I read with great interest Talia White’s recent article about Emerson College, where I have taught since 1970 (“Tenure fight just the latest racial skirmish for Emerson,” April 2, 2009). (One point of correction, however: I am not a member of the bar.)
When I fought for tenure in the 1970s, I have no doubt that many of those who opposed me were clearly motivated by racial attitudes. I did receive tenure in 1979, and was in fact the first minority to ever receive tenure at Emerson. That’s not a good record, but it was not unusual in the academic community of Massachusetts.
The current situation at Emerson is very different from that time. I know Dean Janis Andersen, Dean Linda Moore and President Jacqueline Liebergott very well, and I do not believe that there are any negative racial attitudes with any of them. That is not the issue here.
We really need to ask some different questions, and maybe there will be some different answers. If all of the goals of diversity and the commitment to a more diverse faculty, administration and student body are real, then the question should be, “Why haven’t you been successful?”
It is absolutely true that nothing succeeds like success. If you want to change the face of the faculty — long-term, as in tenure — then what are your specific goals to achieve it? If you want to attract minority faculty to make the face of a college look like the face of America, who is charge of that, and what happens if they fail?
This is not about Professors House or Desir or me or any other individual minority. This is about the future of this country, and when we will begin to put race into the history books and take it off the front page.
In academia, the one goal of every professor is tenure. In every college, in every administration, if this thing we call “diversity” is a true goal, then someone needs to be in charge, and someone needs to have the power to make the changes that will produce the results that you say you want.
Bobby Kennedy once said (excuse my paraphrase) that he dreamed things that never were and asked, “Why not?” We — “America” — need to ask the same. We need to make changes that succeed.