A tenure case at the University of Michigan -- in which the bid of Andrea Smith was recently rejected at the college level -- is attracting an unusual degree of attention from scholars, both at Ann Arbor and nationally.
Smith holds a dual position in Michigan's American culture program, which recommended her for tenure, and women's studies, which rejected her. The college decision against her now moves to the provost for review, and Michigan -- as is the standard in such cases -- will say nothing about the tenure bid.
Many of Smith's graduate students have spread the word about her situation and online discussions in the ethnic studies and women's studies disciplines have been full of strategizing about how to help. Smith is extremely popular with her students, and also has a notable publishing record, with her books and essays appearing on many a syllabus. A Cherokee, she is also among a very small group of Native American scholars who have won positions at top research universities.
Lee Ann Wang, a graduate student at Michigan who is among Smith's advisees, said that "people are in shock" both because of the role Smith has played as a mentor and because of her publishing record. While higher education is full of stories of great teachers whose students are upset when a lack of book contracts derails a tenure bid, Smith noted that wasn't the case here. "She has books she has written, she has anthologies she has edited, she's written for academic presses and non-academic presses," said Wang.
Added Wang: "She has published more than some of her tenured colleagues at the university and her teaching evaluations are through the roof."
Smith is not commenting on her case, but has told Wang and others that she hopes to win tenure.
Much of the Web commentary on the case focuses not just on the perceived injustice but on the role of women's studies as the department that rejected her.
Hugo Schwyzer, who teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College, recently blogged about the implications of the women's studies role in the dispute.
"Anyone who reads the feminist blogosphere is aware that the most painful struggle of the past year, played out in so many places, is over the issue of the intersection of racism and sex. A number of prominent women of color have written, time and again, of feeling marginalized or ignored by white feminists," wrote Schwyzer. "Whatever your feelings on the issue of race, gender, and intersectionality, it’s disastrous PR to have the Smith denial come at the hands of the Michigan Women’s Studies department. To a community of activist women of color, many of whom are already suspicious of the bona fides of white feminists, the Smith decision can only serve to increase a sense of cynicism about the prospects for real inclusion."
Schwyzer -- who notes that he has never met Smith -- also reviews Smith's research and particularly the impact of Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, which he calls "a master-work of both advocacy and feminist scholarship."
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