Emerson College, Which Recently Has Been Accused of Racism in Faculty Hiring, Chooses an African-American President

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. This spring, four of Emerson’s 117-member tenured or tenure-track faculty were African Americans. Blacks make up about 3 percent of the student body at Emerson.

Earlier this year a three-member panel issued a report that said it could find no overt racism in faculty hiring. But the report 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.”

This past week, Emerson College announced that in July 2011, M. Lee Pelton will become president of the college. Pelton will be the college’s first black president.

Pelton is currently the president of Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. There he is credited with greatly increasing the diversity of the student body.

Dr. Pelton is a graduate of Wichita State University. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, where he later served on the faculty and was a member of the board of overseers. Pelton has also served as dean at both Colgate University and Dartmouth College.

At the announcement of his hiring, Pelton told the Boston Globe, “Diversity is not an add-on, but really is core to the academic mission of institutions that thrive on having diverse points of view, divergent backgrounds, and different ethnic heritages come together. We need to make some progress in that area.”