Magazine report on how teaching evaluations can affect professors’ careers. Apparently she was fired in part because she didn’t receive the necessary quota of very positive evaluations in her year here, despite generally warm responses by students.

It’s a pretty fascinating look at Wesleyan’s hiring practices, and the power that students can have over professors teaching liberal-artsy courses they don’t like:

Annemarie Bean, who goes by Anna…, is the kind of professor who draws students to small New England liberal-arts colleges like Wesleyan. She is funny, enthusiastic, devoted to her students and passionate about what she teaches. Her subject areas are offbeat and slightly avant-garde, the kind of stuff that students, and their ostensibly liberal faculties, are said to find thrilling: African-American theater, the history of minstrelsy, “whiteness studies”… Beyond her subject matter and top-notch education… she just seems like a good fit for Wesleyan.

She is an alumna of the college, class of ’88; she is informal in her manner, tall and limber like a dancer, bright-eyed, the opposite of stuffy, eminently approachable; and she suggested lunch at It’s Only Natural, the pride of Middletown, Conn., a regional mecca for vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic dining. (Nothing says “Wesleyan” like lunch at It’s Only Natural, where you eat bulgur wheat beneath paintings by local artists.) Bean knows that she belongs at Wesleyan, which is why she’s especially sad that her students fired her.

They did not actually give her the pink slip, of course, and for that matter Bean did not receive a pink slip. A visiting professor on a one-year contract with the African-American studies department, Bean was fired by not being rehired… According to [Gayle] Pemberton, not enough students had marked “strenuous” to describe their own effort in Bean’s class. Put another way, Bean was being punished for her students’ admitted laziness.

There’s also some hating on jocks in academia:

If you came across the whole pile of evaluations on the sidewalk, you’d form a picture of a somewhat disorganized, technologically inept, very learned, passionate teacher — an acquired taste. It would be clear that her particular cocktail of traits was very appealing to some students, the ones who loved her passion or her subject matter so much that they didn’t think her tendency to be late or frazzled was worth mentioning. You’d see that other students, meanwhile, were unmoved by her considerable energy and deep knowledge — instead, they felt abused by her politics, her scattered style or her deviations from the syllabus.

Bean told me that she had a good sense of who had written the most negative evaluations. “I found there was a small group of mostly white men,” she said, “who sat there the whole time wearing their white hats on backward, sitting there angrily, who didn’t like the class.” The stereotype Bean was invoking is well known to recent college alumni, especially of wealthy Northeastern schools. There is a look popular among athletes and their hangers-on, who wear white baseball caps with the name of a college embroidered above the brim. When you see those boys in class, you do figure — at least I always do — that if they’re not jocks, they’re part of a jockish, frat-boy scene. On a campus like Wesleyan, these are the boys who have not bought into its famously liberal culture. And if you’re Anna Bean, and you’re teaching classes called Whiteness or Blackface Minstrelsy, you worry, despite your best efforts, that they might be suspicious of what you have to say.

Huh. Does anyone have their own highly subjective view of Anna Bean to add here? Backwards-hatted haters skeptical of the value of Whiteness studies, perhaps?

NY Times: Judgment Day

More Newly Tenured Professors

The Board of Trustees is granting tenure to three more faculty members this summer:

Katja Kolcio — Associate Professor of Dance
Katja’s research interests are focused on social somatic theory, the role of somatic creative experience in practices of knowledge production, namely pedagogy, research methodology, and technology.

Edward Moran — Associate Professor of Astronomy

Edward’s area of specialization includes cosmic x-ray background radiation, obscured active galactic nuclei, black holes in the nuclei of dwarf galaxies, and the nature of power source in LINER galaxies.

Cláudia Tatinge Nascimento — Associate Professor of Theater
Cláudia’s teaching and research interests lie in the intercultural and avant-garde performance, ritual and performance, and in Brazilian theatre.

Congrats to these professors, more info about them can be found here.

Prof. Potter featured in Inside Higher Ed blog

The sharp eyes of Ben Cohen ’10 noticed that Professor and Chair of the American Studies Department, Claire Potter, was featured today in an article on the Inside Higher Ed blog. In “Tenure as a Tarnished Brass Ring,” Scott Jaschik refers to Potter’s recent blog posting on the troubles of the tenure system:

Claire B. Potter has a level of academic success many young Ph.D.’s these days can only dream about. A professor of history and chair of American studies at Wesleyan University, she has tenure at an elite college. Tenure provides her not only with job security, but with part of her identity as the blogger Tenured Radical, where she shares views on a range of topics, writing with the freedom that tenure is supposed to protect.

So why would Potter recently have approached her provost to inquire about the possibility of trading in tenure for a renewable contract?

Why, indeed? Read the article and find out some things about tenure that you’ve probably never thought about.