Thirty-Two DePaul Graduate Students Seek Justice in Goswami Academic Freedom Case

 

Academic Freedom is Never Free: Respect diversity and professors who dare challenge the stultifying sacred canon of a department. I removed voluntarily an earlier image that poignantly and accurately represented my views on this sordid matter. This was done in the interest of comity: a quality that I hope others also embrace when they evaluate faculty who dare teach outside a departmental-declared canon and who are non-white. It is the obligation of every faculty member in this country to resist academic persecution of probationary faculty. That is the essential issue and not my images that speak truth to power! I will continue this struggle without abatement to advocate academic freedom, academic justice and adherence to AAUP guidelines. Image from http://www.ifc.com/makemediamatter/censorship-ben-heine.jp g

Nota bene: The Illinois Conference Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors was the first professional organisation to investigate the case and determine there were egregious and repeated violations of academic freedom and academic discrimination. The report was cited extensively by a DePaul faculty Review Board that was an appellate unit that determined that the DePaul University Department of Philosophy violated Professor Namita Goswami’s academic freedom. It should be emphasised that two independent analyses, ILL AAUP and the Review Board, reached the same conclusion that the philosophy departmental tenure review process was fatally flawed and violated the academic freedom of Professor Goswami.

———————————————-

March 14, 2011

TO: Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., President

Helmut P. Epp, Ph.D., Provost

Chuck Suchar, Dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Ashley Perzyna, Administrative Coordinator, Presidential Communications

FROM: 32 Graduate Students – Department of Philosophy1

RE: Post-Appeal Hearing for Professor Namita Goswami

We are writing to express our growing concern with the events that have surrounded Professor Namita Goswami’s case. In particular, recent attempts by members of the Philosophy Department to renew its image as a body loyal to the principles of academic freedom and fair conduct have brought into greater relief several inconsistencies that might be clouding the current perception of the affair. In the context of an impending hearing in Professor Goswami’s case, and the hope that such a hearing be as transparent and principled as possible, we feel it incumbent on us to speak to certain departmental failures that might otherwise go unnoticed and thus conceal these inconsistencies.

I. Letter to the Faculty Council

To begin, we would like to draw your attention to a letter dated 1/26/2011 from members of the Philosophy Department to the Faculty Council. This letter, which was not signed by all the members who voted on Professor Goswami’s tenure case, was an unsolicited response to the Council’s motion to withdraw the judgment in Professor Goswami’s case. While the latter motion made its case on the basis of the Appeals Board Committee’s findings of academic freedom violations, the select faculty members attempted to allay all anxieties by “remind[ing]” the council of the “well known…facts” that any tenure process involves. These facts betrayed three salient features, according to these members of the Philosophy Department, in Professor Goswami’s tenure review. One, the disproportionate amount of time given to Professor Goswami’s case (five hours) was to serve as evidence of an uncompromised process. Two, the substance of this five hour long discussion was to be gleaned from its alleged “depth,” its “serious and thoughtful manner,” the use of “informed and responsible judgment,” and the difficulty involved in making the final decision to deny tenure. Finally, the tenure denial was in no way to be construed as the department’s “rejection or devaluation of the candidate’s areas of specialization, and most notably Postcolonial Theory”; as further evidence for its commitment to such areas of study, the department cited its offering of the course PHL 394 (Topics in Postcolonialism).

In an ideal world, facts would be sufficient. Unfortunately, ours is a world where institutional guarantees of intellectual freedom and fair conduct require constant vigilance to ensure that the claims we make for ourselves and on others are as transparent as they can be. In this respect, it pains us to have to point out that the above so-called facts of the case cannot withstand scrutiny.

1 Professor Mary Jeanne Larrabee agreed to attest that the number of signatories are indeed graduate students from the Philosophy Department.

First, the qualities of depth, seriousness, thoughtfulness, and responsibility are immediately cast into doubt when confronted with a Majority Tenure Report that shows certain faculty members deliberating Professor Goswami’s case in a language that is alarming and profoundly unreasonable. Claiming that Professor Goswami’s “problem is not a writing problem, but a thinking problem” and that her “one good” article was “co-authored by her husband” does not fulfill the criteria for responsible judgment. Indeed, when juxtaposed with Professor Goswami’s ten peer-reviewed articles and a book manuscript under contract with a respected philosophical press, these characterizations appear to abandon precisely those objective standards of assessment that safeguard fairness in the tenure process.

Second, even if these qualities could withstand scrutiny, they do not in themselves prove that an academic freedom violation did not occur. For surely, one can approach a subject with careful and serious deliberation—not to mention, hours of reflection—yet still make the wrong decision.

Third, the report cites faculty members calling into question the philosophical nature of her work tout court, and deciding to deny her tenure partly on such grounds. In this regard, it distresses one to read the faculty letter citing PHL 394 (Topics in Postcolonialism: Postcolonial Feminism) as an example of the department’s commitment to intellectual pluralism. In a department with Masters and Doctoral degrees, a single undergraduate course cannot serve as a criterion for serious commitment to any area of specialization. The point, however, that gives one greatest pause is the fact that this course was developed by Professor Goswami herself.2

If the Philosophy Department can lay any claim to a specialization in Postcolonial Theory, it is largely thanks to Professor Goswami. She has been harshly criticized for proposing a course bridging Theodor Adorno and Postcolonial thought, but no mention has been made of her graduate courses on Gayatri Spivak and Postcolonial Feminism. The 2007 Excellence in Teaching Award and the seven invitations to sit on dissertation committees should be taken for what they are—graduate students’ value for Postcolonial Theory bound with appreciation for Professor Goswami’s instruction.3 In the majority report, Professor Goswami is deemed incapable of training graduate students in Postcolonial Theory, but, by any objective measurement (in terms of teaching reviews, conference presentations, publications, and activity in professional associations), Professor Goswami’s students have been as successful as any in the program. Unanimously, graduate students supported Professor Goswami’s tenure, and the Majority Report’s glossing of graduate student support as uncritical not only suggests condescension, it highlights the illegitimacy of some of the judgments that comprised the final vote.

2 When Dr. Goswami forwent teaching PHL 394 this past quarter due to exceptional circumstances, it is worth noting that no other faculty from the Philosophy department stepped in to teach it. In fact, the course was taught by a faculty member outside the Philosophy department.

3 It is worth noting here that graduate students have felt greatly misrepresented in our reasoned support for Professor Goswami. For instance, regarding the Teaching Award, it has been rumored that she solicited a nomination from us. The fact is that Professor Goswami was on leave and it was agreed by the signatories of the nomination letter not to communicate the decision to her.

There remain a few points worth making in regard to the Philosophy Department’s alleged commitment to Postcolonial Theory. With the potential termination of Professor Goswami, following the passing of Emmanuel Eze more than two years ago, Darrell Moore would remain the only member in the department with a teaching dossier in Postcolonial Theory. When the department hired a new faculty member this winter, it invited no candidates who could contribute to a specialization in Postcolonial Theory. No graduate courses in Postcolonial Theory are scheduled for the coming year. The department has even recently redacted from its publicity materials the offerings of Postcolonial Theory and Critical Race Theory that were once mentioned. In the absence of concrete commitments to this “essential and vital part of contemporary philosophy,” there is no reason to believe that the department plans to support a specialization in Postcolonial Theory in the future.

 II. Meeting with the Chair and Graduate Director

Bearing in mind these inconsistencies in the faculty letter, we would also like to address the fact that on 1/28/2011, approximately 20 graduate students and instructors met with the Chair and the Graduate Director of the Department of Philosophy to voice concerns relating to the case. During that meeting, the Chair and Director’s treatment of the above three points exacerbated rather than alleviated concerns.

In the face of the Majority Tenure Report, the Chair and Graduate Director expressed agreement about the problematic and unreasonable nature of the two abovementioned claims that Professor Goswami’s ability to think was questionable and that her only acceptable publication was coauthored with her husband. This admission by the Chair and the Graduate Director, it must be recorded, expressly contradicts the faculty letter’s insistence that the tenure meeting was characterized by nothing other than “informed and responsible judgment.”

The Chair and the Graduate Director urged us, however, to maintain the perspective requisite to a seventeen page document in which the discussion surrounding Professor Goswami’s case was, “on the whole,” balanced and thoughtful. By insisting on the tenure review process, in general, as still balanced and thoughtful, the Chair and Graduate Director make an untenable claim. For if Professor Goswami’s career is decided upon by a committee of faculty members with sound judgment, and if such an institutional structure makes each vote vital to the outcome, then even a single outlier making his or her decision on unjustifiable grounds compromises the larger process. In other words, to claim that “on the whole” the decision process was thoughtful, while there remained some unthoughtful views held by others, does not eliminate the nature of these views or how they affected the outcome of the process.

Lastly, when asked if the finding of an academic freedom violation in this case (the first in DePaul’s history) gave them any pause, the Chair and Graduate Director stated that the finding raised absolutely no doubts in their minds about the viability of their tenure deliberations or the subsequent decision. Recalling that, in Professor Goswami’s appeal case, the violation of academic freedom was intimately connected to a violation of proper procedure, the Philosophy Department’s words and deeds warrant more scrutiny. For example, the confidence expressed by the Chair and Graduate Director cannot hide the fact that an ad hoc committee was formed in 2009 with the clear intent of preemptively terminating Professor Goswami’s contract. Here, the Chair and Graduate Director undercut the authenticity of their touted commitment to Postcolonial Theory. If, in fact, issues of Eurocentrism (central to Postcolonial Theory) are of paramount importance to them, the mere suggestion of possible complicity (another key concept of Postcolonial Theory) should doubtless warrant a moment of self-reflection—especially in view of the documented historical involvement of both the University and Department in polarizing controversies.

***

We hope that the foregoing remarks will allow for a more inclusive and transparent hearing in Professor Goswami’s case. Institutional guarantees of fair conduct, as we have already said, require constant vigilance, assuring the veracity of claims made. We feel that this burden has come to rest also on our shoulders, and we hope that our concerns will be duly noted.

This entry was posted in Academia/Academic Freedom. Bookmark the permalink.