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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

High-Profile History Prof. Hinton to Depart for Yale

Robinson Hall, located in Harvard Yard, is home to the History Department.
Robinson Hall, located in Harvard Yard, is home to the History Department. By Justin F. Gonzalez
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

Associate professor Elizabeth K. Hinton will depart for Yale this summer after six years in Harvard’s History and African and African American Studies departments, during which she produced high-profile scholarship on racial inequality and poverty.

Beginning July 1, Hinton will hold tenured appointments in the history and African American studies departments of Yale’s faculty of arts and sciences, as well as a secondary appointment at Yale Law School. Dean of Yale Law School Heather K. Gerken announced the move in an email to Yale Law students Wednesday afternoon.

A rising star in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hinton is a preeminent scholar in mass incarceration, most notably publishing the award-winning 2016 book “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America.”

She said in an interview with The Crimson that Yale reached out to her with an offer of the tenured appointment last spring, though she did not actively apply for a job there. After she learned of Yale’s proposal, she began the tenure review process at Harvard and was also granted tenure at Harvard’s FAS in the fall, she said.

Hinton said the choice to make the move to New Haven was “not an easy” one, but she ultimately felt Yale would be a better fit for her family and a better environment to advance her scholarship.

“I am saddened by leaving behind so many colleagues who I treasure dearly here, but this decision felt like the right one for me and for my family in this moment,” Hinton said.

She added that the appointment at Yale Law School was a “major factor” in her decision.

“The opportunity to be a part of the faculty at Yale Law School, I think is really important in terms of the moment that we’re in right now in confronting issues of racism in the criminal justice system, and considering new pathways for reform,” Hinton said. “Yale provides me a new kind of platform and I think an important one for my scholarship moving forward.”

Hinton will also join Yale’s Justice Collaboratory, which brings together scholars from a variety of fields to study criminal justice reform.

Though Hinton’s departure comes amid increased scrutiny of Harvard’s tenure processes — particularly of its retention and promotion of faculty who study race and ethnicity — Hinton said that recent controversies did not affect her decision, given that she had received tenure at both institutions.

“Tenure was not a part of my decision,” Hinton said, adding that recent ethnic studies advocacy likewise played no role in her move.

Hinton said she was a “target of opportunity hire,” meaning Yale created a position for her specifically rather than conducting a broad-based faculty search.

“The Law School had expressed interest in hiring me and that’s what led to the creation of my position,” she said.

FAS spokesperson Anna G. Cowenhoven declined to comment on Hinton’s departure.

Gerken wrote in an email to The Crimson that she is looking forward to welcoming Hinton to the ranks of Yale Law’s faculty.

“Yale Law School has a remarkable group of legal historians and scholars of criminal justice as well as the Justice Collaboratory, which is a magnet for academics across the University,” Gerken wrote. “Professor Hinton is one of the finest historians of her generation, and her work is deeply connected to our faculty’s.”

“We could not be happier that she will be joining our intellectual community,” Gerken added.

— Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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