Tenure board discusses bias in first campus meeting

by Beacon Staff • September 23, 2009

That's the initial unofficial diagnosis by Joann Moody, a San Diego-based diversity specialist and one of three experts enlisted to investigate the school's tenure and promotion practices in relation to race.,Unintended bias is permeating Emerson College.

That's the initial unofficial diagnosis by Joann Moody, a San Diego-based diversity specialist and one of three experts enlisted to investigate the school's tenure and promotion practices in relation to race.

"It's helping an organization and individuals who don't realize the effect of the structure and processes they have in place," Moody said. "If we address the shortcuts we take, we learn about what they are and correct them."

On the first of a few campus visits planned for the semester, Moody and fellow tenure review board member Ted Landsmark sat in a conference room on the 14th floor of the Ansin Building last Friday-notebooks open, pens upright, beverages poured-and took notes on Emerson for six hours.

"From discussions so far, I've seen some procedural dysfunction that requires rethinking and regrouping," Moody said.

Though Landsmark said the group may speak with professors Roger House and Pierre Desir, in addition to Mike Brown and Claire Andrade-Watkins in the course of their investigation, the board will not focus on particular cases and will instead address what may be systemic issues.

"I believe they and we have an understanding that our work is not to revisit details of past," Landsmark said. "Patterns exist and we're here to ameliorate any deficiencies."

No college faculty or representatives will attend the tenure board's meetings, Landsmark said, which are scheduled in Boston for later this month and in October.

He said the board can also have discussions over the phone between their meetings on campus.

Moody and Landsmark, a longtime civil rights advocate, met with Emerson faculty, students and administrators throughout the day, getting the ball officially rolling on the independent investigation into Emerson's tenure and promotion practices requested by the Faculty Assembly last May.

Missing board member Harvard Dean Evelynn Hammonds attended an early morning planning meeting with Moody and Landsmark before leaving to attend to business at Harvard. Moody said Hammonds would be at all further meetings as the board had now finalized its agenda.

The pair interviewed department chairs; the head and members of the Faculty Assembly; Dr. William Smith, the director for the college's Center for Diversity; Tikesha Morgan; Emerson's director for Multicultural Affairs and a slew of vice presidents, deans, trustees and student representatives.

"Everyone has been very forthcoming and candid," Landsmark said, adding that he strongly believes the board will have access to any person and document on campus in the course of its investigation. "Any people on campus who want to speak to us can come forward in confidence. We want our process to be transparent but we also want people to speak freely, and that's certainly been the case."

The board was formed over the summer after an investigation into Emerson's tenure and promotion practices, which began last year with a Beacon report on the denial of tenure to the only two black professors, House and Desir, out of a group of candidates, three of who were white.

The college has three black tenured professors out of more than 60, according to the Office of Academic Affairs. Two of those professors, Brown and Andrade-Watkins, chose to sue the college to receive the promotion in 1970 and 1990, respectively. In its 129-year history, Emerson has never tenured and promoted a black male professor.

The tenure review board, called for by a Faculty Assemby resolution, will investigate this history and submit a report to college President Jacqueline Liebergott and to Faculty Assembly head Brooke Knight in January 2010. The report is expected to contain suggestions on how the college could improve diversity related to the tenure and promotion practices.

"Anytime you can shine a light on processes it's a good thing," Knight said. "I'm in favor of transparency and the board will increase transparency, maybe not in individual cases, but in the process and make clearer the process by which people get tenure."

After his meeting with the board, Smith said he was confident that the forthcoming report would be comprehensive and substantial.

"I think [the board] has been a good sign and a very good thing," Smith said. "That the faculty assembly and the administration

both agreed that this has something that should happen now, given the differing of opinions, can be a focal point of building on whatever it is the report presents."

Though she has worked in diversity for decades, Moody said she was drawn to the Emerson gig because she'd never before been approached by a college's faculty for an investigation.

Usually, she said, a college forms a task force and contacts her much later in the investigation process. She said she was surprised by Emerson's prompt effort to involve her, saying some colleges take up to five years to reach out to a professional diversity consultant.

"By the time I get there, we can't remember how we got here," she said in a dual interview with Landsmark. "I was impressed that the call was by the Faculty Assembly and that many of the faculty was upset and wanted action and that the campus president so promptly responded. Emerson wanted to get into the action part."

Aja Moore, a student who met with the board due to her role as President of EBONI and Speak Up!, said after that she finds the board to be a positive step.

"I believe that students should have just an active voice as administrators in the issues that affect Emerson. [Landsmark] let our voice be heard, but I am still a bigger believer in actions speaking louder than words," Moore wrote in an e-mail interview.

"I am optimistic that the board will take our input and use it to create a better environment for everyone that is apart of the Emerson community."

Jacob Barela, one of the student representatives invited to meet with the board by Dean of Students Ron Ludman, said after the meeting that he was pleased by the board's receptivity.

"I felt that I was heard and heard by the right people," Barela said. "I think their presence on campus is good and we should see more information, if not direct or instant change."

Landsmark, who serves as president of the Boston Architectural College, agreed. He has worked with Emerson through the Pro-Arts Consortium and was also a guest-lecturer in the political communication department.

His previous discussions at the college were usually about working in Boston politics and in the mayor's office. He said he was a little surprised by the accusations of racism.

"It wasn't what I expected [from Emerson College]," Landsmark said.

Moody, because her role on the board is her job, is being paid the same fees she would be as a consultant anywhere, but Landsmark said he was offered payment and turned it down. Both believed Hammonds was also not being paid. Hammonds was unreachable for comment regarding her possible compensation.

"Students and faculty don't always

understand the benefit of working on these committees," Landsmark said, noting that college presidents often sit on boards for each other. "You always learn from the process and then we can take that back to our campuses. I wouldn't do it for free, flying cross country [like Moody], but I'm in Boston and it gives me the opportunity to do it. This work informs what I do."

Smith said he agreed with Moody's diagnosis of unintended bias. He said the college would be remiss to "turn away" from the board's suggestions and that Emerson should implement changes both immediate and long-term.

"I don't think it's many acts that are with calculated intent- some are, many are, but some aren't," Smith said. "It's the dominance of one perspective in society that doesn't consider the views of those outside the majority. A lot are not intentional, but some are and we have to relearn and refocus."