Saturday, February 26, 2011

Disrespected, Take Two

(cross-posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education.)

I wanted to take a second to acknowledge the responses to my most recent post (about complaints several senior black faculty have expressed to me about their treatment in the academy). I appreciate the discussion that it has sparked, and I definitely want to follow-up on some comments and questions.

goxewu thematizes one prominent (and very reasonable) response to my blog post: that it is just too doggone vague and ambiguous. Mere “blind-quote journalism,” goxewu writes, wanting more specificity to be convinced that there’s anything close to a there there. “There is a middle ground,” he writes, “between complete vagueness and anonymity (which is what Professor Jackson has now) and blowing everyone’s cover.”

Responding to trendisnotdestiny’s question about whether bringing the topic up at all might be enough, goxewu responds: “I’m going to be a little more severe here: Prof. Jackson is essentially saying, “I know a lot of important black professors at elite schools and they confide in me. So take my word for it that in our private conversations, where they let their hair down like they wouldn’t with anybody else, they complain about racial disrespect.”

Then goxewu begins a debate about the similarities and differences between a “paid blogger and a journalist,” arguing that the two are equivalent, which means, he contends, that I am obliged to provide more proof to ground my piece.

marktropolis, who always has great feedback in such moments, pushed back against that blogger-as-journalist claim, but he agreed that it might be useful for me to add more particulars to my story.

Several people wonder if I can go back and get some quotes, or at least add some more details to the descriptions of the faculty I’m invoking.

Then Marc B and Marktropolis have a discussion about the role (and potential cause) of under-representation in academia, a theme I invoke in the post. (And thanks, MB, for the link to your piece from the minnesota review. I just printed it out for an upcoming train ride.)

“But what causes under-representation? Every time I give a talk,” Marc B writes, “whether it’s at an Ivy League school or a community college, you can hear a pin drop when I ask folks to speculate about a truth that everyone present already knows: Why are police departments more diverse than history departments?” Other commentators, including marktropolis, try to answer that question.

Several other comments reinforce the idea that more of the story needs to be told. Professor Chuck Kleinhans wants more specifics and asks whether or not Clarence Thomas might be read as similarly disrespected (and in race-inflected ways), the latter comment spawning a series of sub-debates about the Supreme Court Justice’s relative ideological autonomy (with marktropolis explaining his skepticism about “bringing Clarence Thomas into this thread” and livefreeordie2 contending that marktropolis is disrespecting Thomas).

joelcairo calls for “a full-blown ethnographic study” on the topic, which I do find intriguing. And wilkenslibrary asks about the degree to which “distinguished black women faculty feel as disrespected as their male counterparts.”

Thanks for the comments, and here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll make a few phone calls this weekend and early next week to see if any of these scholars might allow me to provide more substantive details about their stories/sagas (without compromising their anonymity). Maybe I can even get someone to let me post a short Q&A with him about his particular concerns. In fact, someone might even be willing to go public in a less anonymous way, but I’ll find out. I’ll also try to chat with some distinguished black female scholars about their lives in the academy. See what I get. In many ways, what struck me about the scholars I brought up in my post was the fact that these stories were decidedly unsolicited, but it might still be valuable to ask some female faculty, point blank, about their own experiences.

For now, let me just say that three of the scholars I mentioned are at Ivy League institutions, four more work at research institutions on the East Coast or the Midwest, and one teaches in the University of California system. A little more specificity, with possibly more to come.


Elizabeth Marks said...

Well, I don't have a great deal to add, in the way of requests or insight, being a young (I'd like to think), white, female academic. But I had a previous life as an art professor at a very diverse university, and I would tentatively- very tentatively venture that my colleagues there felt differently. When I taught cultural studies in Chicago my department was again, highly diverse. It's only now in reading your post that I marvel at the uniform whiteness of the faculty in my current anthropology PhD program. If you do study this in more depth I'd love to know how faculty at perhaps, less elite (and let's face it, eliteness and diversity seem to inversely correlate) institutions feel about the respect of their colleagues. I hope I didn't just have blinders on. As a pink-haired 'too young for this job' art prof, I KNEW why I was excluded, when I was excluded (which wasn't often).

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