Monday, May 9, 2016

Student Activists Tell Colleges: To Improve Racial Climate, Look Hard at Tenure

The Chronicle of Higher Education
May 9, 2016
By Sarah Brown

When Jennifer R. Warren was denied tenure last year by Rutgers University at New Brunswick, she believed she had ample grounds to protest the decision. Ms. Warren, an assistant professor of communications who is black, said her school had discouraged her from writing a book and had pushed her to change her teaching style, causing her student evaluations to drop. Her annual reviews, she said, had offered no indication that she wasn’t on the right track.

Student activists saw a force underlying those issues: institutional racism. "By denying her tenure, Rutgers University says that they do not care about black lives," read an online petition posted in February by the university’s Black Lives Matter chapter.

Ms. Warren told The Chronicle that proving actual racial discrimination in individual tenure cases is nearly impossible. But she agreed to join forces with the student activists and the Rutgers faculty union by framing the problem "more at the institutional level — a systemic racism."

Students made a strong case on the professor’s behalf, complementing the work of the union, which was helping her file a grievance. They publicized the petition on social media with the hashtag #RU4BlackTenure and held a rally on the campus last month, imploring the university to reconsider Ms. Warren’s bid. (Laurie K. Lewis, chair of the communications department, referred an interview request to a spokesman, who declined to comment on personnel matters.)

Several days after the students’ rally, Ms. Warren received good news: She had won her grievance hearing and would have another shot at tenure, in the spring of 2017.

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