Tenure Decision Not About Race

by Staff

The imbroglio over professor Patricia Washington’s tenure attemptmight be worrisome to San Diego State, if we were earlier in thesemester. But now, with only two weeks until finals, there is only somuch time for sit-ins,protest marches and other mischief. Then, accordingly, everybody willgo back home, drink eggnog, and wassail themselves into oblivion.

What is interesting about these pro-Washington (the teacher, notthe U.S. government) rallies is how utterly defensive they are;usually, these types of people wait awhile before they play the racecard. But no; basing emotion and feelings over logic, theseprotesters call SDSU’s anticipated tenure decision “racist,” andwhatever else Jesse Jackson might say.

Due to the nature of the tenure process, kindly explained to me inan interview with Arts and Letters Associate Dean CarolSweedler-Brown, our protesters would have had to see professorWashington’s Personal Data Summary (PDS) to call the decision”racist.” But each PDS is confidential, able to be seen only by thefaculty members (and not by, say, certain students) who areevaluating it.

The PDS is what represents a person seeking tenure, and it isevaluated in five separate levels, by different faculty members.Thus, it also can’t be said that the tenure decision is a “political”decision; too many different people are involved. The fact thatWashington hasn’t been recommended for tenure during the first twolevels of her evaluation (which are a department peer review and areview by the department chair) might not, I gather, be a good signfor her, for these reviewers are members of her own department.

Also, the tenure review is based on a professor’s teaching,scholarly work and service work. Although Washington does someservice work, one can’t get tenure from work alone. She is alsoevaluated based on her students’ evaluations, and on her workpublished in reputable journals. Since her PDS is confidential, let’stry to guess why she has not, so far, been recommended.

We read in The Daily Aztec that there have been several complaintsregarding her teaching style; perhaps it’s not worthy of tenure.Perhaps the same goes for her work. Working one’s way through her”oeuvre” isn’t easy, but, like the young CIA operative (whose jobeventually led to him being bitten to death by ravenous Taliban)said, “Someone’s got to do it.”

Being a college professor, her writings are predictablyincomprehensible and bizarre; but they have also, coincidentally,covered her back for just this occasion. In an article in theNational Women’s Studies Association journal (“First, You Got To UseWhat’s Lying Around the House,” Fall 1998), she writes, “…a blacklesbian feminist (herself) who looks at the gender, race, power, andclass dynamics of women’s suffrage movements in the United Stateswill be accused of focusing on race — of narrowing the curriculum,instead of broadening it.”

And then, “For me, loving a white woman who was seeking employmentin one of the few jobs in university administration generallyavailable to racialized persons meant having to decide how toactively support the person I loved while also being attentive to thehiring patterns of the institution.” In other words, if SDSU doesn’thire her, they are making her a victim of “white racism in highereducation.” Coincidentally, her article is an examination of “whiteracism in higher education.”

In another article (“Women of Color Standpoints: Introduction,”2001) in the same journal, Washington writes, “The numerous termsassociated with the histories and experiences of women of color(i.e., dual/multiple levels of consciousness, spirit murder,both/and, triple-bind, outsider-within, and womanist) all reflect anomnipresent awareness of the complexity of various states of being,as well as the relative degrees of power and visibility one has inany given family, community, or organizational environment.”

Or perhaps she’s not getting tenure because no one knows just whatthe hell she’s talking about. “Both/and”? “Womanist”? “SpiritMurder”? “Racialized”? “Gendered”? Perhaps it’s like the speechCornell West recently gave to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government,in which he announced that “America has been niggerized by theterrorist attack.” The word is not in the dictionary. Such”specialized” language might get by for a while, until a tenurereview board roots it out.

Perhaps we’ll never know why, if it happens, Washington doesn’tget tenure. But that doesn’t mean we can’t guess. Perhaps SDSU willrealize, just like the Frenchman in Monty Python, that we don’treally need another women’s studies professor, since “we’ve alreadygot one!”

–Benjamin Abel is a social science senior and the senior opinionwriter for The Daily Aztec.

–This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of TheDaily Aztec. Send e-mail to letters@thedailyaztec.com.Anonymous letters will not be printed — include your full name,major and year in school.