One week after the University announced a $50 million faculty diversity initiative, Yale is losing a professor whose work spans four departments.

Anthropology and East Asian Studies professor Karen Nakamura GRD ’01 announced in a Nov. 4 statement on her personal website that she will leave Yale to teach at the University of California, Berkeley at the end of the semester. Last spring, Nakamura was offered an endowed professorship and more laboratory resources than she currently receives at Yale. Her colleagues, who have repeatedly called on University officials over the last year to work to help retain Nakamura — who is a tenured Asian-American professor — said losing such a talented and interdisciplinary professor damages the Anthropology Department and diminishes Yale’s broader faculty diversity.

Anthropology professor William Kelly, who advised Nakamura’s dissertation, described the University’s inability to keep Nakamura at Yale as “a very strong failure of nerve and imagination.”

“This is somebody of quite significant dimension who is leaving,” Kelly said. “The [Faculty of Arts and Sciences] administration [is] uninterested and incompetent in addressing the issues of retaining diverse faculty.”

Nakamura said leaving was a difficult decision, and criticized the $50 million faculty diversity initiative announced by University leaders last week as “smoke and mirrors” that does not fully address issues with faculty retention.

At Yale, Nakamura is involved in the Anthropology, East Asian Studies, Film Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Departments and the LGBT Studies Committee. Her work includes research on Japanese people with disabilities and writings on transcending the gender binary. Nakamura has taught several introductory lecture courses at Yale, including “Introduction to Visual Anthropology,” as well as the popular seminar “Ethnographic Filmmaking.”

Several of Nakamura’s colleagues interviewed said her ability to reach students of different backgrounds using a variety of media, including film, is notable.

“She showed them a whole new medium for expressing social science inquiry,” Kelly said of the students in “Ethnographic Filmmaking.”

At UC Berkeley, Nakamura will be the chair of Disabilities Studies and a professor of anthropology. According to Nakamura’s Nov. 4 statement, UC Berkeley will provide her with new centrally located lab space devoted to researching disabilities. UC Berkeley hired her as part of its Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, an initiative to address social justice and inclusion.

“Both my partner … and I feel a very strong commitment to issues of social justice and inclusion,” Nakamura wrote. “We are thrilled at the opportunity to become members of a public institution where that is a fundamental part of its DNA.”

According to anthropology professor Helen Siu, who taught Nakamura as a graduate student, Yale’s Anthropology Department is smaller than those at many at other schools, which means Nakamura’s departure has a larger impact on the department than that of a professor in another department might.

While the financial details behind Nakamura’s decision to leave have not been released by the University or Nakamura herself, her colleagues said the administration was unwilling to offer her the same resources she will have at UC Berkeley. Kelly described the UC Berkeley offer as “very attractive” and added that the University administration was uninterested in making serious efforts to retain Nakamura.

“What she wants is a respectful, self-reflective environment for her research and students,” Siu said. “It’s painful to see Nakamura leave. I’m still trying to get over it.”

Nakamura’s departure sheds light on larger problems with the University’s priorities on the makeup of its faculty, Siu said. In meetings with the FAS administration over the past year, Siu and Kelly said they argued the case for providing the resources necessary to retain Nakamura. Siu said the administration showed a lack of confidence in the kind of versatile and flexible intellectual vision that Nakamura has.

According to Kelly, Nakamura’s announcement comes in the aftermath of several other faculty departures in the Anthropology Department. Kelly said four women and two people of color have left the department in the last two years and have yet to be replaced. Other prominent faculty of color who have recently announced their intentions to depart include English and African American Studies professor Elizabeth Alexander ’84 and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies professor Vanessa Agard-Jones ’00. They are both leaving for Columbia University.

Nakamura said she was part of a “cohort” of African American and Asian American professors the University hired between 2004 and 2009. Retaining faculty is easier through a cohort of faculty members, she added. Now, Nakamura said she is the last member of a cohort in the Anthropology department that has already dissolved.

“It’s a huge blow to the department,” she added.

But according to FAS Dean Tamar Gendler, the numbers of FAS faculty who departed after December 2014 or who will depart after December 2015 show that more white male professors are leaving Yale than women or faculty of color. Of tenured professors who left last year or who are leaving next year for tenured positions at other universities, six were male and five were female, Gendler said. Nine of these professors were white, while only one was African-American and one was Asian-American. Of the 15 senior faculty retirement announcements during the same period, all were white male professors.

Still, the University has recently taken steps to bring more women and underrepresented minorities to the faculty. Last week, University Provost Benjamin Polak and University President Peter Salovey unveiled a new initiative that aims to increase faculty diversity. While much of the funding will go to hiring a more diverse faculty across all of Yale’s professional schools and the FAS, some of the money is designated for improving faculty retention by creating a University-wide teaching academy for minority faculty.

Siu said greater attention should be put on helping the current faculty at Yale. To do otherwise is a waste of time and energy, she added.

“Retaining the current faculty is far cheaper than trying to go out and seek others,” Siu said. “We have this initiative while completely forgetting those [professors] we already have here … What a waste.”

Kelly said a number of FAS faculty members are concerned about what they perceive to be an institutional emphasis on fiscal austerity at the cost of educational pedagogy. Kelly added that the new faculty diversity initiative does not address the complexities of faculty diversification and retention.

Nakamura’s next research project at UC Berkeley will look into using robotic and prosthetic technologies to solve problems of aging and disability in both the United States and in Japan.

Correction, Nov. 10: A previous version of this article stated that Nakamura will be an associate professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley. In fact, she will be a professor of anthropology. 

  • Tschussle

    “But according to FAS Dean Tamar Gendler, … more white male professors are leaving Yale than women or faculty of color. … Of the 15 senior faculty retirement announcements during the same period, all were white male professors.”

    Hmm, I wonder why that is? How many WOC senior faculty does Yale even have? I would guess that the tenure ranks are largely made up of white men, and they will stay that way, considering the fact that Yale apparently can’t keep scholars who are young / female / of color.

  • ldffly

    She sounds as though she will be much happier in Berkeley.

  • TUtrumpet

    Karen’s photo ethnography web site was a breath of fresh air in the early days of the “visual” internet, one of the first sites I encountered with truly professional production values, and high quality information. While my photographic work is in different areas, I still refer to it regularly. Yale is loosing a valuable asset.
    http://www.photoethnography.com

  • Concerned

    It bears mention that retirement is different from leaving.

    Yale can skew the numbers however it likes but the unwavering truth is that diverse faculty members are leaving in droves! Pay the current faculty what they are worth to retain them rather than create an overpaid position to manage faculty diversity and then add another 50 million to support that farce.

    The new diversity initiative is nothing more than Yale throwing money at the problem. Money it does not have if you believe the mantra of the last few years to Yale’s support staff from the administration that they need to do more with less. More work with less staff since Yale did not have the money to spend on their pay due to the low return on the billions of dollars endowment.

    Some world class institution.

    • groenima

      “Of tenured professors who left last year or who are leaving next year for tenured positions at other universities, six were male and five were female, Gendler said. Nine of these professors were white, while only one was African-American and one was Asian-American.”

      This was the statistic that seemed relevant, not, the retirement figures. Where are the diverse faculty leaving in droves?

      • martin k

        You are focusing upon the relevant facts which is fighting words round these parts

  • wingspan

    A “unversity-wide teaching academy of minority faculty” does not address the underlying problems of systemic racism that pervade at Yale. Sequestering this epidemic by institutionalizing it is ignoring the growing problem. If Yale is to consider itself part of a socially just future, it must first leave behind the methodologies of its patriarchal leadership.

    • Ralphiec88

      Specifics of this supposedly “pervasive” and “growing” problem?

      • wingspan

        A slew of minority faculty leaving unhappy with their positions because they are refused resources they need from a 23.9 billion dollar endowment (2nd largest in the United States). No in-depth pre-requisite classes on world culture, post-colonial, or diversity theories. Building two new colleges to increase income during times of racial distress is wreckless. An embarrassing lack of diverse faculty – across the board, across most departments. The begging black homeless man on the street that you pass as you go to class (Yale gives 3% of its endowment back to the community: embarrassing). A new leader who publishes an open letter about the desire to fetishize other cultures is an emergency that requires a break from crumbling models of leadership, not lip service about getting along. The problems are starring us straight in the face. Whether Yale chooses to look at these or not depends on what type of university Yale will become.

        • carl

          “Building two new colleges to increase income during times of racial distress is wreckless [sic].”

          1. “To increase income”? The new colleges are not revenue raisers. The expense of 800 more students is greater than the income. Hence the “Access Yale” program to raise $250 million more in financial aid.

          2. “Building . . . during times of racial distress?” The decision to build the new colleges was made almost 10 years ago. Are you suggesting that Yale should stop all construction projects, due to recent events? How would the Yale community as a whole, including the faculty, respond to that?

          • wingspan

            Those points are helpful…they establish a certain volume of consequence about what would happen if things were to change. In essence: what we’re up against. But these 2 comments are also intensely vacant from acts of solidarity. If you focus on business, logistics, measurement, and capitalization – you’re gravely missing the point. People of color feel unsafe at Yale. Yale is an unsafe place for non-white people. Let’s try – as hard as it may be – to think about this problem outside of the epoch of capitalization. Outside of knowledge that creates injury.

          • carl

            So if someone demands sympathy based on mistaken premises, and the mistakes are pointed out, the sympathy demander is entitled to cry “injury,” “unsafe,” “the epoch of capitalization,” and “intensely vacant from acts of solidarity”?

            I am very much in sympathy with people of color. I am not in sympathy with poor argument and worse rhetoric.

          • wingspan

            it is not sympathy that is being demanded. if we listen, we can hear a more complex and nuanced demand for solidarity, comfort, decency, and trust. If we find this undeserved in Yale’s current political climate, then we aren’t doing a very good job at listening. Listening is at least as challenging as speaking.

          • carl

            I think people are listening to you — or at least reading what you write. We’re just not persuaded. If we listen harder, will your argument become more persuasive?

          • Rustar

            Merits of your arguments aside, Wingspan, I commend you on your civil tone and manner in this discussion.

          • DJEB

            Not when it is rubbish at the core, no.

          • Jonny-O

            You know, what do you think the effect would be, hypothetically, if Yale decided they simply did not care about whether students of color felt safe, if they had a diverse faculty, and they pursued this apathy within the law in such a way that they did not open themselves to lawsuits. What could happen to them?

          • DJEB

            “solidarity, comfort, decency”

            Ah, is that what they are calling rudely shouting down professors and demanding the university cave to your demands to be coddled? I’ll make a note of that.

          • DJEB

            “acts of solidarity”

            Code for shouting at professors, or in the case of Evergreen, threatening violence if your unreasonable demands are not met.

        • Ralphiec88

          Let’s break this down. First, I believe you’re greatly overstating Prof Nakamura’s departure. Another school made an attractive offer. Yale elected not to offer what would have amounted to a major expansion of her department. That’s a business decision made every day. You seem to suggest that she is entitled to more due to her skin color, gender, or sexuality.
          Yale offers a diversity of courses and experiences that few schools can match. You can call it “pre-requisite”, but what you’re really asking for is mandatory training.
          The begging man on the street is tragic regardless of color, but he is on every city street in the nation. It’s unreasonable to think that Yale could solve that problem even locally, but Yale does draw enormous revenue to New Haven businesses.
          Quite honestly I think you need to stop demanding that those older and more experienced than you accept your views. Instead consider the possibility that much of the “racial distress” you speak of is not only of your own making, but it is oblivious to the incredible privilege you enjoy and the genuine problems of race and inequality that exist outside your staggeringly sheltered world view.

        • David

          Racial distress? Only because you’re distressed. Let’s end some of the racial preferences and maybe we’d have less distressed people on campus complaining about the place they said they wanted to attend.

        • David

          Here’s an idea. Make one of the new colleges for black undergrads, because all the complaints are coming from them. Appoint a black master to that house. It can deal with black issues and be welcoming for black aspects that apparently make others uncomfortable — according to same those black students.

          This will be unfair to all the other racial groups that don’t get a college of their own, but anyway you’ll say the rest of them are for whites and Asians, and, well, let’s admit it. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

        • DJEB

          “world culture, post-colonial, or diversity theories”

          Ah yes, the embarrassing post modern claptrap that has ruined the institution. Yeah, more of that, please.

    • David

      So even hiring faculty by skin color isn’t enough for you? That shows that it was a bad idea in the first place.

      If you want a place that’s so different from Yale, why don’t you go out and start one? Back around 1700 there wasn’t a Yale either until someone (not named Yale as we know) started it.

    • DJEB

      “systemic racism that pervade at Yale”

      I assert that this does not exist. Prove me wrong.

  • John Locke

    “What she wants is a respectful, self-reflective environment for her research and students,” Siu said.
    Yes, that and more money.

    • NA

      “John Locke” – ironic -, you’ve either misread the article or are making an assumption. The article says that “Nakamura was offered an endowed professorship and more laboratory resources than she currently receives at Yale,” while “the financial details behind Nakamura’s decision to leave have not been released.” But even if she were leaving to be paid more (and here is the irony in your name), what is unreasonable or unfair about that? With being paid what you deserve? It’s admirable that this doesn’t seem to be her priority. She made an effort to stay, but ultimately Yale didn’t offer her the resources needed for the classes she wants to, and can at Berkeley, teach. I hope she succeeds at Berkeley in making those intellectual contributions to the world that Yale was not keen to sponsor.

  • I Dominguez-Urban

    “But according to FAS Dean Tamar Gendler, the numbers of FAS faculty who departed after December 2014 or who will depart after December 2015 show that more white male professors are leaving Yale than women or faculty of color. … Of the 15 senior faculty retirement announcements during the same period, all were white male professors.”

    Well yes, if most of your faculty is white males, most of those departing will be white males unless you are driving women and faculty of color away in droves. If you have 10 keys that open building A and 1 key that opens building B, it’s not much comfort to say you have lost 5 keys for building A and only 1 key for Building B. The loss of the one and only key to Building B is far more significant because it means you can’t get into the building.

    Similarly, the fact that all of the people retiring are white male professors is possibly an indictment of the lack of diversity among your most senior faculty rather than an indication of your success at retaining female and minority faculty.

  • marcus

    Berkeley vs New Haven.. no contest

    problem with Yale is that New Haven is a dump..until it does something to foster innovation and growth Yale will continue to lose out to schools that are part of and foster more dynamic ecosystems. Stanford, Harvard MIT Berkeley etc.

    • David

      You can’t still hear gunshots from the end of Prospect Street can you? It’s improved since the early 90’s when I was a grad student. Yale has bought up a ton of real estate and put in housing and other good facilities, but it cannot turn New Haven into Cambridge.

    • Jonny-O

      Oakland? Ya, that’s worse than New Haven and bleeds right into Berkeley.

  • kelly

    One of the most brilliant and interesting professors I’ve ever known – Karen definitely has “versatile and flexible intellectual vision”. What a loss for Yale.

  • anon627

    “more white male professors are leaving Yale than women or faculty of color”

    Well, yes. Look at the percentages. It would be crazy to think otherwise. What I wonder is why so many good people are leaving.

  • Gubbler Chechenova

    Shiite.

    She, he, or it ought to try out for sumo.