When she was hired as a professor by Harvard University in 2013, Lorgia García Peña was the only Black Latina on a tenure track in the university’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. But in 2019, she was denied tenure even though her department chair and two deans had told her that she should apply for early tenure. Her tenure committee also unanimously recommended she be promoted, and another committee above that endorsed its recommendation. About two years later, famed professor and public intellectual Cornel West announced that he, too, was leaving Harvard after the university refused to grant him tenure. And of course, this spring we learned that Pulitzer Prize-winning, MacArthur Fellowship recipient Nikole Hannah-Jones was denied tenure by the board of trustees at the University of North Carolina — after the university’s journalism school had recruited her to become its Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism. That decision was later reversed, but by that point, it was too late to convince her to stay.
These stories made headlines and sparked outrage, especially among academics, in part because they were some of the biggest “no-brainer” tenure cases — those three scholars are among the most famous and well-regarded in their respective fields. Denying them tenure is functionally equivalent to having MVP-caliber athletes on your roster but sending them to play for another team.
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