Tenure Denial Sparks Student Protest

Sixty Harvard Graduate School of Education students gathered outside of a faculty meeting for a second time last Monday to protest an April 12 decision to deny tenure to Ed School professor Mark R. Warren, who specializes in community organizing and school reform.

The group has claimed that the rejection is one of a long string of incidents indicating that the Ed School is narrow in academic focus.

“It seemed to us that this was a historical trend where HGSE has deliberately pushed out certain kinds of perspectives from its faculty ... on issues of race, class, and gender,” said Houman D. Harouni, a doctoral student at the Ed School and one of the 20 students who have prepared documents and research to back up their claims.

According to doctoral student Meredith L. Mira, who was an advisee of Warren’s, the research he has conducted is vital to education reform.

“Most of the education reform work that happens in the realm of education today is happening from a top-down perspective,” she said.

“What’s equally important are the voices on the ground.”

Warren has published several books that analyze how the social forces in communities succeed in reforming their educational systems, and according to Mira, he is a foremost scholar in the field.

“There are many students who have come to the Graduate School of Education to exclusively study with Mark,” she said. “Mark’s departure would leave a gaping hole.”

But Ed School Dean Kathleen McCartney said that she believes the areas of study in question are already well covered. Though she could not comment on the matter of tenure due to confidentiality concerns, she said that the school is doing its best with a small faculty to provide students with diverse scholars.

“I actually think that the study of social justice as an area of inquiry is stronger than many other areas within the school,” McCartney said. “I don’t want to privilege some areas over others.”

The possibility that Warren might leave Harvard is one of the group’s main concerns. Harouni said that he believes tenure represents stability and a sense of community, as tenured professors are able to take part in the Ed School’s decision-making process.

“If you’re not tenured, you’re not part of the greater conversation regarding the direction of the school,” he said. “Usually what it means is that professors who don’t get tenure end up leaving.”

According to the documents released by the students, seven former professors left the Ed School after being denied tenure or to find a more accommodating academic environment. The students claim that these and other incidents are part of a larger trend—a failure to address the needs of students who study diversity, equity, and justice within the Ed School administration.

Doctoral student Liliana M. Garces also said she believes these events send the message that junior faculty whose work involves social justice are not valued by the school.

“Is this really a place where these issues are valued, or is it just a revolving door?” she said.

Tags