Rutgers students protest in support of professor
More than 30 students rallied on the Old Queens lawn Wednesday morning to support Jennifer Warren, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication.
Warren was denied tenure in April 2015, which prompted the Rutgers chapter of Black Lives Matter to organize “Challenging Institutionalized Racism,” a rally to support tenure for Warren.
The rally began at 10:30 a.m., with Warren speaking of her past and her roots from Trenton, New Jersey, as well as her experience at Rutgers, an institution she said she loves teaching at.
The group then chanted outside of University President Robert L. Barchi's office and proceeded to walk down the College Avenue campus.
“Tenure for Jennifer,” was shouted amongst the protesters in unison, as they walked to the School of Communication and Information, where the school's dean, Jonathan Potter, spoke to the crowd.
The goal of the rally was to show the administration and encourage them to make a change regarding Jennifer Warren, the 4 percent rate of tenure for black professors and institutionalized racism, said Taqwa Brookins, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and a member of Black Lives Matter.
Students found the reasons Jennifer Warren did not get tenure were extremely biased, she said.
Rutgers prides itself in being diverse, but when Brookins walks into a classroom, she said the professors and the students are all white.
Brookins said Rutgers claims to be revolutionary, but wonders if its commitment to diversity is real or just on paper.
“(Warren) was revolutionary, her research was revolutionary, she is the image of everything Rutgers is talking about for its 250th anniversary and she got denied tenure,” Brookins said.
Warren participated by serving as an object to motivate the need for the rally and protest, she said.
The rally was intended to bring visibility to this issue, she said.
“The particulars of the case were so egregious and wrong that Black Lives Matter was contacted by the union to see if they wanted to take this up to bring visibility to the case,” Warren said.
In doing so, the case became more than about Warren, it became about institutionalized racism and the need to push for more change in regard to the diversity of Rutgers faculty, she said.
Rutgers said they have initiatives they are working on but they are resistant to diversity, if it does not fit in their box, she said.
“If you’re not in that box, if you’re on the edge or the outside of it, you just don’t fit in,” she said. “There is a clash between practice and policy.”
Warren said the protest made a difference.
“When you have two high-level professionals and administration come out and address the rally and want to know what going on, that’s successful, she said. “When you have the dean come out of his office to address the students, that’s power.”
It may wind up going nowhere, she said, but the conversation will continue and Rutgers will hopefully begin to represent diversity at the faculty level like it does at the student level.
“I’m shocked at my school, I’m shamed at my department and I love Rutgers, I came here to do the work that matters, the work that Rutgers supports,” she said. “I don’t know what more I could have done to prepare myself for tenure.”
Rutgers cannot have “cosmetic diversity" — it has to be real, said Lesley-Ann Contreras, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and a Black Lives Matter member.
“It’s my job, my duty to come out and protest these injustices, especially as a person of color,” Contreras said. “Representation matters.”
Sixteen out of 17 black professors evaluated for tenure were granted it since the 2012-2013 academic year. Six of these professors were granted tenure this year alone, said University Spokesperson E.J. Miranda.
"Building and expanding upon our faculty’s diversity is an institutional priority at Rutgers University," he said in a statement. "The University is proud of its track record for awarding tenure to African-American faculty candidates."
Barchi said he put $20 million out of the school's discretionary budget into a five-year program to increase diversity within the faculty.
Fighting the perception that there is racial bias in the tenure process is important, Barchi said.
"One of the things that we will do is to make public the promotions data in aggregate, and you can see the numbers and it’s pretty plain there isn’t any selective bias by ethnicity in the promotions process in terms of the overall numbers. So we will actually release that," Barchi said.
Warren's hearing is set for April 15, Brookins said.
"As a union member, professor Warren has the opportunity to appeal a negative tenure evaluation, through a process negotiated with the faculty union. She has availed herself of that process, which is going on this semester," Miranda said. "We respect our union contracts, and intend to follow that process and the confidentiality it requires."
Noa Halff is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. She is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum.