Yale Daily News

On Feb. 15, associate professor at the Yale School of Management Michael Kraus announced on Twitter that he had been denied tenure. His fellow academics were resoundingly surprised. 

Tenure decisions are common occurrences on campus; committees in each school often meet on a weekly basis. But Kraus, a social psychologist who studies inequality, received an unusually strong outpouring of support on Twitter. His post garnered thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets; colleagues and academics from Yale and beyond expressed shock at the decision, lauding both Kraus’ body of research and his mentorship skills. Many wrote that the denial reflected broader issues in the tenure process — particularly that scholars of color, specifically those who study racism and other forms of inequality, are systematically undervalued at top institutions. 

By contrast, School of Management leadership claimed that few faculty receive tenure, but that the process offers a fair opportunity to all.

Kraus declined to comment for this article but noted that he is pursuing an appeal of the decision as laid out in the School of Management’s faculty handbook. 

A week later, scholars on Twitter are still discussing Kraus’ case and how it may reflect broader trends in academia. Kraus’ body of work has been cited more than 10,000 times, resulting in an H-index — a measure of quantity and quality of a scholar’s research — of 39. An H-index of around 40 after less than 20 years of research characterizes “outstanding” researchers. In addition, Kraus won Yale’s university-wide 2020 Graduate Mentor Award in the social sciences division. 

“It’s a painful reminder of how these predominantly white elitist universities operate,” Neil Lewis, Jr., Cornell University professor of communication and social behavior, wrote of the tenure decision on Twitter. “They string scholars of color along and use us for the image work that bolsters the brand, but then kick us out.”

In a follow-up email to the News, Lewis described Kraus as an “all-star, MVP academic” whose case should have been a “slam dunk.” 

SOM Chief Academic Officer and Deputy Dean Edieal J. Pinker explained that the tenure process involves two stages: First, tenured members of the SOM faculty vote on the case after a review of materials is presented by the candidate. These materials typically include the scholar’s body of work as well as recommendation letters written by colleagues in their field. If there is a majority vote in support of the case, the materials are sent to the Office of the Provost. Only after this approval is the candidate granted tenure. 

Kraus’ tenure case failed on the first step. 

“Diversifying the faculty is a high priority for the Dean and we have instructed all search committees on best practices for diversifying the pool of candidates they consider,” Pinker wrote in an email to the News. “We are not satisfied with our progress to date, but remain committed to these efforts.”

SOM Dean Kerwin Charles, who created the Dean’s Advisory Council on Antiracism, Diversity and Climate, said he believes the tenure process is fair to all. He added that SOM’s commitment to diversity goes beyond this single case. 

Pinker also said the tenure process at SOM is quite competitive — adding that most assistant professors do not ultimately receive tenure. 

Discussions about diversity in academia are longstanding and ongoing. Universities across the country have created plans to address the lack of diversity among their student bodies, faculty and administrators. After student protests over racial insensitivities in 2015, Yale created a new Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean of Diversity and put $50 million towards a new University-wide Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative, which was expanded in 2020. 

Despite the increased attention on diversity, faculties nationwide — particularly those in tenured positions — have remained largely white and male, and any gains made in hiring diverse faculty are often undercut by racialized retention struggles. 

Black, Hispanic, American Indian and multiracial groups are particularly underrepresented among faculty members; In 2021, out of the 683 tenured professors in the Yale Faculty of Arts of Sciences, only 69 were underrepresented minority faculty. At SOM, 52.4 percent of faculty are white, 5.9 percent are Asian, 3.7 percent are African American, 2.4 percent are Hispanic or Latino and none are of Native American descent. The remainder of the faculty are international or unidentified.

The nature of Kraus’ work on inequality could have also played a role in the decision to deny Kraus tenure. Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Nia Heard-Garris SOM ’23 suggested that to a group of predominantly white men in a very “conservative” field like business, scholarship on inequality, like Kraus’, is likely to be undervalued. 

“Some of my classmates will say we do not know how well he is doing in his field, but his H-index is quite high for his rank in his field,” Heard-Garris said. 

Charles wrote in an email to the News that many SOM faculty are currently conducting research on diversity, equity and inclusion, which is what Kraus’ research focuses on. 

Heard-Garris said Kraus was the only professor she believed even acknowledged race in his courses and held discussions where students could share their experiences.

Kraus has been teaching at Yale since 2015.

Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He covered transportation and faculty as a reporter and laid out the front page of the weekly print edition. He co-founded the News' Audience desk, which oversees social media and the newsletter. He was a leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, Isaac is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.