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Bacow Says He Has Never Reversed a Tenure Decision in Response to García Peña Backlash

University President Lawrence S. Bacow discussed controversy over the tenure denial of Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña in an interview.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow discussed controversy over the tenure denial of Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña in an interview. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid controversy over the tenure denial of Romance Languages and Literatures associate professor Lorgia García Peña, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview last week that he has never reversed a tenure decision during his time at Harvard, nor did when he served as president of Tufts.

The University informed García Peña — who specializes in Latinx studies — of the decision not to grant her tenure Nov. 27. Harvard affiliates have since protested the denial, staging a sit-in in University Hall and outside the Provost’s office, writing letters to administrators, and organizing rallies in Harvard Yard.

Bacow said last Friday that tenure cases are presided over by the University President or by the Provost. He would not comment on who chaired García Peña’s tenure committee or who the members of the committee were.

Bacow said he has never seen a tenure decision reversed during his time as a university president.

“I've never reversed a tenure decision,” Bacow said. “I have not seen one reversed during my time as president of Tufts. I don't recall one ever being reversed during my time as Chancellor of MIT.”

Bacow served as president of Tufts from 2001 to 2011 and chancellor of MIT from 1998 to 2001.

During the interview, Bacow repeatedly refused to answer questions related to the nature of García Peña’s tenure denial.

“I cannot comment on confidential discussions about any particular faculty member in a promotion case,” he said.

An ethnic studies protestor came into direct contact with Bacow at the December Faculty of Arts and Sciences Meeting, where the individual stood at the front of the room holding a sign calling on Harvard to reverse García Peña’s tenure decision, among other demands.

In the meeting, Bacow asked the protestor to move to the side of the room and provide their name. When the individual did not respond, he called the faculty to a vote to compel the protestor to move. Multiple faculty members dissented, and the protester remained in place.

Reiterating his statements at the Faculty meeting, Bacow said in the interview last Friday that it was “poor precedent” for the faculty to allow the protestor to stay in the room.

“I thought it was poor precedent to have somebody stand and protest in the middle of the room,” Bacow said. “I asked him to move to the side.”

García Peña is not the first faculty member specializing in ethic studies to have been denied tenure in recent years.

Gay began a nationwide search in June to hire three to four faculty members who specialize in Asian American, Muslim American, and Latinx studies.

Still, at least three tenure-track professors who specialize in race or religion have either been denied tenure or left the University since 2018. In November 2018, the University declined to tenure Harvard Graduate School of Education associate professor Natasha K. Warikoo; History assistant professor Genevieve A. Clutario accepted a position at Wellesley College soon after; and the Divinity School denied tenure last spring to Science and Religion associate professor Ahmed Ragab.

Bacow referred questions about the development of ethnic studies at Harvard to FAS Dean Claudine Gay, calling ethnic studies “an issue for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.”

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at alexandra.chaidez@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at aidan.ryan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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