Get mad as hell: Support House and Desir

by Beacon Staff • April 15, 2009

bAt issue:/b The lack of student outrage over the denied tenures of House and Desir.

bOur view:/b Cultural groups, the SGA and student body should protest and demand justice.

Twenty-two student protesters were arrested at the New School in New York City last week when they occupied an administrative building and demanded the resignation of their college's president after several faculty votes of no confidence in his leadership. The incident evoked the storied history of civil disobedience at American universities, particularly the sit-ins of the Sixties.

Unfortunately, that spirit of righteous indignation appears to be in short supply among Emerson students, even as many of our professors rally around two colleagues, Professors Roger House and Pierre Desir, who have become the standard-bearers in a decades-long battle for tenure equality among minority professors.

When asked, former students almost unanimously praise the professors. Online, 76 percent of respondents to a poll on iThe Beacon/i's Web site supported House and Desir's tenure, and 59 percent said they believed institutional racism existed at Emerson in an earlier iBeacon/i poll.

But there's been an utter lack of student outcry on behalf of the two professors, a dearth of the kind of protest that could help pressure Emerson's administration, including the Board of Trustees, President Jacqueline Liebergott and Deans Grafton Nunes and Linda Moore, to grant House and Desir tenure. There's not a moment to lose, because both men will be forced to leave the college at year's end if not reinstated.

We're looking at you, Student Government Association and EBONI. Now that elections are over, SGA, as the voice of the students, ought to pass a resolution calling for House and Desir's tenure. As we argued last week, tenure is an issue that affects students as well as faculty. We're the ones robbed of quality instructors if Emerson continues to deny minority candidates tenure. SGA President Scott Fisher has plenty of political capital after winning his third term in a landslide; he should spend some of it on this pressing issue.

We understand that it's unfair to expect members of EBONI, the college's black student cultural organization, to summon outrage whenever racial tensions bubble to the surface on campus. But when a history of discrimination against black professors is uncovered, as iBeacon/i reporter Gabrielle Dunn has over the past two months, EBONI has an uncomfortable responsibility to organize a response, whether that be a simple statement or a public protest. To refuse comment for two months, as they have done to iBeacon/i reporters, is a dereliction of their mission to "Support the recruitment, orientation and retention of multicultural students, staff and faculty," according to the Multicultural Student Affairs Web site.

This does not absolve average Emerson students for the underwhelming response to this problem. As the New School students demonstrated, even a small group of passionate students can focus powerful scrutiny on their administration.

Frankly, we were dismayed by the public demonstration last week organized by members of Speak Up. The group hoped to raise racial awareness on campus by parading down Boylston Street wearing T-shirts that read "When you see me, do you think [insert stereotype here]?" If racial awareness was the goal, their afternoon would have been much better spent rallying around House and Desir's battle for tenure.

By simply starting a Facebook petition calling for the professors' tenure, Emerson students could powerfully demonstrate the support for House and Desir their faculty colleagues have shown, and which we believe exists among students, based on our poll results and independent reporting.

Promoting diversity requires more than raising awareness and starting dialogues; it also demands we denounce discrimination as we see it, and to forcefully advocate for quality professors. It's not a burden we asked for, but if students-especially SGA, EBONI and Speak Up-don't bear it, who will?,iBeacon/i Editorial Board