For too long, Emerson College has ignored the role racial bias plays in tenure and promotion, leading to an overwhelmingly white faculty and leaving African-American professors at a disadvantage, according to a pointed external review released today.
Emerson commissioned the review following the uproar last year when two black professors were denied tenure, a controversy that prompted soul-searching at the communications arts school in downtown Boston.
The three-member panel found no overt racism barring the recruitment and retention of black professors. But, it said, enduring stigma and negative bias leave African American academics caught in a “caste-like position,” where their intellectual worthiness and contributions are often implicitly undervalued and their career advancement slowed.
Only four of Emerson’s 117 tenured and tenure-track faculty are black. Of those, just three are tenured; two of them had to sue for the promotion.
“There are to be found at Emerson unexamined and powerful assumptions and biases about the superiority, preferability, and normativeness of European-American culture, intellectual pursuits, academic discourse, leadership, and so on,” the report said.
Left unexamined, the biases result in the “disproportionate undervaluing of African Americans and the disproportionate overvaluing of European Americans,” it said.
“It is not intended, but it’s the result of patterns that perpetuate forms of discrimination,” said Ted Landsmark, a civil rights activist and president of Boston Architectural College who headed the review panel.
The review panel recommends that Emerson focus on hiring African-American faculty who are already tenured elsewhere, provide better mentoring and professional development for tenure-track faculty, clarify departmental tenure requirements, and increase the multicultural competency of faculty and administrators to better recognize their biases.
Emerson President Jacqueline Liebergott, who is retiring next year, said in an interview today that she is planning a series of town meetings this month with faculty, students, and staff to discuss the findings. The college plans develop steps to follow the recommendations and guage their effectiveness over time.
The college also plans to follow the panel's recommendation to conduct an extensive internal review of the campus climate and experiences of minority faculty, similar to a recent study by MIT of its own difficulties improving faculty diversity.
"Obviously, MIT has modeled some things for us," Liebergott said. "We have to get about implementing these recommendations."
Other members of the panel include Evelynn Hammonds, dean of Harvard College, and JoAnn Moody, a national consultant on faculty diversity and development.
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