November 14, 2011

Professor Steps Down as Chair of Africana Faculty Search Committee

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Prof. Grant Farred, Africana studies and English, stepped down from his position as head of the Africana Studies faculty search committee on Nov. 2 after students and faculty raised concerns about the appointment, Africana administration confirmed Monday.

Farred — who allegedly called two graduate students “black bitches” in 2010 — resigned from the position because media coverage of the appointment created an “increasingly hostile” environment for Africana hiring, said Prof. David Harris, sociology, co-director of Africana.

“We accepted his resignation for the reasons it was offered … not because we had any concerns about Professor Farred’s ability to serve as chair,” he said.

Following Farred’s appointment on Sept. 14, several students demanded that the University remove Farred from the position, criticizing Africana leadership for what they perceived as overlooking the2010 incident. Prof. Margaret Washington, history and American studies, joined these students and expressed her solidarity with an anonymous group calling itself the “Sojourner Tubman Collective” that circulated a letter online condemning the decision.

“Professor Farred decided that because he could not stop the external attacks or the Sun stories, he would put the interests of Africana above his own preference to continue as chair,” Harris said.

Harris said that Farred’s resignation would not affect the faculty search committee’s work.

“There is no reason to believe that this change will significantly impact the student experience or the pool of faculty candidates who are attracted to Africana,” he said.

Student Assembly Arts and Sciences Rep. Dara Brown ’13, who introduced a resolution that passed on Oct. 27 calling for administrators to “formally reevaluate” Farred’s appointment two weeks ago, said the development showed a “step forward.”

“This really does show that student voices can be heard at Cornell — that the Student Assembly did do our role in sending a message about something we thought the administration wasn’t addressing properly,” she said.

Brown, who stressed to the S.A. that the resolution was not meant to “vilify Farred,” said Farred’s resignation was significant in affirming not only student voices but also Cornell’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“Cornell has historically been a place that has advocated for diversity. When it sends messages such as putting Farred on the search committee — which is also concerning to women on campus — it goes against what makes Cornell so unique and appealing to many students,” she said.

S.A. President Natalie Raps ’12, while acknowledging that the resolution was highly controversial, said that it addressed an issue “students felt strongly about.”

“Students can bring up any issue with the S.A. so we can provide a formalized recommendation to the administration. I believe that’s what happened with this resolution; while it wasn’t directed at one faculty member specifically, it was relevant to the overall efforts of the committee,” Raps said. “It is important for the administration when moving forward to not think lightly about discriminatory remarks made in the past.”

Other students, however, said they were also unsatisfied with how the administration handled Farred’s decision to step down, citing a dearth of communication.

On Nov. 11, 15 days after the S.A. passed Brown’s resolution, representatives from the S.A. and Black Students United met with Harris and fellow Africana co-director, Prof. Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, psychology and biology. Learning of Farred’s resignation afterward, some students said they were surprised the Africana co-directors did not raise the topic during the meeting.

Sasha Mack ’13, co-president of Black Students United and a member of The Sun’s business department, said she was disappointed Harris and Adkins-Regan did not tell them at the meeting that Farred had stepped down.

“That was the opportunity for them to say, ‘We’ve been listening to you, we know your concerns, and as a matter of fact, Grant Farred resigned as chair,’” she said. “They could have sent a letter [and] said, ‘We’re working with you, listening to you,’ but they didn’t do anything.”

Karim Abouelnaga ’13, co-president of BSU, expressed frustration that he heard about the resignation by word of mouth, rather than directly from administrators.

“We don’t want to go around with picket signs like last year and protest,” he said. “We want to sit down like adults and have a conversation.”

Still, Abouelnaga acknowledged that he was “glad [Farred] stepped down.”

Harris said he did not announce the resignation out of concerns that “doing so would create yet another opportunity for publicity that could further damage our search.”

“Moreover, it is normal practice to not publicly announce appointments or changes of search committee chairs,” he added. “Our goal is to normalize this search so that Africana can maximize its opportunity to hire a cluster of new faculty.”

Original Author: Akane Otani