Giving UT a Voice on Diversity, Faculty Speaks Up

On Nov. 7, a St. Petersburg Times column about the lack of tenured African American professors at the University of Tampa made waves on campus, received attention online and prompted a response from school officials on UT’s homepage.

The column, “At UT, Never a Tenured African-American,” by Bill Maxwell, explains that the university has never had a tenured African-American professor.

George Botjer, a UT professor who has taught at the university for 48 years, brought that fact to Maxwell’s attention.

The story surrounding it was rooted in what Botjer perceived to be past racism at UT, something he passionately fought particularly during the 1960s and 1970s.

In responding to the article, Janet McNew, Provost of UT, said, “For the most part, it was dealing with things that happened over 30 years ago. And it was very out of touch of the way that the university is now.”

The article goes on to say that UT has no African-Americans currently on the tenure track, an incorrect assertion.

Erica Dawson, an African-American assistant professor of English who was hired this semester, is on tenure track and was very upset with the article.

She even wrote a letter to the editor to register her complaint.

“The biggest thing about the article that upset me in general was the fact that it seemed to be implying that UT is a racist institution and in large part that the administration is making racist decisions.” Dawson said.

“When you walk around our sidewalks, it’s easy to see the diversity that we have on this campus. Not just in terms of our faculty but our staff and our students as well.”

Dawson said she does not want readers to get the wrong impression about UT.

“I was alarmed at the lack of awareness of the way that UT is now,” she said. “I felt the article was not as researched as it could have been. For me, that’s a problem when we’re talking about journalism.”

Haig Mardirosian, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, agreed.

“As someone who has worked for years on diversifying the faculty, elsewhere and recently at UT, the sting of this piece in the Times is especially sharp,” he wrote in an e-mail to faculty last week.

“It was both planted and written by people who clearly do not understand the intensity, the emotion and the urgency of the work that we all do to embrace our diversity.

Rather, these folks tossed around a few unfounded and ugly words and, at that, never stopped to check their data.”

Arthur Hollist, an African-born black professor at UT, said similarly that Maxwell “did not do his homework.”

Hollist  did not give a comment to Maxwell because he felt that “[his] characterization of me was unfortunate. I didn’t think that it warranted commenting.”

Maxwell mentioned in his article that Hollist’s “exotic, foreign provenance is preferred by many U.S. universities looking for a black face.”

He implied that Hollist, along with other minority professors from Sierra Leone or other areas outside the Western world, were hired for their exoticism.

According to McNew, the tenure process that UT follows is one recommended by the American Association of University Professors.

Professors hired on tenure-track have a six-year probationary period.

After three years, professors have pre-tenure reviews. At the end of six years, professors have a full tenure review.

The key points for a professor receiving tenure are successful teaching, scholar activity, a terminal degree (highest degree in a given field) and involvement in student life or activities.

According to McNew, there are 129 tenured professors at UT.

The university declined to release a breakdown of those who are black, Hispanic, Asian or white to protect their identities.

In the column, Maxwell also mentioned Kendra Frorup, another black tenure-track professor from the Bahamas.

He did not mention the African-American assistant professor Lonnie Bryant, also on tenure track.

“I felt the distinction he was trying to make between African-born and African-American was sort of old school,” Hollist said.

“It was a distinction I didn’t really understand.”

Hollist has been with UT for 22 years. In that time, he has seen improvement in diversity.

“UT is moving in the right direction in terms of diversifying its faculty and students. Is there more work to be done? Yeah, absolutely,” Hollist said.

“How you attract faculty of color and different ethnicity is something that has to be researched and investigated thoroughly. If there was an easy answer, I think we would have done it.”

Donovan Myrie, an English-born black who serves as a communications instructor at UT, agreed with Hollist that improvements can be made.

As he said, “I think the reason we don’t have as many professors of color here . . . [O]ne, you don’t have a large pool of people of color on the Ph.D. level or the terminal degree level.

“Two, those candidates are usually heading towards larger cities with bigger salaries and more opportunities. And three, UT does not really search out and seek those people of color.”

Myrie does not think UT searches for those candidates, instead just accepting the ones who apply for open positions.

He believes recruiting black faculty candidates is not an easy thing to do.

“I think that’s the point that professor Botjer is trying to make,” Myrie said.

Overall though, in his words, “I don’t think that the university treats any professor differently regardless of color.

“It doesn’t matter what color you are it matters that you are a good professor.”

In an e-mail response provided to The Minaret, university president Ronald Vaughn stated, “I don’t believe the article accurately reflects the current reality of diversity at the University of Tampa.

“The university recognizes the importance of diversity on campus and in the classroom.

“We put a great deal of effort in hiring the best-qualified faculty and staff, and we have taken great strides to build an inclusive community that embraces diversity of all sorts.

“Today, UT’s diversity is apparent and is a key element in strengthening students’ total educational experience.”

Mandy Erfourth can be reached at 
mandy.tt.carr@gmail.com.

Posted November 17 2010 at 10:32 pm

The Minaret: http://theminaretonline.com/2010/11/17/article14815

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