A decision by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts to deny tenure to a minority faculty member has led some University faculty and students to allege that the University’s tenure review process is unfair toward certain groups of instructors.
Women’s Studies and American Culture faculty instructor Andrea Smith’s denial of tenure has prompted some to wage an online campaign saying the University’s tenure evaluation process discriminates against women of color and interdisciplinary professors.
Smith, who is a Native American studies expert, is of Cherokee heritage.
Before the denial, though, a review panel split its decision on whether to grant tenure to Smith, who officially works for two academic departments. As a result, the LSA executive committee examined the case for a second round of evaluations. The committee denied Smith’s tenure bid on Feb. 22.
Shortly after the announcement, students and professors began an e-mail petition called “University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith’s Tenure Case” and asked supporters to write a letter to Provost Teresa Sullivan, who will next review Smith’s case for tenure.
The petition claims that a disproportionate number of women instructors of color at the University have been denied tenure.
University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said she couldn’t comment on Smith’s case, because the University doesn’t discuss ongoing tenure reviews.
Once they are evaluated at the departmental and collegiate level, tenure applications are sent to the Office of the Provost and then the University’s Board of Regents. The decision is not final until approved by the regents, but decisions are rarely overturned once they reach the provost’s office.
Faculty can appeal the board’s decision through the University’s grievance procedures.
In a letter sent to LSA Dean Terrence McDonald before the college’s decision, more than 30 faculty members from the Women’s Studies department said they “note(d) a concerning pattern emerging in general in a number of negative decisions in tenure cases of women of color faculty across LS&A.”
The letter cited Smith’s feminist activism and her impressive academic record – including a nomination for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize – as accomplishments that merit her receiving tenure.
Smith declined comment, saying she was disappointed with the decision, but that she didn’t want to jeopardize her case for tenure.
Candidates in the six-year tenure process are evaluated by a tenure-review panel from their department. In Smith’s case, because she is jointly appointed, the panel consisted of two units – one from the Women’s Studies department and one from the American Culture department.
The American Culture unit recommended her for tenure, but the Women’s Studies unit did not.
Women’s Studies Prof. Maria Sanchez, who was also recently denied tenure, said she doubts that Smith’s decision will be overturned.
“As I understand it, the provost just rubber stamps the College’s decisions, so both Andrea Smith and I understand that our careers here are done,” Sanchez said in an e-mail interview.
Tensions over the tenure process have run so high in the Women’s Studies department recently that the department has enlisted the help of two third-party organizational consultants to alleviate the hostility, one of whom has been working with the department’s chair since January.
Smith’s supporters also claim that instructors who work between two different departments are less respected under tenure procedures.
American Culture graduate student Jessi Gan said relatively new scholarly disciplines like women’s studies and American culture may be more difficult to evaluate than traditional fields like math or English.
American Culture grauate student Matthew Stiffler agreed.
“A joint appointment for a junior faculty member in general is a dangerous position to be in,” he said.