Emerson College Panel Says Black Faculty at the Institution Are “Undervalued” and Placed in a “Caste-Like” Position

In the Spring 2009 issue of JBHE, we reported on allegations of racism in tenuring decisions at Emerson College in Boston. At the time we noted that since the college’s founding in 1880, only one African American had been awarded tenure without first filing a racial discrimination lawsuit against the college. Today, four of Emerson’s 117-member tenured or tenure-track faculty are black.

Mike Brown was awarded tenure in 1979 after suing the college. He remains on the faculty today but over the past 30 years has never been promoted higher than the rank of assistant professor. He holds bachelor’s, master’s, and juris doctorate degrees.

Last year after two other black faculty members were denied tenure, the college ordered a review of the tenuring process. A three-member panel recently issued a report that said it could find no overt racism. But it concluded, “There are to be found at Emerson unexamined and powerful assumptions and biases about the superiority, preferability, and normativeness of European-American culture, intellectual pursuits, academic discourse, leadership and so on.” As a result there is a “disproportionate undervaluing of African Americans.”

The panel recommended that Emerson conduct multicultural training, offer mentoring and professional development programs for minority faculty, clarify departmental tenure requirements, and expand faculty searches to include more minority candidates.