Students unsatisfied with American Ethnic Studies hiring choices

Last month, the American Ethnic Studies (AES) department hired a new tenure-track faculty member, but AES students were left unsatisfied when one of their favorite lecturers, Terry Scott, did not reach the interview stage for the position.

Sera Wang, an AES and political science major, subsequently created a petition arguing that Scott and her credentials were wrongfully dismissed in the selection process. The petition had 773 signatures as of Monday night.

Via The Daily

“We must work together … to retain the number of faculty of color in our department,” Wang said at an AES symposium Friday regarding Scott, who is also a woman of color.

Before Wang’s Friday speech, multiple emails were sent to the entire AES listserv. The first email was from Juan Guerra, chair of the department of AES, addressed to “concerned AES majors,” about the “African Americanist in History and Culture” position for which Scott wasn’t hired.

In the email, Guerra said the position received more than 80 applications. He also wrote that “because searches entail confidential personal information, we cannot discuss the details.” But a few paragraphs later, Guerra goes on to list the credentials of the top two chosen candidates.

“We are profoundly grateful for Dr. Scott’s outstanding contributions to AES during her time here, especially her highly praised work in the classroom,” Guerra wrote.

While Scott chose to abstain from interviews for this article, she reacted by also emailing the same listserv. 

“In light of the inclusion of the credentials of the two candidates discussed in the letter … I believe it is only fair to include my credentials as well,” Scott wrote. “They were noticeably absent. … I had already completed my Ph.D. when I submitted my materials, unlike three of the four finalists.”

In addition to her Ph.D., Scott’s unlisted credentials include her three manuscripts with the academic press and her creation of the Community Ambassador Internship.

The internship allows UW students to use their academic influence as a means to change the trajectories of misguided youth. These youth have either been marked as having behavioral issues by their school or have already been in the criminal justice system. When the college mentors first meet these young students, it’s frequently during a suspension from school.

“UW puts such a heavy emphasis on diversity until you’re actually here,” said Angela Kwak, a law, societies & justice major, at the AES symposium Friday. “Terry’s impact and teaching can’t really be understood until you actually take her class.”

Despite students rallying behind Scott, divisional dean of social studies Judy Howard said she trusts the evaluation of the chair and the committee regarding the candidates.

Reflecting on Wang’s symposium speech, Howard said, “It wasn’t just about this case. [Wang] did an absolutely great job, she was articulate and I was very impressed.”

During Wang’s symposium speech, she discussed the importance of faculty recruitment and retention.

AES has maintained a fairly stable number of faculty, contradicting student notions. For temporary positions, AES will gain one faculty member next year, and for permanent positions, AES will lose two faculty members from this year into the 2016-17 academic year.

Howard anticipates a more intensive hiring process next year for Asian American Studies, a program seeing all three faculty members retire. 

“I should note that virtually all departments in the College of Arts & Sciences have declined in size over the past decade or so,” Howard said in an email to The Daily. 

She also wrote most of the UW’s Arts & Sciences departments have less faculty than peer institutions, saying it is in part due to underfunding from the state.

The AES hiring plan was approved by the UW’s Provost Jerry Baldasty, while the search committee was appointed by Guerra. The search committee narrowed down applicants to be selected for interviews, which were approved by Howard.

Wang hopes, after all this, one thing in particular can change: students being included in the hiring process.

While students were contacted, including Wang, to meet with candidates chosen for interviews, the allotted times for the interviews were not subject to change if students were unable to make it. Students are also not given much context about the hiring process, according to Wang, who said there was no moderator when she went and no prepared questions. Wang was only one of two students who showed up.

“We chose this major because it’s a narrative that supports us and encourages us,” Wang said. “It’s the only department where students are guaranteed to have professors of color.”

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