Guest Editorial: On Faculty Retention and Speaking Truth to Power

Nora Howe’s recent article on faculty diversity and retention raised some important issues and has started a useful dialogue. She is to be commended for shining light on a degree of dissatisfaction among past and present Haverford faculty of color. However, this article presents an incomplete account of the factors that must be considered when discussing faculty retention. For this reason, I felt called to share first in a short comment and now in a longer format some information that provides greater nuance so this important conversation can proceed in a meaningful direction towards solutions to the range of problems that clearly exist.

Haverford College has a rich history of “speaking truth to power” in the Quaker tradition. Howe’s article and the emotional response to it default to the form that tradition often takes: calling the administration to account even where its power is limited to effect the change we all desire. There is another Haverford tradition worthy of revival, the eminently practical money-sense of the Orthodox Quakers who founded the institution. Accordingly, I speak plain truth from hard data to the student power that would insist on easy explanations for complex challenges. One (regrettably) anonymous poster dismissed my comment as that of a shill for the administration. How a graduate of seven years ago who has had no real contact with the present leadership could be such boggles the mind, but let’s set that aside. I speak, instead, as someone concerned with the future of an intentional community in which I believe deeply, as a PhD student of a large research university where some of my colleagues consider taking a small liberal arts college job a failure, and as a (reluctant) student of the academic job market who has access to faculty salary data that this diligent student-journalist might not have been able to view.

I was frankly surprised and pleased to learn from the American Association of University Professors salary survey that Haverford’s average associate professor compensation is so competitive amongst its true peers, (that is, academically similar liberal arts colleges rather than wealthy research universities like Columbia that are misleadingly called “peers” by the title of Howe’s article,) coming ahead of Williams, Middlebury, Wesleyan, and almost $10,000 ahead of Bryn Mawr, despite our sister school’s greater endowment resources per student. However, competing with institutions like those named – Columbia, NYU, and Dartmouth – will always be a serious financial challenge and a psychological one to boot because so many promising young academics are eager to work with graduate students and to gain the wider scholarly influence and lighter teaching loads that such institutions can offer. When Haverford starts losing associate professors of color to true peers, that will be a subject worthy of reporting in and of itself. When tenured faculty leave little Haverford for a big payday at major research universities, that’s par for the course until proven otherwise.

A similarly wrenching process of soul-searching over faculty retention took place during my Haverford years when the distinguished historian of Islam Michael Sells was recruited away by the University of Chicago. He happens to be white but in his research and teaching gave great service to the richness of Haverford for over two decades and his loss was keenly felt. This problem is as old as the liberal arts college and is only heating up in recent years as colleges and universities battle with increasing ferocity over “star” faculty members, even as non-tenure-track faculty languish in a kind of purgatory, (as a previous Clerk report has documented). While the faculty perspectives included here are significant and, as Stephen Handlon rightly says, not to be discounted, this article could have been strengthened by seeking different views and inquiring whether other explanations for these departures and frustrations are possible or even likely. This is all the more necessary because numbers cited within the article itself show that Haverford seems to have more faculty of color than many true peer institutions just as one survey within the past decade showed that Haverford had the largest percentage of black faculty of all liberal arts colleges. Of course the faculty could and should be more diverse. My comments are not to claim that there is no work to be done but rather that the analysis we have seen is incomplete.

While I do not know the details of each case to which the disappointingly anonymous commenter requested detailed response, it is significant that Cristina Beltran has moved to a department not of Political Science, the field that seems to have declined to tenure her, but of “Social and Cultural Analysis.” I’m astonished that the skilled young journalist Nora Howe got her on record asserting that “Every faculty search is an opportunity, or missed opportunity, to diversify the faculty.” Would she consider the search that hired Kim Benston decades ago a failure because of his appearance? After all his tireless, humble service to Haverford students and faculty of color and to the study of African-American culture, the narrow world view that would reject him on such a basis does not suggest the rigor one expects of a tenured faculty member. One hopes that she has found a more congenial home in a program that is a little more “political,” a little less “science.” Indradeep Ghosh’s concern, too, frustrating as it must be, sounds to an outsider well-acquainted with academic politics as though it could be an issue of departmental structures that are too sluggish in evolving to meet the contemporary climate of interdisciplinarity. Such resistance to change is easy to perceive as discrimination but is much more likely to be evidence of a need to shake up Haverford’s way of compartmentalizing knowledge.

These issues are complex and it’s understandable when they produce emotion. Nora Howe and The Clerk have done us a great service by initiating a conversation that ranges in many more directions than one article could include.

 

Will Coleman ’07 is a PhD candidate in history of art at the University of California, Berkeley.

Editor’s Note: Cristina Beltran was granted tenure by the College.

 

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14 Responses

  1. Valerie Snow says:

    If it’s any consolation to Cristina Beltran, her tenure-track “replacement” in the political science department has been hired for next year, and she is an accomplished Latina scholar. I was on the search committee, and four out of the five candidates we brought to campus were non-white.

    • disqus_ynMSKVSldn says:

      so the political science department will now have 1 faculty member of color. whoa.

      • Aigner Picou says:

        I am getting some preeettttty sassy vibes from your comment to Val. If I am wrong, please let me know! And maybe use some exclamation points? I dunno

      • Aigner Picou says:

        But if I am correct and this is sass, then sass monster to sass monster, I was just wondering “wtf is THIS condescending statement about” ?!??

        Isn’t one better than none? We want to have more faculty of color and we want to create an environment that supports them. If you have some suggestions as to how we can do that without faculty of color….??

        Val was on a search committee that brought more non-white candidates than white ones. That’s awesome! Why not be supportive of that? Why do you sound extra salty?

      • Valerie Snow says:

        Thanks Aigner, and also for your comments above replying to the article. Agreed: the poli sci department is white. However, our search committee clearly tried to do something about that. And no knocks against Cristina Beltran, of course. By “replacement,” I mean that her departure left a gap in the political theory offerings, and we hired someone with the express intention of filling that gap.

  2. Aigner Picou says:

    One thing to point out is that it is not a discussion about faculty retention in general, but about faculty of color retention. I think you are missing how huge of a factor it is that there is not very much acceptance or support for people of color at Haverford in general. It is a very white thing to want to consider all the other factors that go into faculty of color leaving and suggest that those factors may play a bigger role. Sure other factors play a role, but I believe at the heart of the problem is a lack of acceptance/support. The Haverford community loves to claim that we are accepting, when most students/faculty of color feel like their otherness is constantly being thrown in their face. I do not think you are giving enough weight to that factor.

  3. Aigner Picou says:

    Also I though this entire statement was unnecessarily condescending/maybe I am just missing what you are trying to say here:

    “I’m astonished that the skilled young journalist Nora Howe got her on record asserting that “Every faculty search is an opportunity, or missed opportunity, to diversify the faculty.” Would she consider the search that hired Kim Benston decades ago a failure because of his appearance? After all his tireless, humble service to Haverford students and faculty of color and to the study of African-American culture, the narrow world view that would reject him on such a basis does not suggest the rigor one expects of a tenured faculty member.”

    First of all I think what Beltran is saying, is simply that we can try harder/reach further to diversify the faculty, so that as a Chem major and student of color, I do not have to be in a department where no one looks like me. She is not saying that hiring good professors is a failure.

    Second of all, I do not know much about “Kim Benstons tireless, humble service to Haverford students and faculty of color,” but if that is the case, he is one of few faculty members not of color that is doing that. I do not think diversifying the faculty is limited to simply hiring professors of color, but also hiring more faculty members that advocate for students of color instead of ones (most) who just chill in their white privilege in this white white Haverford world.

  4. disqus_ynMSKVSldn says:

    “speaking truth to power”

    lol.

    no.

    “One (regrettably) anonymous poster dismissed my comment as that of a shill for the administration. How a graduate of seven years ago who has had no real contact with the present leadership could be such boggles the mind, but let’s set that aside.”

    William Coleman is a member of the Corporation of the College for all the readers who don’t know. Therefore, William is tied to the leadership of the College in this very important way. The corporation elects members and officers of the Corporation, members of the Board of Managers, the Standing Nominating Committee and the Advisory Committee of the Corporation.

    William, instead of spending your whole piece criticizing Nora’s article, the remarks made by faculty of color, and advocacy by students on behalf of faculty of color, you could have chosen instead to use your privilege and role as a member of the Corporation to take these criticisms seriously and demand that the administration and the Board of Managers introduce policies and create a campus culture that better retains faculty of color. That would be speaking truth to power (especially at a school that prides itself in “social justice”). Offering up Kim Benston as a conclusion to your argument is offensive to those who might demand better policies to retain faculty of color. The argument reeks of the same types of arguments made against affirmative action and other policies that seek to make schools and workplaces more diverse and progressive. Sure, Kim is a great professor who occasionally teaches African American literature and who also happens to be a white dude. This has very little to do with structuring the institution to be more welcoming of marginalized voices.

    Sure, the institution does great work. But it can always do better, especially regarding the concerns of students and faculty of color and students from lower and middle-income backgrounds. Over the past few months, I think you’ve done a good job at relaying back some of the institution’s thinking behind the many closed-door decisions it makes. I hope that continues so that students know what’s actually going on at the College and the places where student input is not being adequately heard. You could use your position in the Haverford community to actually take the grievances of students and faculty up the chains of command that Haverford students may not have access to or the energy to work through.

    also wtf is this condescending statement about:

    “One hopes that she [Professor Beltran] has found a more congenial home in a program that is a little more ‘political,’ a little less science.”

    Professor Beltran was well admired and respected by her students and colleagues, especially those “political” students who were at the College when the Patriot Act, Iraq War, and draconian immigration policies were beginning to unfold.

    • Uvedale says:

      Your vitriol is unfounded and your anonymity is cowardly. You have resorted to ad hominem attacks while my comments were nothing of the sort. You have wildly misunderstood what it means to be a member of the Corporation. So insignificant is this fact that I didn’t think even to mention it in my brief bio. Despite the Corporation’s history, it is now little more than a sub-alumni organization for Quakers that keeps loyal alums feeling somewhat connected to the College but has no power to speak of besides the tiny amount wielded by its executive committee, of which I am not a member, to nominate members of the Board from time to time and to encourage Quaker activites on campus. I have spoken to Dan Weiss exactly once in passing but I have no detailed knowledge of administration policy and can’t speak for it. You are confused and you perpetuate a culture in which the only way to truth is the one not taken by authority. You don’t know me and in your rush to righteous indignation set up straw men to oppose when in reality we agree on the need to nurture faculty diversity at Haverford. What I disagree with is the evidence presented by that article. When faculty leave Haverford, relative finances must be considered as one possible explanation. I hope you learn to see this simple fact. Signed, Will Coleman ’07

      • disqus_ynMSKVSldn says:

        What did you take as vitriolic and ad hominem? Calling someone “cowardly” sounds pretty ad hominem to me.

        As for your statements about the role of the Corporation, I take them and apologize for insinuating that your role in the Corporation may be smaller than what I proposed. Still, you do have some power in that role, you must acknowledge that. Not only that, but wasn’t your grandfather was the President of Haverford College for ten years (1967-77)? Not trying to call you out or anything but just pointing out that you do have power and privilege specifically within this institution. You know that. I don’t need to point it out to you.

        Anyway, I take your point: “relative finances must be considered as one possible explanation.” Sure. But wouldn’t that mean that all faculty would flock to those institutions in a similar manner and not simply faculty of color? And if your argument is true, then what CAN Haverford do to address an issue you yourself say you somewhat care about? It may not just be finances. Perhaps faculty of color are leaving Haverford because the campus culture doesn’t suit their need and desires. Obviously there is no data on this subject, but something that could very well be plausible, no?

        But at the end of the day, your article isn’t just about the financial argument. As mentioned, (1) you belittle Cristina Beltran by referring to her department as more “political” than “science,” (2) bring up Kim Benson’s tenureship as part of your argument about why race may be problematic in hiring processes at Haverford (what you’re basically saying is that if we hired a professor of color instead, they might not have been as good as Kim), (3) refuse to move from a place beyond critique, belittle your critics for being angry an emotional, and refuse to offer any ways forward to address the low number of (good) faculty of color at Haverford, and (4) refuse to acknowledge that your article perpetuates your privilege, and by extension privilege at Haverford, rather than challenge it (…and now we’re back to “speaking truth to power”).

        William, obviously you care about Haverford and that’s why you’re engaging with students in the strange abyss of the comment sections of the school newspaper. I don’t deny that. So, I want to take up your call for introspection. Reflection is great. Students, faculty, and the administration should all look deep within themselves and ask: “In spite of Haverford doing fairly well compared to its peer institutions in its number of faculty of color, why is 90+% of the History/Chemistry/English/Physics department white?”

        Great. Now that we’ve reflected, I’m rightfully and righteously indignated again. What can students and alumni who are passionate about this issue do now beyond calling out the structural issues for what they are? Beyond getting told we need to “introspect.”

    • Uvedale says:

      The reason I contributed this editorial instead of continuing in the discussion of Nora’s article is that I don’t think discussion threads stalked by anonymous commenters are particularly productive places to discuss complex issues. Now that even those who support your take have called you out for your tone, it’s time to look within. My engagement with these issues began when I saw a premise at work in Nora’s article that did not ring true from my knowledge of the higher education landscape: the departure of faculty members for institutions that pay vastly more than Haverford for less work while offering a higher international profile is a pretty shaky foundation on which to build an article about race on campus. Facts matter. There should be introspection about how to build Haverford into a place where students and faculty of all backgrounds can thrive and excel, but such seeking is most likely to make the urgently needed difference if it starts from the strongest beginnings and from examining all sides of these issues. The response has been so eager to rush past the initial facts to the full-throated defense of preconceived notions and to baselessly impugning my integrity that I think the conversation would be best continued in face-to-face forums on campus rather than here. I won’t be commenting on this topic again, but I am often in the Philadelphia area and would be glad to come to campus to talk with anyone interested not as an imagined online adversary but as another member of the wider Haverford community who is concerned about problems facing the College and is eager that discussions proceed in ways most likely to effect meaningful change; that is, by use of the critical thinking our institution encourages to interrogate all orthodoxies, even those to which we subscribe. -Will Coleman ’07

      • Aigner Picou says:

        Haha I am not a fan of sass monsters tone-but I am guessing this response was directed at both of us. I agree with you about introspection and the need to look at all sides of these issues, but to me it seems that you are only addressing one aspect of the issue based on your knowledge of the higher educational landscape. I believe that these professors make decisions based on a number of reasons, but I think some factors, like race/racial relations weigh heavier than others-that was so clearly expressed by Beltran. I would love to meet with you in person-like actually (you should email me apicou@haverford.edu) and we can meet and talk face to face. But until then I would like to address a couple of things. Going with the theme “Facts matter” here are some facts that I think matter in this discussion:

        Fact: We live in America. Race matters

        Fact: If 3 white professors left in the past 3 years (which I’m sure has happened), this discussion would be different/this may not be a discussion at all or a big deal.

        Fact: Giving faculty of color a higher salary/international profile does nothing to create the kind of community that supports faculty/students of color. A community that is inclusive-the kind of community that Beltran and Benston discuss.

        Fact: Haverford College was built for white people, by white people. To be inclusive/to be integrated/to be accepting requires working through that institutional memory. Something most students/faculty at this college have not done and are not willing to do.

        Fact: I was not baselessly impugning your integrity. I was just telling you to check your privilege. I do not know you-I’m not going to call your integrity into question.

        Fact: The foundation of Nora’s article is not the departure of faculty members for institutions that pay vastly more than Haverford for less work while offering a higher international profile. You decided that. The foundation is very clearly stated in the first-the concern of the commitment to diversity of the college.

        Additionally to say that the response rushed to the full-throated defense of preconceived notions….to say that I am defending opinions that lack evidence/knowledge/experience. OK….That devalues the shared minority experience-an isolating one for most-dismissing it as any form of evidence for why faculty of color would leave. It also suggests that the opinions I formed and made about your argument are completely arbitrary, when my responses were very much based on your writing which is evidential and characteristic of people who lack an understanding of their privilege.

      • Aigner Picou says:

        Haha I am not a fan of sass monsters tone-but I am guessing this response was directed at both of us. I agree with you about introspection and the need to look at all sides of these issues, but to me it seems that you are only addressing one aspect of the issue based on your knowledge of the higher educational landscape. I believe that these professors make decisions based on a number of reasons, but I think some factors, like race/racial relations weigh heavier than others-that was so clearly expressed by Beltran. I would love to meet with you in person-like actually (you should email me apicou@haverford.edu) and we can meet and talk face to face. But until then I would like to address a couple of things. Going with the theme “Facts matter” here are some facts that I think matter in this discussion:

        Fact: We live in America. Race matters

        Fact: If 3 white professors left in the past 3 years (which I’m sure has happened), this discussion would be different/this may not be a discussion at all or a big deal.

        Fact: Giving faculty of color a higher salary/international profile does nothing to create the kind of community that supports faculty/students of color. A community that is inclusive-the kind of community that Beltran and Benston discuss.

        Fact: Haverford College was built for white people, by white people. To be inclusive/to be integrated/to be accepting requires working through that institutional memory. Something most students/faculty at this college have not done and are not willing to do.

        Fact: I was not baselessly impugning your integrity. I was just telling you to check your privilege. I do not know you-I’m not going to call your integrity into question.

        Fact: The foundation of Nora’s article is not the departure of faculty members for institutions that pay vastly more than Haverford for less work while offering a higher international profile. You decided that. The foundation is very clearly stated in the first lines-the concern of the commitment to diversity of the college.

        Additionally to say that the response rushed to the full-throated defense of preconceived notions….to say that I am defending opinions that lack evidence/knowledge/experience. OK….That devalues the shared minority experience-an isolating one for most-dismissing it as any form of evidence for why faculty of color would leave. It also suggests that the opinions I formed and made about your argument are completely arbitrary, when my responses were very much based on your writing which is evidential and characteristic of people who lack an understanding of their privilege.

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