On Friday, 13 senior faculty withdrew from the Program of Ethnicity, Race and Migration in a powerful statement against administrative neglect on the part of Yale’s leadership. In the years since the program’s creation in 1997, the administration has continually made empty promises to remedy its basic problems, such as its lack of hiring power and adequate funding, as well as its unclear institutional status. Twenty-two years later, ER&M still struggles with those same issues — even as it has become one of the fastest growing majors in Yale College.
As of now, there are 87 declared ER&M majors. If the administration fails to finally deliver on its promises and make a sustained commitment to the program, it will effectively abandon both ER&M sophomores who will be left without a major and first years who may have chosen Yale for its robust ER&M major. According to current chair of ER&M Alicia Camacho, the program “cannot responsibly meet our growing obligations to students or our respective research fields under the current structure.” Why is it that Yale continues to push for the creation of new certificates and majors, rather than committing support to an existing program that is set to grow exponentially?
Since ER&M’s creation, 41 faculty members have left the program for various reasons, many of whom are people of color. This is not the first time that Yale has struggled with both recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty. Even after Yale’s 2015 promise to dedicate $50 million toward the Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, it continues to lose talented faculty of color at an alarming rate to more competitive opportunities at peer institutions or lack of tenure.
This unnatural exodus of faculty from the ER&M program is anything but a coincidence. It is a predictable consequence given the University’s failure to provide for the long term sustainability of the program, among other issues that the senior faculty detail in their press release. These include: broken promises regarding institutional status and funding made by both former University President Richard Levin and current President Peter Salovey in 2011, 2015 and 2016 that have been left unfilled; the inability for a faculty member’s work with ER&M to count toward their official evaluation, rendering that work meaningless in the promotion process; the administration’s failure to include ER&M faculty in discussions on the $50 million Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, which has failed to provide meaningful demographic results; and lack of hiring power, which leads to senior faculty having to split their time between the home department under which they were technically hired — like American studies or history — and ER&M.
This event is not occurring in a vacuum. At campuses across the country, students and professors are fighting for institutional investment in ethnic studies. The numbers are there — in the number of majors, in the swelling enrollment of classes, in everything but the funding that would be allocated to any other department of this size and caliber. This fight occurs at a time when understanding ethnicity, race and migration is more important than ever, given our current political climate — the obligation at hand is a moral one. It is also crucially important that the Yale administration’s response is a sustained commitment, rather than one-time promises like the ones made in 2015. As a board, we call on the University’s best self — to take this moment to right past wrongs rather than viewing it as a nuisance to be dealt with through reluctant concessions. Yale has an opportunity to rise to the occasion of leadership, setting a strong example for what a fully inclusive education should look like.
As the current Managing Board of the News, we stand in solidarity with the work of the Coalition for Ethnic Studies at Yale, the students who paved the way for the creation of ER&M and the activists who fought during Next Yale in 2015. We stand in solidarity with the following 13 senior faculty in their brave statement against the continued neglect of ER&M: 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. We list out the names of these faculty members to honor their hard work in advocating for their field and for their students.
Our hope is that in the coming days, the Yale administration will respond with the same level of courage as the 13 senior faculty who have stepped forward to demand a better future for ethnic studies — for more than just the bare minimum.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that ER&M is the fastest growing major in Yale College. It is one of the fastest growing majors in Yale College.