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Students Band Together to Write Letter Expressing Concern over the Tenure Process and Asking for the Reconsideration of Recent Tenure Desicions

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Students Band Together to Write Letter Expressing Concern over the Tenure Process and Asking for the Reconsideration of Recent Tenure Desicions


To: President Edward Burger, Status Committee, Board of Trustees, Board of Visitors, Dean Jaime Woody, Student Body, Alumni, and Faculty

We are writing to express our frustration and shock that Dr. Carina Evans Hoffpauir and Dr. Molly Jensen did not receive tenure this past week. We would like to express how we believe Dr. Hoffpauir and Dr. Jensen have made huge, critical contributions to the Southwestern community, and relatedly, why they should receive tenure. We also would like to express our concerns about the tenure process itself because of these two outcomes. We believe that the tenure process should be made more transparent and that the tenure decisions for Dr. Hoffpauir and Dr. Jensen should be reversed – both of these professors should be offered tenure.

By describing the “teaching effectiveness, professional activity and achievements, and contributions to the university community” of these two professors, we will show their importance to the campus community and deservingness of tenure (2013-14 Faculty Handbook, 34-35).

Dr. Hoffpauir’s campus contributions, skills as a professor, and skills as a scholar are outstanding, and vital to our university. Dr. Hoffpauir has been here since 2008. She serves on the Feminist Studies Committee and Strategic Planning and Budget Committee, has worked from 2013-2015 as Interim Faculty Director of the Debby Ellis Writing Center (restructuring the DEWC, to the great benefit of students), and has also been an advisor for the student organization EBONY. Dr. Hoffpauir is the only English department scholar on Black America, and America in general, and was found by a recent English department review (the official release of this report is upcoming) to be an invaluable resource to our campus. Dr. Hoffpauir’s areas of specialty include African American Literature and Culture, Feminist Studies, and Race and Ethnic Studies.

“Her research is on neo-slave narratives, focusing on works written by Octavia Butler, Charles Johnson, Toni Morrison, Ann Allen Shockley, and Sherley Anne Williams.  Her manuscript, Loving Blackness: The Neo-slave Narrative and Contemporary Revisions of Slavery, interrogates the ways in which contemporary novels about slavery represent romantic love as a strategy for healing the trauma of enslavement. She also studies the literature and history of enslavement in Central Texas, and more information about her recent research endeavors can be found [in the SU Newsroom Article]: ‘Hidden History: Southwestern English Professors are Researching and Sharing the History of Slavery in Williamson County’.” – “Southwestern University: Profile: Carina Hoffpauir”

Classes taught by Dr. Hoffpauir include Black Women Writers, Representing Slavery, American Literature, Race and Ethnicity in American Literature, Texas Slavery, American Neo-slave Narratives, Capstone: Theorizing Identity and Inequality, Survey of American Literature, Introduction to Literature, and First-Year Seminar: Where Dreams Come True: A Cultural Analysis of the World of Disney. Next semester she is scheduled to teach classes in the Paideia cluster “Americas: North by South.” Dr. Hoffpauir presents and discusses at Race and Ethnicity Studies and Feminist Studies events, such as symposia and salons, offering critical information on intersectionality in relation to slavery, race and ethnicity, and feminist theory to students and others. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Hoffpauir has been a resource to students doing activism on campus by providing a listening ear and offering relevant scholarship to their work one-on-one.

Dr. Jensen’s campus contributions, skills as a professor, and skills as a scholar are, again, outstanding, and vital to our university. Dr. Jensen has been here since 2002, first as a visiting professor, then as a tenure-track professor since 2009. Dr. Jensen serves on the Faculty Steering Committee and Sexual Misconduct Hearing Board, and will potentially be the Alpha Phi Omega, Garden Club, and Methodist Student Movement advisor this coming year. She played a major role in getting SEED grant for creating the SU Community Garden, which has impacted many SU students, and the Georgetown community at large, with the food, space, and community it provides. Most recently, when students reached out to faculty for help in creating an educational event about sexual assault on college campuses, Dr. Jensen acted as the leading planner for the documentary screening of “The Hunting Ground” and an accompanying teach-in. In addition to this, she also acted as a faculty facilitator and presenter at the event itself. This powerfully reflected her support for student concerns and activism on campus, especially in relation to the major issue of sexual assault. Dr. Jensen’s areas of specialty include Jewish Relational Ethics, Borderlands and Religion, Religion and Sustainability, Phenomenology, and Religion and Literature. Classes taught by Dr. Jensen include Introduction to Islamic Traditions, Introduction to Judaism, Borderlands and Religion, Religion and Literature, Environmental Philosophy, Apocalypse, Religion and Sustainable Agriculture, and Theory and Methods Capstone. Next semester, Dr. Jensen is scheduled to teach in the “Mediterranean Mingling” Paideia cluster, and she has taught in the “Anthropocene” cluster in the past. Dr. Jensen also presents and discusses at Race and Ethnicity and Feminist Studies events, such as symposia and salons, offering critical information on intersectionality in relation to environmental issues, religion, race and ethnicity, and feminist theory.

Structural issues are being revealed by these tenure decisions. First, it seems that activism or support of student activism is viewed as a negative quality in professors. We find this very problematic for a number of reasons, including the fact that it goes against one of our favorite points of the Southwestern Core Values: “Encouraging activism in the pursuit of justice and the common good.” The decision against Dr. Jensen for tenure came directly after her intensive involvement in student activism to benefit the campus community. This activism culminated in “The Hunting Ground” Screening and Teach-In, which took place while Board members were on campus. The fact that she was not granted tenure was a complete shock to her department because of how qualified they understand her to be. Was the decision not to offer tenure a response from the President, or the Board of Trustees, to her involvement in the student movement against rape culture? Dr. Hoffpauir is also involved in campus activism in her support of students of color on campus who are confronted with structural racism and sexism, and she also acted as one of the faculty facilitators for “The Hunting Ground” Teach-In. Dr. Hoffpauir and Dr. Jensen’s scholarly work is also activist in its social justice focus. The neo-slave narratives in Dr. Hoffpauir’s work engage with the history and lingering legacy of slavery, explore ways of being and meanings of Blackness, and engage with queerness and feminist theory. Ecological issues, feminist theory, and national identities come together in Dr. Jensen’s articles and presentations.

The decision not to offer tenure to Dr. Hoffpauir, one of Southwestern’s very few scholars of color, is also a reflection of the larger issue of structural racism. There is a known dynamic that Black women academics are less likely to get tenure than other academics. This racism is echoed in the pattern of scholarly work on people of color (and women of color especially) and queerness not being regarded as important academic work.

It also seems that unrealistic expectations of work and leadership for tenure track professors have been at play, as Dr. Hoffpauir was required as a junior faculty member to run and restructure the DEWC, which no doubt cut significantly into her research and writing time.

We would like to see several changes in the tenure process. First, for students who, like us a few days ago, do not know how the tenure process works, we will provide an explanation of the tenure process as far as we understand it, based on information from the faculty handbook and information from professors.

Getting evaluated for tenure is typically a 6-year process (though status at a previous university can shorten the time taken to be considered for tenure). Departments meet periodically with their tenure candidate over the 6 years to inform the candidate of their/her/his progress and areas to work on. In the year in which tenure will be decided upon, candidates’ portfolios of work are reviewed and their department writes a letter expressing support or lack of support for the candidate receiving tenure. Student evaluations factor into these considerations, but we are not exactly sure how. The department’s recommendation, and the candidate’s materials are taken to the Status Committee, composed of four people, who also offer a recommendation, this time to the President. The President brings the recommendations and materials to the Board of Trustees for final approval. In the past, the steps beyond the department echoed the decision of the department. This year, however, it seems that at some step in the process, the department recommendations were ignored. It is unfair for the university to communicate to junior professors that they will receive tenure if they meet departmental standards and then to deny two professors who have. It appears to many students and faculty that the denial of tenure to junior professors so lauded by their own departments is unprecedented.

In response to this apparent disregarding of department recommendations, and its unacceptable outcomes, in our view, we would like to request greater transparency in the tenure process. This would include teaching students about what tenure is and how the process for deciding tenure works, publicly sharing with students who is up for tenure, providing the tenure candidate and their department with a justification statement of why the individual received or did not receive tenure, and notifying students and faculty of who got tenure, as the outcome affects them directly. We also are also advocating for the consideration of the value of tenure candidates to the campus community in non-administrative capacities, which the faculty handbook already states, and a holistic and intersectional review of tenure candidate.

The decision the administration reaches in regards to the various letters in response to the denial of tenure for Dr. Hoffpauir and Dr. Jensen has important implications for future cycles of students at Southwestern. Students, current and prospective, are watching. Alumni are too. Please make the right decision for our community by reversing whoever’s decision this ultimately was – by offering tenure to Dr. Carina Evans Hoffpauir and Dr. Molly Jensen, professors admired, loved, and relied upon for their enthusiasm for teaching, their ability to foster mind-opening discussions inside and outside the classroom, and for the social justice content of their classes and scholarship.

From nine deeply concerned students,
Andrew Trigg, Carly Dennis, Redacted, Kevin Lentz, Kira Strzepa, Marianne Brown, Sadie Clarendon, Sadie Pass, and Wilhelmina Watts