Senior Scholars See Tenure Denial at Harvard as Undermining Latinx Students

Dec 10, 2019
9:56 AM

Lorgia García Peña (Photo via Harvard)

Editor’s Note: Late Monday night, Latino Rebels received the following media release from the academics who delivered a letter to Harvard in response to the denial of tenure for Lorgia García Peña. This letter has also been reported by other outlets, including Tuesday morning’s Boston Globe, which featured story on its front page.

Over 200 senior scholars across the United States in Latinx and Latin American Studies, Caribbean Studies, Dominican Studies, Ethnic Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, African American and Black Studies, and American Studies sent a letter to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow on Monday, December 9, 2019, decrying the university’s decision not to award tenure to Lorgia García Peña, the Roy G. Clouse Associate Professor of Romance Languages. The letter presents a critical indictment of Harvard’s ability to properly evaluate García Peña’s scholarship and to understand the invaluable contributions that Latinx and Ethnic Studies make to the larger academic community. It follows wide-spread student protests on the campus where García Peña is recognized as an influential researcher, teacher, and mentor, especially to students of color.

bell hooks, Distinguished Professor in Residence at Berea College observes that “Harvard’s denial of Dr. Garcia Peña’s tenure is a testament to the ways that Black and Latinx Studies continue to be ignored as sites of vital knowledge production in the academy. Dr. Garcia Peña’s scholarship and service is the cornerstone to continue building Ethnic Studies as a leading program at Harvard and her absence would be a detriment to the students and faculty that depend on her keen insight.”

Cited as one of the most brilliant practitioners of her discipline, García Peña has won major awards for her first book, The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction, which the signatories to the letter call “possibly the single most important book to be published in English in Dominican Studies in the past ten years.” The authors of the letter go on to say that García Peña’s work has had such a great impact on a wide swath of academic fields that it “is nearly impossible to find new work in the humanities around Dominican or Latinx Studies that does not cite or reference” her work.

Moreover, Juliet Hooker, Professor of Political Science at Brown University, says: “The lack of representation of Latinx faculty at elite institutions of higher education detracts from intellectual excellence and is a disservice to students. At a moment in its history when the United States is confronting rising xenophobia, anti-immigrant, and anti-Latino sentiment, cultivating vibrant Ethnic Studies and Latinx Studies departments is vital, as they are a critical resource for preparing future citizens and leaders.”

The signatories urge Harvard to closely reexamine García Peña’s merits for tenure and to demonstrate its commitment not just to her individual scholarly work but also to the fields the university has promised not to ignore.

Ultimately, as Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Professor of English and former director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University states, “The persistent marginalization and exclusion of Latinx scholars in US universities is indefensible. Not only do institutions fail to support talented individual scholars and the production of crucial knowledge. This failure also sustains unacceptable inequities in the academy, and in society at large. Fortunately, universities can make a different choice: create truly diverse centers of learning capable of meeting the urgent challenges of the present, including the making of a more just world for all.”