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Harvard Administrators Respond to Call for Ethnic Studies Program, Recruit Three Professors

Claudine Gay
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay.

UPDATED: February 14, 2019 at 11:29 p.m.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said Monday she is working to recruit three professors who study ethnicity, after the loss of two tenure-track professors specializing in Asian-American studies angered ethnic studies advocates.

The announcement came in the wake of letters to administrators and a protest earlier this month calling for a formalized ethnic studies program. Activists cited programs at other universities and decades of organizing around the issue in arguing that the creation of such a program is long overdue. Gay and University President Lawrence S. Bacow have since praised advocates' efforts and promised to look into the issue further.

Activists specifically criticized the impending departures of two professors, Associate Professor of Education Natasha K. Warikoo and Assistant Professor of History Genevieve A. Clutario, in three separate letters to Bacow. The University decided not to put Warikoo up for tenure in November 2018, and Clutario recently accepted a position at Wellesley College.

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Bacow wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday that though the decision to establish an ethnic studies program would ultimately fall under the “purview of the faculty,” he has supported Gay’s efforts on this front.

“I have been in conversations with Claudine Gay, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, around this topic and we have been focused on ensuring that any new program would have the faculty and resources essential to deliver it,” he wrote. “Dean Gay has already recruited a number of faculty in this area, but we know ... there is more work to do and we will continue to make progress in the months ahead.”

Gay said Monday that FAS prioritized hiring Sociology and Social Studies faculty last semester, and three “young, early-career scholars” who study ethnicity have been offered positions in the two fields. At least two of the three recruits, whom Gay did not name, have accepted the offers and will join the faculty this fall.

Gay said in an October interview that she planned to focus on recruiting faculty who specialize in ethnic studies before potentially making plans to develop a formalized program. She also said she planned to meet with ethnic studies advocates in the spring.

Gay has already met with members of the Task Force on Asian and Pacific American Studies. She added that her goal for this semester is to persuade the third recruit to accept FAS’s offer and then begin thinking about "hiring priorities” for next year.

“What I was saying in that meeting — and it’s actually not unlike what I’ve expressed in other venues at other times — is that I’m very aware of student interest and, frankly, needs in this area, and I believe that it’s all valid,” Gay said.

Gay also praised the students advocating for an ethnic studies program as “thoughtful” and “extraordinary.” She acknowledged that the departure of Clutario and Warikoo constituted a “big loss,” and that the new recruits are not meant to replace them.

Alice S. Cheng ’20, a member of TAPAS who met with Dean Gay, wrote in an email that, though it was “exciting” to hear about the new hires, she believes it is “equally important” that Harvard create a structured ethnic studies program to support faculty who specialize in the field.

“It is critical to see ethnic studies faculty hired into some kind of structure where they can build a scholarly community with one another,” wrote Cheng, a former Crimson editor. “We've seen from many instances of ethnic studies faculty leaving that the lack of understanding and acknowledgement of ethnic studies as a legitimate academic discipline in various departments can leave faculty feeling unsupported and lead to their departures.”

Jeannie Park ’83, president of the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance, argued that unless the University establishes a formalized ethnic studies department, professors will come and go in a revolving door.

“Harvard needs a structure that supports and retains faculty so that we aren’t just filling holes but building a world-class program,” she wrote in an email. “The changing make-up of our campus and our world demand that we step up on this front.”

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at molly.mccafferty@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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