Otis Baker

Citing lack of University support for the Ethnicity, Race and Migration program, 13 senior faculty members chose to withdraw from their services to the program on Friday.

The professors submitted individual letters of withdrawal from the program to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler early Friday. The professors who submitted letters are — professor of American studies and current chair of ER&M Alicia Camacho; professor of history and American studies Ned Blackhawk; professor of American studies and English Michael Denning; professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and American studies Inderpal Grewal; associate professor of American studies and religious studies Zareena Grewal; associate professor of American studies Daniel HoSang; professor of American studies, history and African American studies Matthew Jacobson; professor of sociology Grace Kao; professor of American studies Lisa Lowe; professor of history and American studies Mary Lui; visiting professor of American studies Gary Okihiro; professor of history and American studies Stephen Pitti; and professor of American studies, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Ana Ramos-Zayas.

Their decision leaves the program without any tenured faculty members, as well as without any of the professors who have served as program chair since its founding in 1997. The professors cited administrative disinterest in the program — including the University’s failure to recognize academic work in the field and its lack of hiring ability — as reasons for their withdrawal from the program.

“We’re withdrawing our service to the program because we feel it has become both unsustainable and detrimental to both our faculty and students to operate in these conditions,” Camacho told the News. “It is not up to us whether the program continues or ends. It is up to the administration … they need to decide in what conditions it will go forward”

According to the press release, the professors will continue to support their current junior and senior majors, but Camacho wrote that they “cannot responsibly meet our growing obligations to students or our respective research fields under the current structure.” Camacho told the News the professors want to be “partners in finding a solution to this issue.”

The professors also jointly met with Gendler Friday to explain their decision, according to Camacho.

“I am grateful to our colleagues in the Ethnicity, Race and Migration for their work in creating and sustaining a vibrant intellectual program that supports a thriving undergraduate major,” Gendler told the News. “Over the past year, the University has been working with members of the program on the issue of appointment powers. We are all in agreement that the program needs dedicated resources and suitable autonomy to serve its students and its faculty effectively. I am confident that we will soon reach a resolution satisfying to all.”

According to the press release, faculty members have met with upper University administrators dozens of times since 2002 to discuss the program. In the meetings, the faculty stressed to the University officials that they should not be expected to “volunteer their labor to support” the program, according to the press release. The release said that University administration, including both former University President Richard Levin and current President Peter Salovey promised to change the status and funding of the ER&M program in 2011, 2015 and 2016, respectively — but never did. Furthermore, the release states that over the last seven years, Yale administrators have promised incoming faculty members an appointment in ER&M, but failed to follow through on these promises.

The announcement comes weeks after students began organizing to voice their discontent with the University losing professors of color working in ethnic studies. After a meeting in February, students formed a group dubbed Coalition for Ethnic Studies and Faculty Diversity. The group’s demands include granting ER&M departmental status.

“Yale’s inconsistent support for the study of Ethnicity, Race, and Migration is alarming given the multitude of critical issues our teaching and scholarship engage in this moment: The rise of white nationalism, a refugee crises across three continents, climate migration, and pressing matters related to immigration and detention, voting rights, policing and incarceration, and racial violence,” Jacobson wrote in the joint press release from the professors.

At a meeting on Friday evening, ER&M faculty members met with undergraduates involved in the program –– many of whom have declared they will major in the field — to explain their position. According to Camacho, eight faculty members present fielded questions from the group of more than 60 students, which included undergraduates from all class levels. Zayas, who serves as director of undergraduate studies for the program, told first years and sophomores that there is no guarantee they would be able to major in ER&M.

ER&M majors interviewed by the News expressed support for the 13 faculty members’ decision. Joseph Gaylin ’19 called it “a brave and necessary step to ensure that their labor is not taken for granted.”

Ananya Kumar-Banerjee ’21, who intended to major in ER&M, said that though her academic future is now unclear, she also supports the 13 professors.

“They have been exploited by the University for quite some time,” she said. “Their exploitation also meant that students in the major were not getting the support they deserve. … I have never been more proud to say that these are the professors who have shaped, and hopefully, will continue to shape my life.”

Still, Cassandra Hsiao ’21 said she wished she had been better informed on the state of the program before the professors made their decision public. She added that she may have considered other majors if she had known that the faculty members would withdraw from the program.

According to the press release, 87 students have declared ER&M as their major.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu