After 13 tenured Yale faculty announced their intent to cease participation in the school’s Ethnicity, Race and Migration studies program last month, 33 Brown faculty members signed a memo supporting their choice.
The Yale faculty announced their decisions in individual letters to Yale’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Tamar Gendler, on March 29. In a joint press release, the faculty cited “administrative disinterest in the program and the pattern of unfulfilled promises by the University” as reasons for their choice. Following their withdrawal, the program will have no tenured faculty members, though the faculty departing will continue to work with juniors and seniors majoring in ER&M.
Brown faculty who signed the April 5 letter to Gendler condemned Yale’s failure to adequately support the program and its participants.
“We urge you to save the ER&M program by fulfilling promises made to its faculty,” the letter read. “While it remains to be seen if Yale University truly values the essential work of the ER&M program, we at Brown acknowledge and thank ER&M for its leadership in the profession and for its service to the national discourse overall on critical issues of our time.”
Gendler responded to the Brown faculty three days later, expressing Yale’s commitment to ER&M. “Over the past year, we have been carefully reviewing the structure of our academic organization in ER&M and related areas as part of our regular rethinking of how the (Faculty of Arts and Sciences) should best be organized,” read the message to Brown faculty reviewed by The Herald. “We share the faculty’s view that the program needs appropriate recognition of its status as a distinct and vital area of study, with commensurate appointing rights.”
Assistant Professor of American Studies and English Dixa Ramirez, a signatory who taught in American Studies and ER&M at Yale from 2013-2018, said she decided to leave Yale in part because she felt “junior faculty, especially faculty of color, are pulled in many different directions.”
ER&M faculty often serve in more than one department, and when they felt undersupported, “it was very demoralizing,” Ramirez said. While programs at Yale such as Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies have the power to hire faculty with a path to tenure in their department, the ER&M program does not. “Our program still lacks basic rights in hiring and appointment,” Yale’s faculty press release read.
Despite the strength of the program’s faculty, Ramirez felt in her time at Yale that the administration “sees the ER&M program as appeasing the student body rather than as intellectually rigorous.”
Assistant Professor of History and American Studies & Ethnic Studies Naoko Shibusawa, who authored the letter to Gendler, said the discrepancy between support for the program and Yale’s $29.4 billion endowment “reflects a lack of institutional will.”.
Chair of American Studies and Professor of Africana Studies Matthew Guterl, who signed the letter, echoed this sentiment. “Yale announced the opening of a new school of Global Affairs in the same week that the ER&M faculty announced their resignation from the program, so it is much more clearly a case of institutional will and priorities lying elsewhere,” Guterl wrote in an email to The Herald. He also highlighted the importance of supporting faculty at peer institutions to hold their respective administrations accountable.
With Brown’s close academic connection to Yale and Yale’s treatment of the ER&M program, University faculty expressed concern about continuing to recommend Yale’s programs to their students. “We must wonder whether we can trust Yale University to remain an institution to which we want to send our very best students for graduate studies with the full support they deserve and expect,” the letter read.
Further, Yale’s ER&M program is considered a leading program in its field. “We at Brown have long recognized Yale’s ER&M program as a leader and a model of excellence,” according to the letter.
While faculty at Brown found Yale’s lack of support for ER&M “shocking,” according to the letter, Shibusawa noted that Brown’s administration works to support individual departments. “I can’t see our faculty withdrawing their labor from our programs,” she said.