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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.
According to McCartney, in the past 30 years only about 20 percent of Ed School faculty have received tenure. In her open letter to the community released on Wednesday, she mentioned four professors that were hired to teach in the areas of diversity, equity, and social justice.
One of these professors, Meira Levinson, who researches the effect of race and class on the achievement gap, said in an emailed statement that “students are right to be concerned.”
Levinson added that she believes the school has already attempted to address these needs, especially in its search for another professor whose work is similar to Warren’s.
But Levinson also said that if Warren leaves, the school will suffer a loss.
“Mark is the leader in studies of community organizing and education,” she said. “It would not make sense for us to try to recruit his exact replacement.”
So far, Warren has not taken part in any of these demonstrations, but he said in an emailed statement that he was disappointed that he did not receive tenure.
“I believe that the work I do on community organizing makes an essential contribution to addressing the problems facing our public education system and I am disappointed that it does not have a place at Harvard,” he said. “I appreciate all the support I have received from students, scholars, and educators here at Harvard and across the country which I believe is testimony to the importance of this work.”
Mira said that the students hope Warren’s case will be moved to the provost and president’s offices to be appealed, and that she plans to participate in a future meeting with McCartney to discuss the issue.
—Staff writer Michelle M. Hu can be reached at email@example.com.
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