Professors, students respond to tenure issue

by Beacon Staff • April 15, 2009

Professors Roger House and Pierre Desir, in addition to a wide majority of students polled and interviewed this week, have questioned the administration's decision to deny tenure to both professors last year.

According to an online iBeacon/i poll, 76 percent of students who voted believe both men should be granted tenure, while 24 percent believe the administration made the right decision in rejecting them. Many students interviewed decried the actions of the administration.

"I think showing the history of the tenure process, starting with Mike Brown in the '70s, it's hard to believe that there isn't some racism or ageism in the decision-making process. If the professors who are affected wanted students to, it would be effective to write letters to the editor, write e-mails to Jackie Liebergott," said junior communication studies major Genevieve Gearity. "Lots of professors who are up for tenure have had influences on students. It's our turn to help them out."

House and Desir, two black professors who both filed official complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleging the college denied their applications due to their race, have also spoken up, with a letter, appearing on page four of this week's issue, in response to the one from President Jacqueline Liebergott printed in last week's iBeacon/i.

In the letter, the two said they felt the rules for tenure were changed for them because of their race.

"President Liebergott would have readers believe that the administration was standing up for academic standards when it denied our tenure applications," they wrote. "The reality, however, is that no one is asking the Administration to sacrifice academic standards for the sake of diversity. Our complaint is that the Administration engaged in a tenure process that established different standards for different faculty members. Our concern is that race was a factor in the way the Administration handled the tenure cases."

In the letter Liebergott wrote as an answer to a iBeacon/i reporter's question, the president defended the college's original decision.

When asked their positions on the matter, neither representatives from student organizations EBONI or Speak Up had comment; they said they did not know enough about the issue.

Student Government Association President Scott Fisher said Liebergott will be speaking to the joint session sometime before the end of the semester to discuss how the tenure process works. The issue is important and should be addressed, he said, and SGA will wait until after Liebergott's appearance to make a statement.

"In their hiring, as in all hiring of tenure track faculty, we make it very clear that no one will be awarded tenure, without having met some very specific criteria," Liebergott wrote. "It would not be fair or legal to change tenure criteria only for some minority faculty. And even if we could, it would immediately diminish the status of all minority faculty, even if they were the most competent academics in the College."

In an e-mail message, Liebergott stood by her statement and disagreed with House's and Desir's response. Liebergott said she would not comment further until the issue is resolved by MCAD.

"The two candidates were evaluated individually solely on the basis of their records in teaching, research and service," she wrote. "They were not held to standards that were either higher or lower than those used for any other candidates."

Freshman Suzy Lambert questioned the college's ratio of race and tenure.

"We don't have that many African-American professors. How many white professors do we have versus the amount of white professors with tenure?" the writing for film and television major said. "Students should be presented with facts. But I have Dr. House and he's great, I love him."

Senior Andrew deLisle said he wasn't convinced of outright racism, but was still alarmed by the administration's decision.

"I don't know about the racism aspects of it, and I don't believe it can be institutional racism. It's not the one group of white people in the room keeping the black man down," the film major said. "But I saw two of Pierre Desir's films the other day, and I can't believe that man makes those movies and isn't getting tenure."