The Student Assembly passed a resolution Thursday asking administrators to “formally reevaluate” its contentious appointment of Prof. Grant Farred, Africana studies and English, as chair of Africana’s faculty search committee.
Student Assembly Arts and Sciences Rep. Dara Brown ’13 introduced the resolution, which calls for the administration of the College of Arts and Sciences to “reexamine the message that it is sending across campus” with Farred’s appointment. The resolution opposed the appointment because of an incident in 2010 when he allegedly called two female graduate students “black bitches.”
Brown, who is also chair of the S.A. Women’s Issues Committee, said the resolution was created not only to address concerns raised by students over the appointment but also to ask administrators to consider the message they are sending to different ethnic and gender groups on campus.
“I think the appointment of Farred indicates that we don’t have the support of the University in reversing sexism on campus,” Brown said.
The resolution — which raises concern about the environment for women at Cornell — stated that “it is inexcusable for this campus to condone sexist remarks such as these.”
Eva Drago ’12, cosponsor of the resolution and an advisory board member of the Women’s Resource Center, said that though the University’s investigation into Farred’s comments is a private matter, students should be able to express their voices when there is considerable backlash over an issue.
“I think when students react strongly, faculty and administration need to reconsider their state, if only to make sure students feel [their] voices are being heard,” Drago said.
Geoffrey Block ’14, S.A. undesignated at-large representative, was the only student to vote against the resolution. He said that he was concerned the S.A. was sending the message that administrators’ response to the incident was inadequate.
“Sexism should not be tolerated on campus … but we have to, at some point, understand that [Prof. Farred] has made up for things. In terms of this committee, I don’t think it’s our job to continually follow this man,” Block said.
Brown, however, stressed that the resolution in particular was not meant to vilify Farred.
“This is a broader issue — by no means am I trying to solely isolate this faculty member,” she said.
Several students at the meeting joined Brown in supporting the resolution and expressing their indignation at Farred’s comments.
“[Farred’s] remarks referring to black women as ‘black bitches’ is indefensible. These comments created a hostile environment for many faculty and students and it still does. As a woman, I don’t always feel comfortable going to the Africana center, knowing I can see this man at any time,” Tia Hicks ’11 said. She added that Farred never publicly apologized for his comments.
Hicks disputed statements Africana co-directors Prof. David Harris, sociology, and Prof. Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, psychology and biology, defending the appointment of Farred. In their statements, they said that the committee chair is not solely responsible for hiring faculty, but that he will be working in consultation with other Africana faculty. Additionally, they described the position as an “administrative service, not a reward or honor.”
“Many say being chair [of the committee] is insignificant … but chairing means you have influence on who gets hired at this university,” Hicks said.
In an interview Wednesday, Prof. N’Dri Assie-Lumumba, Africana studies, disagreed with Harris’ assessment of the committee chair’s power.
“Even if it is an administrative role, when some candidates have questions they want to address to a faculty member, they normally address those questions to the chair. The question should be returned to [Harris]: If it’s so unimportant, why do you need a chair? What is vested in the position of the chair?” she said.
Furthermore, another student at the meeting, Candace Katungi grad, an Africana alumna, expressed concerns about the impact this message would have on the future of Africana as the department prepares to recruit new faculty.
“There’s always talk of commitment to diversity and gender sensitivity. If we want to stick to those standards, we cannot send a message to Africana scholars across the nation that this is an institution that is not only silent but is also willing to put someone who has the audacity to send these type of messages to students,” she said.
Hicks affirmed Katungi’s concern, asking, “For [Farred] to be chair of the committee, what kind of message does this send to possible female candidates who want to apply to Cornell?”
Yet Harris disagreed with claims that the appointment had affected the department’s attempts to recruit faculty.
“We are a month away from deciding who we will bring in to interview and I have yet to hear people say [that] ‘I am concerned about coming here because of Grant,’” he said. “What I am hearing is that people are concerned about Cornell because of all the negative press … I think that has a much greater effect on our search.”
Since Farred was appointed committee chair in September, there has not been a single incident anyone could point to in which someone had been deterred from applying because of him, Harris said.
“I’m not saying that there’s not people who are discouraged — there’s just no evidence,” he said.