EPSJ presents President Liebergott with petition to reinstate House, Desir

by Beacon Staff • April 29, 2009

Student-run Emerson Peace and Social Justice presented college President Jacqueline Liebergott today with its petition with more than 500 student signatures, calling for the reinstatement of two black professors, Roger House and Pierre Desir, who have alleged they were denied tenure last summer based on their race.

"The students want to hear from the administration themselves why these two men were denied tenure," Tarbet said to Liebergott in the meeting, which iThe Beacon/i was invited to attend by EPSJ. "So there is no misinformation, and so no one holds a grudge."

Liebergott told the students she would consider the petition and pass it along, but did not offer details and would not commit on anything specific regarding them.

Last week, Liebergott said she was in favor of a Faculty Assembly motion to hire an independent review panel for the college's tenure process, but would not comment on the decision particular to House and Desir.

Both professors have filed complaints against Emerson with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination alleging their applications for tenure were denied by Liebergott, Vice President of Academic Affairs Linda Moore, their deans and the college's Board of Trustees because they are black. Only one black professor has earned tenure based on their merits in the college's 129-year history: performing arts professor Robbie McCauley.

Wearing a T-shirt with "129" written on it, senior Ashley Tarbet met with Liebergott to deliver the petition, which was organized by EPSJ, of which House was the faculty adviser for two years. The petition was signed by about 500 students, the political communication major said, but some petition sheets are in the possession of other group members, and could not be presented to Liebergott.

Tarbet asked if the details of House's and Desir's tenure cases could be made public and Liebergott said they could not.

"It's confidential," Liebergott said. "But the college will make sure as much of this info as possible will be released."

Since February, the professors union, a local NAACP branch and the Faculty Assembly have all come out in support of the two professors and called for more transparency in the tenure process. The college currently has three tenured black professors out of more than 160 full-time faculty positions, according to the office of Academic Affairs. Of those, two, professors Mike Brown and Claire Andrade-Watkins, sued Emerson in the 1970s and 1990s respectively to receive tenure.

Tarbet said she and other students don't know where to get information about specific tenure cases, and because the administration hasn't made a direct explanation on the matter of professors House and Desir.

"The process is written," Liebergott said, referring to the tenure guidelines stipulated in the Faculty Handbook. "There is nothing hidden about that."

Tarbet said she was pleased that Liebergott had agreed to Faculty Assembly motion passed last week calling for an independent investigation of Emerson's tenure standards for minority professors, and asked if the college would consider reinstating House and Desir, or keeping the professors on staff until the matter could be resolved with MCAD.

"I think we're going to sort out the issue" with the independent investigation, Liebergott said. But she declined to offer details.

Tarbet then pressed Liebergott, asking again for her to consider granting both professors tenure. If they left, Tarbet said, "I believe it would be a great loss for the Emerson community."

Liebergott thanked Tarbet for the signatures.

"I will make sure this gets shared, and that the process of tenure as we perceive it is clarified," Liebergott said, accepting the petition. She stressed, however, that the cases of House and Desir may not be addressed specifically.