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DePaul Faculty Call Upon Board of Trustees to Intervene in Leadership Crisis
Historic Finding of Academic Freedom Violation Ignored as DePaul President Upholds Tenure Denial
Disregarding a faculty appeals board’s historic finding that academic freedom was violated in the tenure denial of Professor Namita Goswami, DePaul President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider terminated her tenure bid last week, maintaining that he saw “no evidence” that either university procedure or academic freedom was violated.
Now, concerned DePaul faculty are mobilizing to ask the Board of Trustees, which includes mayoral candidate Gery Chico, to intervene to address the crisis of leadership they feel is responsible for perpetuating a broken tenure system that has garnered DePaul negative media attention in three of the last four years.
In the last month alone, President Holtschneider has terminated the tenure bids of two women of color, rejecting faculty appeals board decisions that found impermissible bias, procedural irregularities, and now academic freedom violations. In addition to Professor Goswami, who is South Asian, DePaul’s President also terminated Professor Quinetta Shelby, the lone African-American in the Chemistry Department, as well as the sciences and math departments at DePaul. Despite the disturbing pattern of disproportionate tenure denials to faculty of color and women (subsequently compounded by misrepresentations of data to media in defense of DePaul’s tenure record), DePaul’s Board of Trustees voted last month to extend Holtschneider’s contract as President for another six years.
In the most recent controversy, Professor Namita Goswami was denied tenure by the Philosophy Department despite an extraordinary publishing record. She was also awarded the prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award at DePaul in 2007 by her peers. Hired in 2003 by the Philosophy Department to bridge traditional “continental” or European philosophy and critical race theory, women’s studies and post-colonial theory, Professor Goswami is the only woman of color faculty member in a Philosophy Department of twenty full-time, tenure-track faculty. Nationwide, women of color constitute only 0.3% of the American Philosophical Association membership.
In a 19 November 2010 decision, a faculty appeals board found that the university improperly denied tenure to Professor Namita Goswami. According to the appeals board, “The negative Department vote to not grant Dr. Goswami tenure and promotion on the grounds that her scholarship and teaching are ‘insufficiently philosophical’ violates her academic freedom given … the premise under which she was hired: for the position of Critical Race and feminist theory in the Department of Philosophy.” The board’s finding constitutes the first time an academic freedom violation has been established through DePaul’s faculty appeals process.
In another historic first, the Illinois chapter of the Association of American University Professors referred Professor Goswami’s case to the national level for intervention. AAUP-Illinois Vice-President Peter Kirstein concluded in a 28 September 2010 letter that DePaul University demonstrated a “reckless disregard of academic freedom, academic due process, [and] transparency.”
Professor Tina Chanter, a tenured member of the Philosophy Department, believes that a less obvious form of racism also played a major role in her colleague’s denial—i.e., “the kind of racism that allows a department to advertise for someone in postcolonial philosophy, and then to punish the person they hired for doing precisely what they were hired to do—for doing it too well apparently.”
In 2007, DePaul made national headlines for the high-profile tenure denial of Norman Finkelstein, an outspoken scholar on the Israel-Palestine conflict, who the university publicly admitted was a “prolific scholar” and “outstanding teacher.” In the 2008-09 academic year, of seven tenure denials, five were women and one was a South Asian male. In the most recent academic year, all six tenure denials were faculty of color. The success rate of faculty awarded tenure out of those who applied in 2009-10 was only 40% for faculty of color compared to 100% for white faculty. Of seven faculty members on the university committee that decided tenure and promotion in 2008-09 and 2009-10, only one member was a person of color. By contrast, the faculty appeals boards have had diverse representation of racial minorities and women.