Academe should support minority scholarship and journals (essay)

I have been in higher education for 25 years, teaching at high-ranking and elite predominantly white universities. In my role as a tenured professor, often the only black or one of few blacks with tenure, I have had the privilege and responsibility of sitting on hiring and promotion and tenure committees. That is a tough position to be in, as one must be proactive, on guard and diligent about advocating for professors of color. One must be fearless in supporting those under review and in taking the heat for doing so.

To advance in academe in this era, scholars must publish in high-impact journals. Yet scholarly work by faculty members of color is usually shut out of those journals. They are predominantly mainstream outlets, not necessarily because of rigor but because of readership. The majority (white) journal editors and authors are catering to the majority (white) people in the ranks of academe. Supply and demand. I get that. Publishing is a business, and the competition is fierce. But in an increasingly diverse nation, we cannot discount scholars and readers of color. The work we do must reach the mainstream in order to have the greatest impact.

Meanwhile, the minority journals that do publish our work are devalued, not valued and/or viewed as not scholarly. I have had the unfortunate experiences of seeing highly published faculty of color not “earn” promotion and tenure because their work in minority journals was deemed subpar to mainstream journals. I have seen how too many predominantly white colleges and universities relegate scholarship published in “minority” journals to second-class status. The probability of promotion and tenure is diminished. The hands of scholars of color are tied. Perish or publish comes full force as decision makers evaluate our work.

I have fought this pervasive and entrenched mind-set. Our journals are more than excellent; they are viable and rigorous scholarly outlets. They allow us to add another refereed publication to our highly scrutinized vitae. And sometimes, they may be only publication option. We want to reach all audiences, but we find that some do not want to hear from us.

Even with some 200 publications in urban education and gifted education, I have personally experienced my own work being rejected in mainstream journals but accepted in minority journals. Seldom were the criticisms from the editors and reviewers of the mainstream publication about quality or rigor; they were more about denial, silencing and color blindness. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, that was tantamount to not wanting to talk about race, racism and difficult topics. It should be clear why minority journals are vital to the professional lives of scholars of color.

Had I not been on promotion and tenure committees to share such views and realities, the applicants of color might not have gotten promotion and tenure, which was earned. Some might have not gotten an interview. Publications in minority journals would have gone discounted or uncounted -- and thus dismissed from consideration.

I’m certain that the same situation exists at many, if not most, other higher education institutions. With that in mind, I offer a few suggestions.

First, it behooves faculty of color to educate and enlighten other people at higher education institutions. Our colleagues must know how and why some or much of what we write may not be accepted in mainstream journals. We must not allow fear to prevent us from supporting minority journals and readers, as that will ultimately diminish our true reach and impact.

Second, administrators must provide training to hiring as well as promotion and tenure committee members on the aforementioned problems. For such committees to be held accountable, a designated member must be assigned to evaluate policies and meetings, to review discussions and decisions, and to make sure that decision makers are informed and proactive. As part of those responsibilities, this person should advocate for faculty of color.

Third, in the recruitment and retention process, administrators must not penalize faculty of color for writing in minority journals, which may have lower impact factors and rankings. Such journals are a viable outlet -- sometimes the only outlet -- for faculty of color, many of whom are challenged to get their work published in mainstream journals as a result of persistent biases and a lack of receptivity to the topics they study. Minority journals are legitimate and must be valued in the recruitment, retention and promotion/tenure process. Once minority journals are valued more highly, their numerical impact factor will increase, along with their readership. Minority journals must be read by nonminority scholars, as we often have solutions to issues plaguing people of color.

The bottom line is that colleges and universities must not penalize faculty of color for their work in such publications. Rather, they should support and applaud those faculty members for reaching a variety of audiences and readers. If higher education institutions are truly committed to recruiting and retaining more faculty of color, as they profess they do, minority journals, brimming with rigor and relevance, must not be discounted.

Donna Y. Ford is a professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University.

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Missouri State Diversity Official Apologizes

Juan Meraz, assistant vice president for multicultural services at Missouri State University, issued an apology Friday after a press conference at which minority students accused him of discriminatory statements. The News-Leader reported that students at a press conference accused Meraz of intimidating them, of making discriminatory remarks about black people and of sending inappropriate texts.

The university released a statement from Meraz that said in part: “It was never my intent to hurt this student or other students at Missouri State with language that was unprofessional and offensive. As a member of a historically excluded group, I have felt the sting of words and actions many times in my life, which is why I understand that I let the students down with my words. I have been disciplined by [Vice President for Student Affairs Dee] Siscoe and I accept it as an appropriate university response to my actions. This has been a regrettable but powerful learning opportunity for me and I will continue to strive to ensure all students on campus feel welcome and valued in my presence.”

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Debate at Barnard over selection of commencement speaker

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Students and faculty members at Barnard question selection of a white woman -- someone not suggested by students -- to address graduates.

Why a gender studies scholar has not come out as transgender to his students (essay)

A gender studies scholar at a public university describes why he has not come out as transgender to his students.

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Police Charge 3 Black Students Who Claimed Bias Attack

Authorities have charged three black students at the State University of New York at Albany with misdemeanor assault, in a reversal of what was initially reported about an incident in January, The Albany Times-Union reported. The three students reported a racially charged attack while they were on a bus, in which white men attacked them and used racial slurs against them. Now authorities say that there is no evidence of that taking place, but that they found evidence that the three students attacked a white woman on the bus.

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Professor Responds to Records Request by Posting Correspondence to Blog

A professor who says she’s an easy target for a think tank with ties to the conservative Charles Koch Foundation has responded to a voluminous open records request by sharing those records not only with the organization but anyone else who wants to read them. Laura Wright, the chair of English at Western Carolina University who vocally opposed the Koch Foundation’s proposed $2 million gift to establish a center for the study of free enterprise on campus, detailed the story on her blog, The Vegan Body Project. She also posted the 100 pages of emails requested by the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy: those with references to Koch, BB&T Bank (which has backed free-market-education initiatives on many campuses in the South) and Ayn Rand, whose books are required reading on other campuses that have made deals with BB&T and Koch to establish free-enterprise centers or programs.

Wright said via email that she thought her emails should have been protected, since her communication regarding the proposed center constitutes academic freedom. But because she had to release all of them, Wright said she wanted to make them available to the public, lest her words be taken out of context or otherwise used against her. “I just wanted to put everything out there along with the context for my statements, so that the full record would be available for anyone interested in the broader discussion,” she said via email. Many of the released emails include correspondence with local and national media on the proposed Koch gift.

Jay Schalin, a writer for the North Carolina-based Pope Center, which has loose ties to Koch, said he asked for Wright’s emails because he supports the proposed free-enterprise center. “I understand it to be a truly academic enterprise: the intent is to ‘study’ free enterprise, warts and all, rather than to be a one-sided cheerleader,” he said via email. (Note: An earlier version of this sentence misstated Schalin's first name.) “The contentious opposition to it by certain segments of the faculty made it a story-worthy event. … If it is acceptable to question whether the founding of a center is political rather than academic, it is equally acceptable to ask whether the opposition to the center is political.”

As for the status of the center, Bill Studenc, a university spokesman, said that it has been approved by the institution’s Board of Trustees, but at this point there’s no funding for it. The university is currently trying to address faculty concerns about academic integrity, articulated in a November Faculty Senate resolution against the center.

Study: Disabilities Underrepresented in College Psychology Classes

College psychology curricula are missing important information on disabilities, according to a new study. Published in Teaching of Psychology, the study analyzed the titles and descriptions of nearly 700 psychology courses from 98 undergraduate psychology programs across the country. All the programs offered courses on psychiatric disability -- but only eight offered courses on physical disability.

Courses on disability also tended to focus on diagnosis, treatment and cure, the researchers found. But the psychological approach to disability is changing: newer models focus on coping, acceptance, reducing prejudice and social policy.

“About 57 million people in the U.S. have a disability, and it’s likely we will all interact with someone with a disability on a regular basis,” Kathleen Bogart, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University and a co-author of the study, said in a press release. “Yet in terms of minority groups, we teach about disability the least.”

Faculty Votes No Confidence in Board Chair of N.Y.'s Mount Saint Mary College

Citing longstanding concerns about academic freedom and shared governance under its current administration, the faculty at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., on Tuesday voted no confidence in Albert Gruner, chairman of the Board of Trustees. The faculty called for his immediate resignation from the board, saying his “unwavering support” of a former trustee accused of posting an anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim video on Twitter, along with “hostile confrontations” of faculty members, in particular, made him unfit to lead. The vote was 55 in favor and 10 opposed, with six faculty members abstaining. 

The college said in a statement that it "values all opinions and concerns. The trustees, like the president, are firmly committed to shared governance and recognize the important role played by the faculty, administration, and the board in advancing the college." Charles P. Frank, vice chair of the board, said in a separate statement that Gruner "used a reasoned and measured approach in his inquiry into concerns regarding a newly-appointed trustee. This is the manner in which a person with his fiduciary responsibilities should act. ...Throughout his tenure as board chair [Gruner] has always upheld the foundations of shared governance and the mission" of the college.

Cal State Los Angeles cancels conservative speaker's appearance

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Cal State Los Angeles says conservative writer, who was scheduled to criticize trigger warnings and Black Lives Matter movement, can appear only with someone opposing his views.

Minority Students Occupy Lounge at Harvard Law

Minority law students at Harvard University have been occupying a student lounge at the university's law school since last week. The students call the lounge "Belinda Hall," after a slave of one of the early donors to the law school. After protests by minority law students last year, the law school administration pledged to work to make the institution more inclusive, but Reclaim Harvard Law School, the group occupying the lounge, says administrators have not done enough.

The group's website says: "Since the law school refuses to provide adequate institutional support for an office of diversity and inclusion, hire critical race theorists, promote staff of color in the workplace to management positions in their due course, provide adequate contextualization in curricula, educate its professors, its staff and its students around cultural competency, take the steps that are necessary to accord adequate and equal dignity to marginalized students and staff, Reclaim Harvard Law aims to provide that space at the law school. Reclaim assumes the burden of educating ourselves and others in spite of this institution and not because of it."

A spokesperson for the law school told Boston.com that "HLS deeply values diversity and inclusion," and that officials are working to address student concerns.

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