Sociocultural anthropology professor David Graeber, a self-described anarchist whose contract renewal was denied by the University last spring, has formally appealed the decision amid suspicion the denial was based on his political views.
Graeber was an assistant professor for six years before the Anthropology Department’s senior faculty voted not to extend his contract for an additional two years. Graeber said the decision, which was not a tenure review, was never fully explained to him and he is appealing to get a fresh evaluation.
“I was given no warning,” Graeber said. “They gave me no reason, which is extremely irregular.”
Graeber’s fight to remain at Yale has become a nationwide cause among left-wing academics and admirers of his work. An online petition in support of Graeber, who authored “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology,” had received 3,955 signatures as of last night. Graeber has given interviews for the political newsletter Counterpunch and The Village Voice, and he has received expressions of support from the likes of liberal MIT linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky.
According to Yale policy, Graeber is allowed to remain at Yale for one year to allow time for him to find another job. He is teaching two courses this semester, but said if his appeal is denied he will leave this spring. A final review of the contract decision is expected this month from the provost’s office.
Anthropology Department Chair Andrew Hill said he could not comment because of the sensitivity of the provost office’s review. But he did say that a professor should have “no assumption” that his or her contract will automatically be renewed.
“It is probable that most contracts are not renewed at Yale,” Hill said. “There’s no assumption of moving on down the line, for example there’s no assumption of tenure. That’s how it is.”
Graeber first underwent a faculty review after teaching at Yale for three years, and was approved by the department. But after returning from a 2001 sabbatical as an outspoken anarchist, Graeber said he noticed a shift in the department’s attitude towards him.
“Suddenly people were not talking to me,” he said. “I don’t think people say, ‘He’s an activist, let’s kick him out for political reasons.’ I think it’s more like they all think of themselves as political leftists, and I think having someone who does something about it makes them nervous.”
Several faculty members within the Anthropology Department said they could not comment about the case because it is still under review.
Graeber’s appeal has been referred to a standing committee of the faculty of arts and sciences, Yale Deputy Provost Charles Long said. The committee will accept complaints from faculty members who believe something inappropriate has occurred and will make a recommendation to Provost Andrew Hamilton, who will make the ultimate decision.
“The committee cannot substitute its judgment for the department’s judgment,” Long said. “It is only there to see that the procedures are followed fairly.”
Though Graeber said he had not been informed directly why his contract had not been renewed, he said faculty members had “leaked” some information to him. He said they told him that some senior faculty believed he had not completed enough committee work and had consistently turned his grades in late — charges Graeber flatly denied.
Still, Graeber has a history of sometimes ruffling some feathers in his department. He described a contentious committee meeting where some faculty were trying to “kick out” an organizer for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization from the Anthropology Department. Graeber said he defended the graduate student’s right to remain in the department.
“I was at this meeting, and I was the only person who dared to stand up for her,” Graeber said. “The department had been deeply divided over GESO issues.”
But Graeber said he has largely tried to steer clear of campus politics.
This semester, Graeber is teaching a popular graduate seminar, “Anthropology and Classical Social Theory,” and an undergraduate lecture course, “Power, Violence and Cosmology.” The location of the lecture course had to be moved to accommodate an unexpectedly high enrollment of about 80 students, he said.
Phoebe Rounds ’07, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee who said she is planning to take Graeber’s lecture class this semester, said she signed the petition last spring because she believes the process by which Graeber’s contract was terminated was unfair.
“It’s really distressing to me that both [Graeber’s support for a GESO organizer] and his political views can be on this campus an impediment to a fair and transparent process,” Rounds said. “I think that it’s essential that people who are teaching at this University fundamentally have a clear sense of what decisions are being made and how decisions are being made.”
Nicholas Collura ’07, who took Graeber’s lecture course, “Myth and Ritual,” last year, said he thinks Yale would lose an “interesting and popular professor” if it turns down Graeber’s appeal. Such a decision could have a damaging affect on the department’s reputation, Collura said.
“For better or for worse, it could send a message about the politics of the Anthropology Department,” he said. “It could lose some respect among more liberal academics.”
The University, on average, receives only one appeals case each year on contract renewal cases, Long said. Faculty contracts are renewed based on three components of their performance: teaching, research and community involvement, which includes advising students and serving on committees.