Thursday, August 6, 2009

Open Letter from Dr B


Written by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University

Hello to my friends,

I'll be guest hosting the Jim Reith Radio Show on 570 WSYR radio today from 3 - 7 pm EST. The show is actually a conservative one that comes on between Hannity and Limbaugh, so the audience is "challenging." But as you know, I believe strongly in the idea of communication, listening and trying to understand other viewpoints. This is part of my personal growth process, as I am far more of a student than I am a professor. If you want to listen online, you can also go to

Also, as some of you know, this is going to be a trying year in my relationship with Syracuse University, where some of my colleagues are not comfortable with my presence. I personally feel that I've done all that is necessary to earn tenure here (when my tenure case is compared with those who've already received tenure). This is particularly true as it relates to our chancellor's consistent and overwhelming call for publicly engaged scholarship (I think I've done that pretty well). I've also got some solid scholars around the nation who've shown support for my work, which I sincerely appreciate. But while there are challenges of overcoming what I perceive to be structural racism in academia (which is well-documented in the literature), I think that great hurdles also present great opportunities. With the help of my mentors, I've decided that rather than worrying about my own tenure case (which is still under appeal - Bill O'Reilly's pressure might have caused some people to become weak in the knees about my case), I've decided to encourage all fair-minded Americans to do the following on their individual campuses or with their alma maters:

1) Think about the academic department in which you've studied or taught

2) Count the number of African American tenured professors in that department.

3) Try to find out how many have been tenured in the last 100 years

4) Try to determine why the numbers are what they are.

5) Hold the university accountable and ask them to explain the racial disparity.

One of the problems with our great nation is that the disease of racism has its greatest impact on those who think they've been cured. My own campus, Syracuse University, has many departments that have never granted tenure to a single person of color in over 80 - 100 years of operating history. I must honestly assess why we are very good at finding black basketball players, but turn away many qualified black faculty members and students. Additionally, we must realize that the first conditioned response of any systemically racist institution is going to be one that explains away the racism (i.e. "We want to hire black people, but the ones we find are just not good enough" - This assessment does not consider who gets to decide what it means to be "good.") Anyone honest about academia knows that this place is about as arbitrary, biased and laced with cronyism as any place on earth. Diverse ideas are not usually accepted and academic freedom doesn't really exist for African American scholars who actually try to use it.

Again, this is not about my own tenure case, I am going to be just fine. This is about all of "blackademia" and the fact that it is time for us to stand up against the persecution of African American scholars and students who are being told that they are not good enough or don't belong simply because they choose to embrace ideas that differ from the White American norm. Forgive me for being blunt, but I must make this clear statement: WHITE PEOPLE DO NOT OWN ACADEMIA, and African Americans are not simply invited guests of the White American power structure. We are just as American, just as intellectual, just as determined, just as hard working, just as committed, just as dignified and just as justified in pursuing the same rights of intellectual discovery and community upliftment as the rest of America. I cannot, will not and refuse to allow myself or people like me to be relegated to second class citizenship.

In other words, it's time for a REVOLUTION in the way our children are educated and in the way the teachers are chosen to educate them. I am willing to do whatever is in my power to make a difference before my time on this earth is through. We know the difference between right and wrong, and I pray that we allow our hearts to guide us toward the truth. When we see that truth, I also pray that we do not run away from it.

Take care and God bless,

Dr. Boyce Watkins

1 comment:

kebb said...

I respect your stand and agree about the scholastic tenure of people of color. In your case I think it also becomes about jealousy. Bill O'Reily would be quick to tell you,' Be glad you have a job'. The individuals who are week in the knees are also weak with the backbone. Continue to do what you do. Most Professors are not great listeners, or even take true stands in the community - which promotes first class citizenship. You are a rare breed and the haters will always hate the hustler with a battle plan. But when he/she is a professor? Do your thing.