As DePaul University seeks to improve its academic standing and raise $250 million for capital projects and scholarships, public accusations of bias and discrimination in the tenure process continue to mount.
On Dec. 7, professors and students protested this year's denial of tenure to two minorities, Quinetta Shelby, a black professor of chemistry, and Namita Goswami, an Indian professor of philosophy. Of more than 40 professors who applied for tenure this year, 6 were denied, all of them minorities. Last year, the five professors denied tenure were four women and one minority man.
Tensions have run high over the university's tenure process since 2007, when Norman Finkelstein, a political science professor, was denied tenure amid controversy over his work, which accused Jews of exploiting the Holocaust for monetary gain and attacked Israel as oppressingPalestinians. Now some experts wonder whether the new accusations will complicate DePaul's capital fund-raising campaign and its planned bond sales in January or itsVISION Twenty12 plan, which aims to increase the university's academic standards and prestige while making it a "model of diversity."
Paulette Maehara, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, said sustained negative publicity could hurt the university's ability to raise money.
"If a majority of their potential donors for large gifts are women, it could have an impact," Ms. Maehara said. "And if this becomes a legal battle, it will become harder and harder to say things in the press and defend the allegations because of the legal ramifications."
The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, DePaul's president, said this year's tenure denials were a statistical anomaly at an institution where 19 percent of the faculty members are minorities and where tenure rates for whites and minorities are usually equal. But Father Holtschneider said university officials were concerned and had convened a committee to interview minority and female professors about their experiences at DePaul.
"I don't want this to become a pattern," Father Holtschneider said. "This has never happened before at DePaul. People didn't notice it in the early stages of the tenure process," which proceeds independently in each of the university's nine colleges. "Then we realized, 'Oh, my gosh, all the candidates getting the no votes are people of color.' "
In the past decade, according to official data from DePaul, 90 percent of men and 87 percent of women who applied for tenure were accepted — 201 white professors received tenure and 17 were denied, while 22 black professors applied and 8 were denied. Seventeen Hispanics were approved and 6 denied. Tenure is decided on the basis of scholarship, including publishing, teaching and service to the university.
Ms. Goswami was hired seven years ago by DePaul's philosophy department to teach postcolonial and feminist theory, which she has done through themes including Bollywood movies and Rwandan genocide. She was denied tenure this year in part because her department decided her research lacked adequate grounding in traditional European philosophy, according to the department's report on her application. It criticized her inability to speak German, though she speaks Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi and is proficient in Spanish and French.
"I was told that I teach gender and race, feminist studies and postcolonial theory — I was explicitly hired to challenge traditional definitions of philosophy," Ms. Goswami said. "That's what postcolonial theory is about: undermining Eurocentrism. The fundamental philosophical questions that matter to all of us — death, truth, justice, happiness — can't be addressed if we exclude most of the world from what we consider philosophy."
Father Holtschneider said that DePaul had increased its emphasis on race and gender in the philosophy department, and that the denial of tenure for Ms. Goswami was based on her academic record.
The tenured and tenure-track professors in the philosophy department are 36 percent women, ranking it eighth of 53 top-ranked philosophy doctoral programs in gender equity, according to a recent analysis by a philosophy professor at California State University at Long Beach.
Tenure applications are voted upon first by tenured faculty members in a professor's department, then by a committee from the professor's college (for example, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in the case of the philosophy department), then by the University Board on Promotion and Tenure. The president has final say.
Both Ms. Goswami and Ms. Shelby were denied by their own departments, approved by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and denied by the tenure board. Professors can appeal to a board comprising a rotating group of three faculty members. Two of the three on the appeals board decided on Nov. 19 that Ms. Goswami's tenure denial should be reconsidered. Father Holtschneider vetoed the recommendation, an action that he said was not uncommon.