Black Lives Matter Rutgers Rallies in Support of Black Faculty Member Denied Tenure

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On April 13, Black Lives Matter (BLM) Rutgers held a rally at Old Queens in support of Dr. Jennifer Warren, a Black professor in the communication department who was denied tenure last year.

Warren was denied tenure in April 2015.  It was, as she puts it, "one of the most devastating events of my adult life."

Warren missed the expedited appeal window, but is now putting the appeal process in motion.

BLM Rutgers maintains that the tenure rejection is an example of institutional racism.

In a statement, the group said, "The purpose of our rally was to draw attention to the institutionalized racism that exists at Rutgers University."

The statement continues, demanding "more tenure/tenure-­track faculty of color," "more diverse hiring practices within departments," and "greater transparency in the tenure process."

"We are merely asking Rutgers University to truly stand by their claims. Rutgers will not genuinely be a 'diverse and inclusive' institution until it addresses these demands."

Understanding Warren's appeal requires some background knowledge of the tenure process.

There are four levels at which Warren had to be approved.

First was her department, communication; then her school, the School of Communication and Information; then the dean of her school; and finally the promotion review committee at the university level. 

Warren was rejected at the department level. Then, the school-level committee approved her and refuted every argument the communication department used to deny her.

At the next level, Dean Claire McInenerny approved Warren.  McInerny was acting dean after previous dean Jorge Schement was promoted to Rutgers's vice president of diversity and inclusion. 

In the end, the promotion review committee sided with the department, in a decision that some said was "unprecedented."

There are a few other unusual factors in this tenure case.

In the tenure process, there are objective readers who review materials prepared by the tenure candidate.

"We had to fight to get neutral readers," Warren said.  "They said that the department 'distorted and mischaracterized the letters.'"

She continues, "I felt vindicated that because I was viewed as a solid scholar."

Another is that the communication department chair, Laurie Lewis, will be standing at the forthcoming university hearing as a witness. This could make it difficult for communication faculty to give unbiased feedback on Warren.

Finally, Warren says that her colleagues have been issued what she and some Rutgers union staff call "a gag order."

Both Karen Hundert Novick, SC&I Associate Dean of Administration, and Lewis sent emails instructing faculty not to discuss the case as it is confidential. Not only is this untrue, but it puts Warren at a disadvantage as she needs to discuss the case with her colleagues to determine who is willing to testify on her behalf.

There are three arguments that the communication department used to deny Warren tenure. The AAUP, the Rutgers union, is filing a response to each of these as an Article X grievance. 

If any of these grievances are accepted, Warren's tenure case will be revisited.

The first argument was that Warren's student evaluations were too low. They average in the mid-3's out of 5.

Warren's response is that she is denied the classes she wants to teach, that she's good at teaching. For instance, she taught a well-received three-hour class that went on trips, then was told she could no longer take that amount of time.

Her Rate My Professor average is a 2.3 out of 5.

The next complaint was that she did not publish enough in communication journals. Warren has produced 27 publications; 18 of them have been in top-ranked journals.

The issue is that she is allegedly too interdisciplinary: as Warren focuses on health and wellness research, not enough of her articles have been published in communication journals specifically.

On the homepage of the communication department's website, it says "Research from our renowned faculty experts examines the complexity of communication processes in personal relationships, social networks, organizations and communities. This knowledge provides unique insights for innovations in communication across the domains of health, technology, business, government, civil society and the environment."

Finally, there was the issue of the "readers," which the AAUP is presenting as the third grievance.

The grievances will go to the Grievance Committee, which will re-evaluate whether Warren should receive tenure.

Dr. Lewis did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition, BLM Rutgers has arranged a meeting with Jonathan Potter, the dean of the School of Communication and Information and is in the process of arranging a meeting with Felicia McGinty, the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. They are hoping that this will lead to progress in this case.

The department of communication is very white: Aside from Warren, there is only one other core faculty member of color. In its history, the department has only had one other tenured person of color.

Warren calls it "a wall of white."

Rutgers as a whole has only 4% Black tenure and tenure-track faculty.

As Taqwa Brookins, elected Chairperson of BLM Rutgers, says, "The issue of black tenure is not often something that we think about when we hear diversity in higher ed, but it is just as important and such as indicative of the level of diversity in institutions."

"Personally, I am hoping that Rutgers’ swift response to this protest and issue of black tenure, as well as its initiatives such as the Task Force on Inclusion and Community Values and the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations actually lead to concrete policies and concrete changes across the University, instead of dying with the end of the 250th Anniversary celebration."

As Warren says, "I want Old Queens to see that there's a movement."

UPDATE (4/24): Dr. Warren won her grievance and she will go up for tenure again next year.