My knowledge of Harvard University begins and ends with Rory Gilmore who, SPOILER ALERT, ends up going to Yale. My lack of in depth knowledge notwithstanding, what I gleaned from Ms. Gilmore is that Harvard is, as it turns out, is a Very Important Place where Very Important People are doing Very Important Things. In a shocking twist, this bit of knowledge, obtained from a fictional television program, has turned out to be entirely true.
Unfortunately, what is also entirely true is that Harvard, like many institutions of higher education, greatly undervalues, underserves, and under-tenures its non-white, non-male faculty. The latest injustice being done unto Lorgia García Peña, a Latix studies professor with more degrees, accolades, and publications under her belt than anyone currently running our country (I’m assuming).
García Peña, currently the Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor of Romance languages and literatures and of history and literature at Harvard, was denied tenure by the institution, a decision which sparked protests on the campus as well as a letter demanding the decision be overturned, which has garnered nearly 4,000 signatures.
“The organizing around Professor García Peña’s tenure denial is not only about righting an egregious wrong but also about pointing out that, while Harvard touts itself one of the top sites of knowledge production in the world, it is an intellectual desert when it comes to ethnic studies because it systematically undermines brilliant faculty trying to do this work.” said Marisol LeBrón, an assistant professor of Latino Studies at the University of Texas.
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For those of you who care to read up on it, you can find out what a tenured professor at Harvard is and how to become on here. The tldr; version of it is, you’re really smart and very impressive and also after you’re tenured you can pretty much do whatever you want and you can never lose your job. Also an old white dude gets to decide if you get tenure or not. That old white dude being the University President.
In other unsurprising but still upsetting news, just 26% of tenured faculty at Harvard are women, with 21% being white women. This statistic tracks nationally, where in 2016 just 26% of tenured faculty were women. Bum, and I cannot stress this enough, mer.
Having myself worked for five years in higher education, it cannot be stressed enough that faculty of García Peña’s caliber are indispensable, especially when considering similarly identified students on campus who often struggle to find the support they need to succeed.
If there is anything heartening to be taken from this otherwise deeply upsetting story, it’s that decisions of this nature are reversible. So, for once in 2019, an old white dude can make a good decision, and change his mind. I won’t hold my breath but my fingers are crossed for García Peña, the students at Harvard, and the world which would no doubt continue to benefit from her incredible work.