Tenure. There is no word scarier to an academic. The ways in which tenure is awarded are secretive, never written or explicit, and often biased.
At University of Michigan, a woman with a joint appointment in two departments was recommended for tenure in one–and denied tenure by the other.
What were the two departments? Women’s Studies and American Cultures. Hugo Schwyzer details some of the background, and notices the same thing that I immediately did (and said it a lot more clearly than I would have):
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. 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.
A very depressing side issue to all this is the general consensus that dual appointments for junior faculty are a bad idea. How, then, is interdisciplinary research–which I think is critical to all disciplines, science or otherwise–to flourish?
I gotta tell ya, anyone who is nominated for a Nobel Prize seems like a shoe-in for tenure to ME.
But what do I know–I don’t have tenure myself. (And won’t for 6 more years, since I just started a new job.)
Sadly, none of this hoopla is likely to change the situation for Smith. Once something like this happens, even if she wins the appeal–how comfortable will it be to stay at an institution after a battle like this? If any institution is looking for a leading Native American scholar, now would be the time for an offer. And I hope she bargains for an associate professor position.