Springing forth with new resolve

by Beacon Staff • April 29, 2009

bAt issue:/b The Emerson community's action on House and Desir's behalf.

bOur view:/b We ought to be proud of our progress, but there is much more to do.

In autumn, this page lauded the resilience of the Emerson community in the wake of a racial slur being scrawled on a student's dormitory door. Students, faculty members and the administration swiftly and forcefully denounced the hateful graffiti and, in so doing, sent a powerful message: Discrimination is not welcome here, and we will rally around its victims.

In winter, this page devoted many words to decrying this college's patently prejudicial history in deciding whether to tenure minority professors. iBeacon/i reporter Gabrielle Dunn has spent months exposing the injustice. This year, Professors Roger House and Pierre Desir, were unjustly denied tenure because, we believe, they are black. The problem is by no means new. Professors Mike Brown and Claire Andrade-Watkins won lawsuits alleging the same fate had befallen them in the 1970s and 1990s, respectively. In writing about the issue, we also encouraged students, faculty and the administration to action.

Now, late or not, spring has come back to Boston and unleashed its full restorative powers upon us. As it has, the Emerson community has rallied around the professors. The message-in interviews, poll results, petitions, op-eds, letters to the editor, speeches, public statements and formal resolutions-is loud and clear: Discrimination is not welcome at Emerson, and we will not stand for it.

As journalists, we are inspired by the sheer volume of political speech, the kind protected by the First Amendment. We believe healthy debate is an absolute good, and that Emerson's marketplace of ideas has been enriched by every student, professor and outside observer who has expressed their feelings about how the college grants tenure.

The work, however, is not done, and we cannot let summer wither our resolve.

Students, sign Emerson Peace and Social Justice's petition demanding the professors' reinstatement; send letters to The Beacon's e-mail (printed below), which we will run online; e-mail President Liebergott and ask her to reconsider her denial of their tenure. We, again, strongly urge her and the Board of Trustees to do so. And ask your parents, who hold the power of Emerson's purse, to write letters as well.

Hopefully, Emerson has not found its voice too late for House and Desir. Becoming a rallying cry will surely be cold comfort for the two men who unjustly lost their jobs.

As Emerson students, though, we are proud of our community for proving again that, when confronted with the uncomfortable and embarrassing truth of racism, we will stand up and speak out. We believe all our fellow students ought to feel that same pride, but also that same discomfort and shame in knowing, for instance, that the college has never granted a black male professor tenure on the merits of his application alone.

We ought to be encouraged that Liebergott has pledged an independent examination of the college's tenure standards, particularly toward minority candidates, but this is only the first step toward what we believe is necessary: granting House and Desir tenure. We should feel proud because her proclamation is proof-positive that our voices are being heard. We dearly hope she continues to demonstrate such leadership, which will be needed to undertake the hard work of reforming institutional racism.

While the buds are still fresh on the trees, we may hope the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has heard and seen what happened at Emerson College this semester. Hopefully they'll conclude, as we have, that Roger House and Pierre Desir deserve tenure.

Cheered as we may be by Emerson's newly vigorous response to the plight of two professors, a sustained effort to confront discrimination is what the problem requires. To make a long-lasting impact, this change cannot be as fickle as Boston's seasons.,iBeacon/i Editorial Board