[Marxism] She’s a ‘Star’ Latina Professor. But Not Good Enough for Tenure at Harvard.
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Wed Dec 4 06:43:31 MST 2019
Chronicle of Higher Education, DECEMBER 03, 2019 PREMIUM
She’s a ‘Star’ Latina Professor. But Not Good Enough for Tenure at Harvard.
By Jack Stripling
Harvard University’s decision to deny tenure to a highly regarded
Latina/o-studies professor sparked outrage this week among scholars and
students, and has thrust the university into a broader national
discussion about whether faculty of color are held to unfair standards
in promotion decisions. It has also invited skepticism about whether the
old guard of the Ivy League undervalues emerging scholarship on matters
of race and ethnicity.
Lorgia García Peña, an associate professor of romance languages and
literatures, was officially informed by phone on Friday that she would
not be granted tenure at Harvard, according to one of her mentors, who
spoke to The Chronicle. News of the decision astonished scholars in her
discipline, who took to Twitter with slack-jawed reactions that a woman
whom they describe as a prominent contributor to her field apparently
wasn’t good enough for Harvard.
Rosemary G. Feal
Tenure denials like the injustice we’ve just seen at Harvard often have
the effect of communicating that the FIELD is perceived as illegitimate.
Lorgia García-Peña is at the top of a field she has helped invent.
Harvard invested in that by hiring her.
11:48 PM - Dec 2, 2019
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“She is perhaps the leading scholar in Dominican studies of this
generation. Period,” said Carlos U. Decena, chairman of Latino and
Caribbean studies at Rutgers University. “Her work is ambitious, it’s
intellectually audacious, politically on point. This is what Harvard
wants. This is what would be desirable to any elite institution of that
Part of the reaction from scholars, Decena continued, “is sheer outrage,
and part of it is bafflement.”
García Peña, who did not respond to an interview request, is the author
of The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nations and Archives of
Contradictions (Duke University Press, 2016). Her biography also lists a
forthcoming book, which Decena described as “field changing.” (Laura
Sell, a spokeswoman for Duke press, said in an email on Tuesday that the
book is “under contract based on peer review.”)
The tenure decision struck a particular nerve at Harvard, where students
have for decades advocated for the formation of an ethnic-studies
department. But it has broader resonance across higher education, where
the diversity commitments of some of the nation’s wealthiest
institutions have of late been called into question. This past spring,
13 professors at Yale University threatened to quit en masse if the
university did not do more to support its ethnicity, race, and migration
program. The professors eventually agreed to stay, but only after Yale
allocated five faculty positions to the program.
In response to the tenure denial at Harvard, about 50 students staged a
sit-in on Monday evening in University Hall, The Harvard Crimson, the
student newspaper, reported. By Tuesday evening, more than 2,700
concerned students and scholars had signed an open letter to Lawrence S.
Bacow, Harvard’s president, and Alan M. Garber, the provost.
The letter demands that Harvard release documents related to García
Peña’s case and calls for an investigation to identify evidence of
“procedural errors, prejudice, and discrimination.” It also demands that
Harvard create an ethnic-studies department.
Harvard has so far stopped short of creating such a department. In June,
however, the university publicly committed to hiring a cluster of
faculty in the area of ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration. Claudine
Gay, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said at the time that the
disciplines provide a “valuable lens for understanding contemporary
(Gay, who was not made available for an interview on Tuesday, is a
professor of government and of African and African American studies).
The Chronicle e-mailed more than a half-dozen professors in García
Peña’s department, including the chairman, and none responded.
García Peña’s tenure denial sets up a potentially awkward scenario in
the cluster hiring effort because she is among the committee members
vetting candidates for these positions, several people close to her said.
“To think she is leading this effort to recruit the people who will
replace her,” said Decena, the Rutgers professor. “Wow. That’s perverse.”
The letter from students and scholars asked how these searches could be
successful, “when an eminently qualified committee member has been
García Peña came to Harvard, in 2010, as an assistant professor,
according to her curriculum vitae. She was promoted, in 2017, to
associate professor, which is an untenured rank in Harvard’s Arts and
Sciences school. (Harvard has an unusually long tenure approval process).
Candidates for tenure at Harvard are voted on at the departmental level,
and reviewed by a school-level committee and the dean, before the
president makes a final decision. The president may decide to grant
tenureor request an additional ad hoc review, in which “witnesses” from
the department and external reviewers are called upon for input.
Judith D. Singer, senior vice provost for faculty diversity and
development, once described the ad hoc process as “greatly shrouded in
mystery.” It is designed, Singer told The Crimson, to “look at the
totality of the evidence and make a dispassionate decision about whether
the recommendations that have come up are really in the best interest of
Harvard officials would not comment on García Peña’s case, declining to
answer questions about where in the process she was denied tenure. But
the case has invited criticism of Harvard’s ad-hoc-committee process,
which some professors see as particularly opaque and ripe for bad
“In this process, there is a lot of possibility for intervention from
people who are not experts in someone’s field, and that committee is
secret,” said Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel, the mentor who confirmed to
The Chronicle that García Peña’s tenure had been denied.
Martinez-San Miguel, chairwoman of Latin American studies at the
University of Miami, said the case has resonated with ethnic-studies
professors because it highlights “a structural problem” for people who
do not neatly fit into a single discipline.
“Too many of the scholars in these emerging fields end up with joint
appointments,” said Martinez-San Miguel, who was a member of García
Peña’s dissertation committee. “They end up having to work more. In
order for me to do what I wanted to do, I had to be in two departments.
And that was more work, more committees, more meetings.”
Yarimar Bonilla, a political anthropologist at City University of New
York's Hunter College, reacted viscerally when she heard about García
Peña’s case. In a Twitter thread, she described a career of seeing women
of color disproportionately passed over or forced to appeal tenure
decisions, a practice she described as “violence rooted in plantation
Yarimar Bonilla 👩🏾💻
Let’s be clear: the denial of tenure to minoritized faculty is a form of
violence. Most are reversed and/or the candidate moves to a diff
institution/life but the scars remain—among peers+ students also. It’s
spectacular violence rooted in plantation logic
On Professor Lorgia García-Peña’s Tenure Denial and the Future of Ethnic
Studies at Harvard
Dear President Larry Bacow and Provost Alan Garber, We are a coalition
of graduate students and concerned scholars writing in response to the
news that Harvard University has denied tenure to...
8:29 PM - Dec 2, 2019
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García Peña “is a star and will continue to do incredible work,” Bonilla
said in an interview. “This says more about Harvard than it does about
her. How can anyone believe they are committed to ethnic studies, when
they can’t tenure a star in the field?”
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