Rutgers denies professor of color tenure
Racism has been featured prominently in the media over the last several years, but its effects may hit closer to home. Jennifer Warren, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, was denied tenure in April 2015.
She is not the only professor of color in the school to be denied tenure.
“The personnel committee at the department level denied me tenure. At the school level, they approved it, and they not only approved it, they refuted every argument made against me,” she said. “The Dean approved me, and again, refuted every argument the department tried to make against me.”
The case went to University President Robert L. Barchi’s office and he denied her tenure based on the departmental evaluation, Warren said.
“(Tenure) is like the holy grail of any institution for a professor,” she said. “(And my) evaluators, all of the outside evaluators lauded me as a research professor and many said I would get tenure at their institution.”
She is normally evaluated as an instructor every year by the school, but to be approved by tenure, she was evaluated by three committees and a dean.
“As far as the idea of me knowing whether or not I’m prepared for tenure, it’s done on a yearly basis,” she said. “I’m reviewed by the department (and) I’ve never had a bad review. No one ever told me that I was not tenure-worthy.”
Taqwa Brookins, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and representative of the Rutgers Black Lives Matter chapter, said the denial of tenure likely had its roots in some form of racism. Her organization began a petition to have Warren granted tenure.
“People want to jump to the race card and I’m skeptical about that because it’s really hard to prove that,” Warren said. “(But) I’m no different from all the other black (faculty members) that were denied tenure, (and) when you have a pattern of doing that, it suggests to me that there’s an issue with race.”
Warren said she was the only black faculty member in her department, and the entire School of Communication and Information has only one tenured faculty member of color.
Warren said she was hired under a push for diversity encouraged by then-Dean Jorge Schement, now Rutgers’ vice president of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.
Schement left the position after being “harangued” due to his stance on diversity, Warren said.
Her tenure was disapproved by the Promotion Review Committee, which stated that student evaluations was a major part of the reason why.
Student evaluations may be used in a professor’s review, according to “Instructions for Tenured and Tenure Track Academic Appointments for Reappointment/Promotion,” a document listed by the Office of Academic Labor Relations.
These evaluations gave Warren an average score of 3.7 out of 5.0, with her undergraduate students giving her a mean score of 3.86 and her graduate students giving her a score of 3.32. She did not receive a large number of responses on the Student Instructional Rating Survey system.
Brookins said the surveys should not be allowed in evaluating for tenure as students responding to them may be biased.
Warren said her ratings dropped after Warren was required by the School of Communication and Information to change her teaching style and some of her courses. She used to teach a three-hour course that involved field trips, but could no longer do so after a few semesters.
She was also forbidden from writing a book, while colleagues who joined the University around the same time she did published several.
“In hindsight, my white counterparts, people who came in with me and after me, did whatever they wanted to do, and I actually tried to do what (my superiors) wanted me to do,” she said.
Another argument made against approving her tenure was her lack of “academic rigor,” she said.
“They said stuff like ‘I’m not a rigorous teacher,’” she said. “I was told, ‘too many A's, you can’t have all those A's.’ I had to use a bell curve and I did not agree with that mentality. My students work their asses off, (they) deserve their A's.”
Black Lives Matter will work to convince the University to change the decision and grant Warren tenure, Brookins said. Part of their work will involve protests if Warren loses the appeal.
"We have the tactics, we have the people, and we have the will to convince Rutgers," Brookins said.
Warren said she filed a grievance against the University to appeal the decision, but has not yet been informed when the appeal will occur.
The University did not respond to requests for comment.
Nikhilesh De is a School of Engineering junior. He is the news editor of The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.