Friday, March 14, 2008

Tenure for Prof. Andrea Smith!

Dear Professors Sullivan, Monts, and Coleman:

As a U of M alumni, I am writing to voice my concern about the negative decision in Professor Andrea Smith's tenure case. Professor Smith's academic achievements (including publishing three books, editing or co-editing three others, publishing 15 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, as well as receiving numerous prestigious awards and fellowships) are well known and hardly require mention; her work with students has been exemplary; and, to top it off, she was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. In an academic sense, then, she is the kind of faculty member the University of Michigan could be immensely proud of. The Program in American Culture recognized this, and was right to give her a positive recommendation in the tenure proceedings.

What worries me most, however, is the not so subtle message this decision sends: that those academics who actively pursue connections with the community beyond the walls of the university, particularly in the interest of social justice, will be punished. I am currently a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, where a similar case recently took place. Professor Ignacio Chapela, in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, was denied tenure in a suspicious decision that came soon after he published an article in the highly-respected scientific journal Nature, showing his findings of genetic contamination in the DNA of corn in Oaxaca, Mexico -- despite the assertions of Monsanto that such spread was impossible. Monsanto's manipulation was so clear that student groups immediately began to organize on Professor Chapela's behalf. After a long struggle, the dean decided to reconsider the decision and today, Professor Chapela is an associate professor in the department of ESPM -- with tenure.

I sincerely hope that, as in the case of Professor Chapela at UC Berkeley, the LS&A Provost will rethink Professor Smith's case. If not, the university will be, in essence, locking the doors and reinforcing the walls of the "ivory tower," sending a clear message that the academy shall not mix with the outside world. Students will not be the only losers of this decision -- the academy as a whole will suffer.

Daniel Nemser
LS&A, Class of 2002


Thank you for your letter of support regarding the promotion and
tenure review of Andrea Smith, Assistant Professor, in the Program in
American Culture and the Department of Women's Studies. The awarding
of tenure is one of the most important decisions that we make in the
academe, and we take our responsibility very seriously.

It might be helpful if I briefly summarize the tenure review process
at the University of Michigan. We have 18 schools and colleges that
have an explicit set of procedures for promotion and tenure review of
their faculty. In all cases, promotion recommendations are evaluated
at multiple levels, beginning with the local unit (typically
departmental) and continuing through a review by school/college level
committee(s). The casebooks are then forwarded to the Provost for
review and, in consultation with the President, recommendations to
award tenure are made to the Board of Regents.

I appreciate your concerns and your disagreement with the college’s
decision not to recommend tenure. These decisions are complex and
multifaceted, and those making the judgments must take into
consideration many factors, including some specific to the individual
and others of broader departmental or institutional significance.

Again, let me thank you for your letter of support for Professor Smith.

Teresa A. Sullivan
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
University of Michigan


More info here

Online petition here