Philosopher Attributes Job Loss To Challenging White Hegemony (updated)


Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, a research associate with a term appointment at University College London, is claiming that his contract was not renewed “because his plans to ‘put white hegemony under the microscope’ were considered too much of a challenge to white-dominated academia,” according to an article in The Independent.

Coleman,  who crosses out his surname to “highlight the stigmatising expressive meaning” of the “badge” given to his forebears by slave owners, said his proposals for a new black studies MA were opposed by University College London  colleagues seeking something less critical of the white Establishment. UCL has postponed plans for the new MA and with no course to teach, he will be out of a job when his fixed-term contract at the philosophy department expires in October.

The academic, who has a double first in greats from Oxford University, said that he became just one of five black philosophy academics in UK universities when he joined UCL as Britain’s first research associate in the philosophy of “race” in October 2013. His new MA, he claimed, would have upset some in white-dominated academia.

UCL officials dispute Coleman‘s claims about his contract.  Jonathan Wolff, who is on the philosophy faculty there and is also dean of arts and humanities, said of the MA program Coleman proposed: “Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected because it became apparent that UCL is not yet ready to offer a strong programme in this area.”

UPDATE 1 (5/23/15): Jonathan Wolff provides further information in a comment (number 8) below.

UPDATE 2 (5/23/15): Dr. Coleman has made his proposal available to view here.

UPDATE 3 (5/24/15): Eric Schliesser comments on the “narrowness” of Coleman‘s proposal. And here’s more about the history of eugenics at UCL. From the Equality Challenge Unit, here is research on the experience of black and minority ethnic staff in higher education in England and on how to encourage them to stay in higher education.

 

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Will
Will
6 years ago

It seems to me, and I really don’t have enough information, that his claim may be true in the broadest sense that there isn’t sufficient place in the academy as it exists today for a programme of the sort he proposed. Perhaps when there is a place for it, that will indicate that we won’t need it anymore.Report

anon'
anon'
6 years ago

Wolff’s statement unfortunately brings to mind Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’s “not ready” declaration of 1954. It’s hard to understand how not renewing –>Coleman<– brings UCL closer to being ready to offer a philosophy of race program.Report

Anon
6 years ago

The Facts: Coleman (<–strikethrough) is hired on a fixed-term, i.e. temporary contract. Something like a postdoc, as far as I can tell. He proposes a new M.A. program. According to the Independent article (but what's the source for this? Coleman <–strikethrough?), UCL seems interested in the M.A. program. His contract is extended for a year as the proposal for the M.A. is developed. The M.A. program is, in the end, not approved (or postponed). His extended contract eventually expires and is not renewed. What explains this?

Damning Hypothesis: UCL thought his proposal was too radical and let his contract expire out of fear, retribution, or both.

Mundane Hypothesis: there are just too few faculty to handle such an M.A. program, or insufficient funds, or perhaps questionable demand for the program. Temporary contracts tend not to be renewed for mundane (e.g. financial) reasons; it happens to most other contingent faculty all over the world, and he'd already been lucky to have it extended once. Proposed programs are often not approved, especially in the humanities, where such programs could easily be net losses for the university.

I know that if I proposed an M.A. at my institution, it would not be approved, for mundane reasons (too little money, too few faculty, too little demand). Even more so if I were just a visitor!

Anyone willing to poke around the UCL website to try to find some other faculty who could have feasibly helped support such an M.A. program? If there are sufficiently many for an M.A., I suppose that's evidence for Damning Hypothesis. If not, that's evidence for Mundane Hypothesis.

Other evidence for Mundane Hypothesis?: he's a junior researcher, not well-enough established for UCL to build a new M.A. program around him.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

“Other evidence for Mundane Hypothesis?: he’s a junior researcher, not well-enough established for UCL to build a new M.A. program around him.”

I’ll grant he is a junior researcher, but as to whether or not he’s well established enough for his proposal to succeed, it would seem disingenuous of UCL to extend his contract specifically with a view of developing said proposal, which they plan seem to plan to implement at some later date, if he was not well established enough for it to get off the ground from the get-go, no?Report

Geoff Pynn
6 years ago

Not only does the claim that “his proposals for a new black studies MA were opposed by University College London colleagues seeking something less critical of the white Establishment” strike me as highly plausible, we have it via testimony from a person who is presumably in a position to know, unlike (I assume) anonymous speculators on this blog.Report

anonymous
6 years ago

@Kathryn Pogin:

You say “[…] as to whether or not he’s well established enough for his proposal to succeed, it would seem disingenuous of UCL to extend his contract specifically with a view of developing said proposal, which they plan seem to plan [sic] to implement at some later date, if he was not well established enough for it to get off the ground from the get-go, no?”

No; read the article: “He was initially hired for a year, but had his contract extended for a further 12 months with a view to developing a new MA course.”

So, his contract was extended with a view to developing it; he did, and they didn’t buy it. The Mundane Explanation is that they didn’t buy it for mundane (not damning) reasons.Report

Anon
6 years ago

Hi Kathryn,

“it would seem disingenuous of UCL to extend his contract specifically with a view of developing said proposal, which they seem to plan to implement at some later date, if he was not well established enough for it to get off the ground from the get-go”

But how do you know they extended his contract *specifically with a view toward* developing this proposal? Asked sincerely. You may well know something I don’t. I thought we knew only that his contract was extended around the time this proposal was being put together.

And, even if you’re right, I don’t think it would necessarily be disingenuous for X to hire someone specifically with an eye toward developing a proposal for a program, a program X is very interested in developing, and then for X to ultimately reject or delay the proposal. So long as the hire was made in good faith and the proposal was fairly considered, it could just be that, upon reflection, the proposal is seen to be no good (for mundane reasons). That’s not disingenuous. It may just be wise. We often do that in ordinary life, when we change our minds. (You walk into a store, find nothing suitable, and walk out. Not disingenuous. You invite a contractor to bid on a job, but pass due to cost. You hire someone tenure-track, but then deny tenure due to poor performance. Etc.)

But I’m not even sure we know that UCL hired him or even extended his contract *specifically with an eye toward* developing this proposal. (Perhaps the proposal was initiated by Coleman, or other parties in UCL not responsible for Coleman’s hire). So there’s an even weaker case for your charge that UCL was disingenuous.

Hi Geoff,

“we have it via testimony from a person who is presumably in a position to know”

We also have the testimony of Jonathan Wolff, who’s in a position to know. And we might discount a bit the testimony of the disgruntled employee whose contract just expired. Not completely discount his testimony of course, but a bit. (And, sure, maybe we also discount Wolff’s testimony as well; maybe he’s trying to save face or something.)

So maybe we should just wait for Coleman to provide some concrete evidence to support this very serious allegation. Until then, perhaps we could treat the accused as innocent until proven guilty, for old time’s sake.Report

Jo Wolff
Jo Wolff
6 years ago

I wasn’t planning to comment, but here I go. I initially created a one-year research post in the Philosophy of Race with ‘soft money’ that had to be spent in that financial year. To my knowledge this is the first time such a post had been made available in the UK. Towards the end of the year another source of soft money became available for another year and Nathaniel and a colleague came to me with the proposal to develop an MA programme in Critical Race Studies. I offered Nathaniel a renewal of one year to investigate the possibility, saying that if the proposal was accepted it would generate a business case for a new permanent post for which Nathaniel would be a strong candidate, although there was no guarantee that he would get the job. The terms of this renewal were very clear.

There are three elements to the design of the programme. One is the name. The second is designing new core modules. The third is finding other UCL modules currently being taught on other Masters level degrees to make up a full programme. This is how we typically design new programmes at UCL, as we did, for example, for a new programme in African Studies which we have just set up to start next year.

It is true that there were difficulties over the name. As I recall, I rejected the name ‘MA in Dismantling The Master’s House’, but we agreed on ‘MA in “Race” Difference and Domination’. When the proposal was put to the inter-disciplinary committee that would have provided a home for the programme they rejected it, on two grounds. First, one of the core modules, called ‘Critical Whiteness and Critical Eugenics’ which focused primarily on the history and legacy of Eugenics at UCL (Galton and Pierson) was thought to be too narrow for a core module. Second, the menu of other modules was disappointing. There was very little in history, geography or political science, and we did not feel it fair to recruit students to a programme without these areas covered in greater depth than the proposal allowed. Although there would have been time to work on a new core module, there was no time to have a decent menu of other modules for 2016-7 as we had hoped. Hence development has been put on hold while we investigate new modules in other departments. So there is no degree for 2016-7 and no business case for a new post. This is a great disappointment to us all. We remain committed to the subject, but when we put the programme on we need to get it right.Report

Mark lance
Mark lance
6 years ago

In a country with five total black philosophers (have I got that number right? My point will not depend on the exact extremely small humber.) one cannot look at this proposal as some generic MA proposal. This was a chance for UCL to launch the first serious British attempt to remedy the structural racism of the field. They had an exciting young person spearheading the effort. They took a year to support the development. Then they said, “nah, not a priority! Britain can do with four.” At the very least this should be enormously discouraging for anyone who cares about philosophy not remaining a structurally racist institution. We can remain agnostic on the motives of those opposed and recognize that this is in no way something calling for mundane analysis.Report

C
C
6 years ago

I agree that it’s regrettable that Coleman’s contract was not renewed. Some of these are fair points, but I take it that there were internal quality control measures and there were concerns that the proposed program wasn’t up to snuff. I don’t think we have the information to say that the expression of the desire to “get it right” isn’t genuine. Looking at Wolff’s description, I don’t think that the proposed program did get things right. I wouldn’t recommend it for the people I advise, for example, if the core modules were too narrow and there wasn’t sufficient coverage in history, geography, or political science.

I think we should all agree that we’re going on limited information here about the quality of the proposed program. I can’t tell whether your response is challenging the claims about the quality of the proposed program or the relevance of this claim about quality, but I suspect that it’s partially the latter. Let’s focus on that. If the proposed program wasn’t sufficiently well-conceived, that seems like a significant fact. I don’t see how a desire to do something positive about structural racism provides a strong reason to have this particular candidate give it another go right now as opposed to looking to see if someone else might do a better job of it. I think there is an obligation to do something about structural racism, but I fail to see how that counts in moving in a particular direction here if the person initially appointed with the task of creating a program did not succeed in setting down the foundations of a program that would have provided the students enrolled in it a program of sufficient quality.

“They took a year to support the development. Then they said, “nah, not a priority! Britain can do with four.””

Seems to completely overlook the last line of Wolff’s comment. I think it’s very easy to criticize UCL for the perceived failure to do something about a very real problem with race in our profession, but they seem to be committed to the creation of a program that seems to take a step in the right direction AND seem to be the first to do this in the UK. I wonder if the critics of UCL can point to similar concrete steps that their departments have taken to address these problems. If we check departmental offerings, I think we’ll find a lot more philosophical discussions of Star Trek and sports than we will of race.Report

anon'
anon'
6 years ago

“I wonder if the critics of UCL can point to similar concrete steps that their departments have taken to address these problems.”

Yes, I can. My department hired me tenure track and later tenured me (and has tried to hire other black philosophers). I regularly teach a course on race and social inequality; and I’ll be co-teaching (with a department colleague) a seminar on slavery. None of this required a special program, let alone “a business case.”

But what was the point of your challenge? Were you simply playing the odds that given the embarrassing state of racial affairs in the philosophy profession, very few departments (especially in the UK) have ever done better than the modest, low-commitment effort at UCL?

Wolff’s comment prompts a fairly obvious question: Why is some special program on race, with special funding, apparently needed in order to hire a black philosopher who clearly is “committed to the subject”?Report

C
C
6 years ago

“Yes, I can.”

Good. I hope that more people who see some (apparent) wrong here will think about the concrete steps that they can take to improve things in their own department. The point of the challenge was to suggest that this is probably a better place to direct our attention (particularly because I don’t yet see how to connect the obligation to take steps to do something about the terrible state of our profession with regards to race adds up to a decision to support a program that was (arguably) not well executed). It’s very easy to criticize soft targets from the comfort of our armchairs and think that that’s taking steps towards making things better.

“None of this required a special program, let alone “a business case.””

This is a tricky issue. Forgive me if you know more about hiring in the UK than I do, but I think that hiring in the UK generally does require a kind of business case. You have to show that hires will somehow help the department bring more money (er, students) to the school. Assuming that your goal is to bring someone in who works on the philosophy of race you’d either need to build a business case for a hire that doesn’t include this specialty or one that does. Trying to create a special program that would necessitate someone with these specialties is a pretty shrewd strategy for bringing such a specialist to campus. (When the admin asks why the search is for someone in the philosophy of race, say, in particular, you point to the program. And when they ask about the program, you point to the business case.) If you don’t try something like that, you are quite likely to end up making hires in other areas. (With such a surplus of talent, the odds that the best candidate available works in some desired area not specified in a job advertisement is pretty low. And without a business case, the odds of convincing the admin to run a search that focuses on a narrow area to the exclusion of other areas is also pretty low.)Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

To anon, see now the comment by Jo Wolff, but also the two articles from THE and The Independent. To anonymous at 1:03, I did read the article. Please read my comment, and it’s context. I was replying to the comment from anon, which claimed that his not being in a position in terms of his career status to have an MA program built around him was evidence against his claims as to why it’s not going forward at this time. If that were the reason, it would not be mundane given the situation.

As for the mundane reason hypothesis — of course, you’re right, that there is a possibility of a mundane explanation. It’s unfortunate but true, though, that in any case of concern for issues of discrimination and disadvantage, mundane reasons can combine with structural inattention (e.g., lack of courses in other areas with a view towards examining issues of race), and existing inequalities (e.g., only five black philosophers employed in academia in the UK) to quite harmful effect.

But, I think it’s deeply unfortunate that the committee deemed ‘Critical Whiteness and Critical Eugenics’ too narrow for a core module, and regrettable that this played a role in it’s being rejected. If you look at the proposal itself, the course description seems narrow insofar as its using some particular examples and resources, yet broad insofar as it was proposing to make use of those examples (which UCL is uniquely well positioned to do) to put into sharp relief much larger issues:

“This module will place a critical study of the origins, histories, and legacies of National Eugenics at UCL within the broader context of the European colonial invention, and constant contestation, of racial whiteness. It will introduce students to the ways in which, since its beginnings in the texts of enslaved or segregated African Americans, a critical study of intersectional hegemonic whiteness has emerged as a rigorous new discipline in the academy. Treating National Eugenics as a case study in White Hegemony, it will draw upon UCL’s unique capacity and unparalleled resources for studying (a) the social, cultural, economic, political, and intellectual traditions that led up to the institutionalization of eugenics, in 1904 (“origins”), (b) the developments in the discipline, between 1904 and 1963, when the Francis Galton Laboratory for the Study of National Eugenics was renamed the Galton Laboratory of the Department of Human Genetics and Biometry (“histories”), and (c) the consequences of the now defunct discipline, from 1963, through UCL’s 200th Anniversary in 2026, to our strategic goal of 2034, and beyond (“legacies”). This module will be led by one main lecturer, supported by up to 5 guest lecturers, drawn from UCL’s research capacity in Critical Eugenics, which might include: 1. The Galton and Noel Collections (e.g. Subhadra Das) 2. Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (e.g. Debbie Challis) 3. History of Science (e.g. Lars Fischer and Helga Satzinger) 4. Science and Technology Studies (e.g. Carole Reeves) 5. Genetics (e.g. Mark Thomas) 6. History of Art (e.g. Mechthild Fend) 7. Hebrew and Jewish Studies (e.g. Francois Guesnet and Michael Berkowitz) 8. Psychoanalysis (e.g. Chloe Campbell) 9. Economics (e.g. Hugh Goodacre) 10. The Galton Institute (e.g. Veronica van Heyningen) 11. Wellcome Trust (e.g. Lesley Hall)”Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Can we acknowledge that even the “mundane reason hypothesis” represents a depressing and troubling fact about contemporary academic life, and about the prospects for a variety of critical perspectives within academia? Even on that rosy scenario, interesting work is being marginalized, and those who work on it also marginalized, because of the ways in which academia is not a particularly good home for the kinds of open ended inquiry that many of us got into philosophy or other humanities professions to pursue.Report

Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson
6 years ago

It is surely not surprising that UCL can present good reasons for not accepting the proposal. But since the outcome of the whole process is really, really bad, we should look at the process. Nathaniel is, I think, exceptionally brilliant and informed, but he is extremely inexperienced. For the proposal to fit into the UCL needs and requirements, Nathaniel would need a lot of advice, with some periodic checking. He would need the means to consult with others who have successfully developed comparable programs, and perhaps bring in scholars from countries with a more diverse academic, and so on.

When I was at Oxford people doing a DPhil could simply work on their own and then submit a thesis. I think the failure rate was 50%, an arguably inhumane outcome. Given little or no help, I should think Nathaniel’s chances of success were not sky high. This would be a pretty awful scenario, and one hopes his situation wasn’t that bleak.Report

nono
nono
6 years ago

It might be useful to separate the issue of whether Coleman should’ve been given a permanent job from the issue of whether UCL should’ve started that MA program.Report

twbb
twbb
6 years ago

“If you look at the proposal itself, the course description seems narrow insofar as its using some particular examples and resources, yet broad insofar as it was proposing to make use of those examples (which UCL is uniquely well positioned to do) to put into sharp relief much larger issues”

Shouldn’t a masters degree deal directly with those larger issues, though? This almost sounds like a program with a pre-set thesis topic.

Anyway, while there are many institutions who one may plausibly attack as defending white hegemony, the modern humanities department is just not one of them. I don’t find his accusation plausible.Report

Anon7
Anon7
6 years ago

I think some people are struggling with separating two ideas:
1. Is the idea of a program in philosophy of race worthwhile?
2. Is the proposed program designed well enough to succeed?

It is possible to answer yes to #1 (as it seems everyone is) while still saying no to #2 (as Jo Wolff explains). That is, just because someone has a good fundamental idea does not mean that a university can ignore curriculum design, faculty expertise, and anticipated student demand. From my perspective, the last one is crucial but has not been emphasized much in the discussion. If a program gets established and cannot draw students due to an overly narrow focus or a poor design, it is going to fail and damage attempts to establish similar programs elsewhere. It needs to be done correctly, not just quickly.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

twbb, from reading through the proposal, so far as I can tell, the proposal does deal directly with the larger issues. It also suggests making use of UCL’s unique historical resources, which strikes me as a tremendous opportunity, extremely intellectually valuable, and something similar to what some excellent programs at other research universities have done. Whatever else is going on, I really do think the proposed course was a real opportunity for UCL and its students. If you meant that the issue of eugenics itself was too narrow, history of UCL aside, for a core module, then I think I’ll just say that seems to speak precisely to the need for greater attention to the significance, impact, and history of eugenics as it relates to race in higher education.

As to the claim that what he’s said is implausible on its face simply because modern humanities departments do not defend white hegemony… I don’t have much to say that’s fit to print except, “what?”

Anon7, I am aware of the fact that any program should be designed correctly (I do take it we may have different ideas about what that involves — I would have thought one responsible way of implementing such a program wouldn’t require it be fully operational the academic year following its proposal being accepted). I am reacting to one of the given reasons for its rejection.Report

twbb
twbb
6 years ago

Kathryn:

“If you meant that the issue of eugenics itself was too narrow, history of UCL aside, for a core module, then I think I’ll just say that seems to speak precisely to the need for greater attention to the significance, impact, and history of eugenics as it relates to race in higher education”

As an initial matter, I really don’t think it’s a fair debate tactic to posit that by disagreeing with you I am proving your position. I know it’s done frequently but that doesn’t make it legitimate. That aside, the question isn’t whether the history of eugenics is worthy of academic study — it certainly is. The first question is whether a topic that narrrow – as opposed to a more traditional program that looks at the general body of postcolonial studies, african diaspora studies, etc. etc. — is suitable for a masters program. And if it is, does UCL have the resources to adequately implement it.

“As to the claim that what he’s said is implausible on its face simply because modern humanities departments do not defend white hegemony… I don’t have much to say that’s fit to print except, “what?””

Well, a dismissive “what” is not really a legitimate form of argument either. Do you defend white hegemony? How about your friends in your department? Your advisor? To the extent that you and your colleagues do defend white hegemony at some unconscious level, is it something that you will actually take active steps to continue doing? Or is it something you will actively try to stop? In that case, why do you assume that UCL’s academics are somehow more malevolent?

I mean, let’s unpack this: his exact accusation was that academics at UCL did not want white hegemony examined, and thus they decided not to implement the program. And you think that is plausible? If so, why do you find similar programs all over, including in the UK, in departments of cultural studies, post-colonial studies, etc.? Criticisms of racist power structures are so much a part of mainstream humanities now that academics who oppose those criticisms are mostly marginalized. That doesn’t mean there aren’t racial inequities in philosophy that need to be addressed, but assuming bad faith is unfair.Report

Anon7
Anon7
6 years ago

From some of the postings here, one would conclude that humanities faculty meetings are indistinguishable from Ku Klux Klan or Nazi rallies rather than departments made up mostly of people on the left of the political spectrum who try to be as supportive as possible of minorities. Some might think that departments are not offering such support as quickly or effectively as they’d like, but that’s hardly the same as some vast conspiracy among humanities faculty to oppress minorities. It’s just not believable. I’ll let twbb speak for himself, but that’s how I read his statement.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

“[T]he question isn’t whether the history of eugenics is worthy of academic study — it certainly is. The first question is whether a topic that narrrow – as opposed to a more traditional program that looks at the general body of postcolonial studies, african diaspora studies, etc. etc. — is suitable for a masters program. And if it is, does UCL have the resources to adequately implement it.”
With respect to the first question, the topic is a case study in the second core module – that the proposal included academic examination of this case study in some of its core requirements and that it included more general work from postcolonial studies, etc. are not mutually incompatible. It looks like that’s just what the proposal was proposing. Perhaps you meant to indicate that inclusion of any module this specialized in content would not be appropriate for a MA program, but it strikes me that graduate study is distinguishable from undergraduate study precisely by a mode of specialization. With respect to the second question, yes. It seems UCL, as I said earlier, is uniquely well positioned with resources (both in terms of their own history, and in terms of their current faculty) to further to bring together critical study of eugenics with black studies more broadly to create a distinctive and excellent program. That’s why I wrote earlier that I believe it is unfortunate this unfolded as it has. If you’re interested in evidence that UCL has these resources you could begin with the following:

Generally:
http://www.racecard.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Critical-Eugenics-at-UCL.pdf—
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLXXq6t7B9L_7LrcF190Il9zyGYyZ1w0F3&app=desktop

Regarding Faculty:
Dr. Debbie Challis:
http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-archaeology-of-race-9781780934204/
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/staff/staff-news/08122011-debbiechallis
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/about/our-staff/challis

Dr. Carole Reeves:
http://www.dtmh.ucl.ac.uk/videos/ucl-joint-faculty-institute-graduate-studies-friday-forum-race-carole-reeves/
https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/browse/profile?upi=CAREE02

Dr. Chloe Campbell:
http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9780719071607
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/psychoanalysis/people/chloe-campbell

Dr. Lesley Hall:
http://lesleyahall.blogspot.com/
http://ucl.academia.edu/LesleyHall

Dr. Helga Satzinger:
http://www.dtmh.ucl.ac.uk/videos/ucl-joint-faculty-institute-graduate-studies-friday-forum-race-helga-satzinger/
https://www.dropbox.com/s/ypdbef75tjvagh7/2013%20satzinger%2C%20helga.doc?dl=0
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/history/people/academic-staff/helga-satzinger/helga-satzinger

Dr. Lars Fischer:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/oaqugrt9vkuyvqo/2013%20fischer%2C%20lars.pdf?dl=0
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/history/people/academic-staff/lars_fisher/lars-fischer

Prof Veronica van Heyningen:
http://www.galtoninstitute.org.uk/
https://iris.ucl.ac.uk/iris/browse/profile?upi=VVANH41

Prof Mark Thomas:
http://www.sciencefestival.co.uk/event-details/genes-race-and-racism
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/mace-lab/people/mark

As to the issue of plausibility – this is important, so let me be clear – I am not accusing anyone at UCL of being malevolent. What I am taking issue with is your claim that “Anyway, while there are many institutions who one may plausibly attack as defending white hegemony, the modern humanities department is just not one of them. I don’t find his accusation plausible.” This claim is not merely about UCL. This claim is about modern humanities departments in general, and the inference you’ve drawn about this situation in virtue of your belief about humanities departments across the board. And yes, you’re right, a dismissive “what” is not an argument. So, here’s the (cliff-notes) argument standing behind my stunned “what”:

In virtue of being a white woman, I have no first-personal knowledge of what it’s like to be an academic of color in a modern humanities department. What I do have though, is, first, knowledge as a witness to racism in modern humanities departments, second, knowledge that we are all subject to implicit biases and are surely ignorant in ways that we cannot detect subjectively precisely in virtue of that same ignorance, and further that biases and ignorance, even setting aside intent, can do great harm, third, a resounding chorus of testimony from academics who do belong to marginalized racial groups trying to tell us that, whether it’s intentional or not, defensiveness of white hegemony is precisely what they frustratingly encounter regularly in their professional lives.

We can bristle at that, and we can be made uncomfortable by that, and we might think that there is some exaggeration. But it might be useful to remember that in 1962, the same year that James Meredith’s court-ordered admission to the University of Mississippi led to rioting, and ten years before the Supreme Court would be forced to rule that public schools could not avoid desegregation through the creation of new, all-white, districts, 85% of white people surveyed by the Gallup organization said they believed black children were just as likely as white children to get a good education. In 1969, despite a (steady) 2.1 ratio of black to white unemployment at the time, more than 40% of white people surveyed said they believed black people were more likely to get a good paying job than they were. In 1963, before the Civil Rights Act had been passed and the same year that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech, roughly two-thirds of white people surveyed by the Gallup organization said that they thought black people were already treated equally in their communities. If members of a marginalized group tell you that something is wrong, and if you have the privilege of not needing to know what that something is–one of the clearest lessons of history is that these are precisely the moments when we ought to be most careful about rejecting claims to being subject to disadvantage.

For these reasons (and others, but this is getting to be novel-length), I find the general claim about modern humanities departments unjustified.Report

twbb
twbb
6 years ago

Kathryn, one of my points was that this kind of critical analysis already exists at modern universities, including UCL. Pointing out researchers working on these issues supports my point — that the kind of critical approach apparently contemplated in this proposed programme is neither new nor novel, and thus it is highly implausible that it was rejected on the grounds that the same people who hired -Coleman- to develop a proposal felt threatened by the very thing they intentionally elicited, and which express ideas that are at this point just a normalized and widely-accepted paradigm in analyzing society. The fact that there is institutional racism, microaggressions, vestiges of past racism, implicit biases, etc. does not change the fact that it is just very unlikely that a group of faculty members at UCL decided to not implement this programme on the basis that it examined white hegemony. Academia of 2015 (and society of 2015) is not the same as academia of 1962, 1963, or 1969. The fights over the academic value of critical theory as applied to race were fought in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with the pro- side pretty conclusively winning.Report

Crimlaw
Crimlaw
6 years ago

In the USA term appointments typically do not carry any expectation of renewal. The expectation and the norm is that such appointments are not renewed. It is also rare for such appointments to turn into permanent appointments. Is there a different normal practice in the UK?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

twbb, even if it were true that there is no remaining fight over the value of academic work in critical race theory (which I seriously doubt — if I had a dollar for every time someone told me feminist academic work is not real academic work, I’d be rich, and I take it feminist theory is more widely valued than critical race theory), that critical race theory is widely valued would not entail that no academic proposal would be rejected in virtue of its challenging white hegemony. For one, his claim was never that his proposal was rejected because it made use of critical theory — it seems like it was something more like it was found to be uncomfortably critical. For two, it seems the persons who evaluated the proposal were not the same as those who invited it. Further, that there is work already been done on eugenics at UCL does not mean that his proposal added nothing new. I thought the complaint before was that the module was too narrow and didn’t deal directly enough with the broader issues — but the proposal was to make use of these fantastic existing resources precisely through engaging with the broader issues in one module of a larger new degree program, so I am confused as to how the fact that folks are already independently doing work on the narrow issues without that broader context should be reason to reject the idea that the module might have been a valuable contribution to a new program.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

“In the USA term appointments typically do not carry any expectation of renewal. The expectation and the norm is that such appointments are not renewed. It is also rare for such appointments to turn into permanent appointments. Is there a different normal practice in the UK?”

No, that’s exactly the norm in the UK as well. That is why I have been baffled by this discussion, despite usually finding myself on the side of those who are here commenting with indignation. You can deplore the status of non-whites in philosophy – indeed, you should, as it is deplorable – but Jo Wolff, and UCL, are not to blame for that any more than any one of us who has been involved in a hiring process that ended up in the hire of a white person. I don’t see any particular reason to be discussing this case, which is not a case of someone having lost a job, or having been denied a job, but a case of him not having a job created for him. If you think UCL are criticizable for not creating a job for him, get your own institution to create a job for him! (And see how hard it is.)Report

Anon1
Anon1
6 years ago

There are in fact four things in play that are worth separating in this discussion:
1. Would it be a good idea to have an MA of this kind (at UCL and/or elsewhere)?
2. Was the proposal up to the standards expected from UCL MA programmes? – a matter that involves not only considerations of content but also considerations of existing faculty that could be involved and could design and teach modules;
3. Does UCL have the faculty to implement such a Maters programme;
4. Should Nathaniel be given a permanent position to do so.

i. Starting with 4: as Jo Wolff points out, with non-permanent contracts of the kind Nathaniel states he was given, and then had extended, there is no option to turn these into permanent positions at UK universities without advertising the position publicly and interviewing for it. What the likelihood might be of someone getting that position after the selection process depends on the person’s profile as a whole, a large part of which is their publications list. There is no method by which a fixed term position can simply be turned into a permanent academic job without a public competition. That would, in fact, contravene equality legislation. Many thousands of people are hired on that post doc basis every year.

ii. On 2 and 3: Making a Masters programme sufficiently strong and viable for it to fly at a Russell group university like UCL requires cooperation from a considerable number of academics. They must have the expertise in the relevant areas, agree to design and teach the modules, and their departments agree to release that portion of their teaching time given their other priorities. Thus it is an *organic* (consensual and negotiated) process. Unless someone comes along with a massive endowment gift for this purpose (capable of supporting the relevant number of permanent academic posts) then the organic way is the only way. Without getting cooperation and buy-in from relevant experts, there is no Masters programme. So Wolff’s points about having the strength at UCL, and specifically in UCL philosophy, to run it seems a valid one.

iii. On the narrowness of the proposal, there are many criteria and standards against which such a proposal can be said to be narrow or not narrow. As we are well aware a paper that would be accepted by one journal is rejected by another, or within one journal by a different referee. Committees at UCL are given the task of making such decisions and the criteria they employ are like the criteria any part of academia employs – rules of thumb, judgement calls, and a sense of the academic standards in your neighbourhood. To claim, however, as is quoted above that the Masters was rejected because “would have upset some in white-dominated academia” is a serious accusation which, without evidence, cannot be accepted on face value. Say that claim was made against a hiring committee – the only way it could stand is if evidence (at the very least anecdote) were supplied to that effect, and that evidence were directed against specific agents in the process. Otherwise it has the flavour of innuendo.Report