‘It’s not time for us to pat ourselves on the back’: faculty discuss racism within SIUE policies, solutions

Faculty and Anti-Racism Task Force members say some of SIUE’s policies can have disproportionately negative impacts on faculty of color. 


Assistant professor of political science Timothy Lewis said part of one SIUE policy admits to the implicit biases of students when evaluating their teachers.


“SIUE actually admits in policy 1J7 that people of color, women, non-heteronormative minorities will face racism, sexism, homophobia in their teaching evaluations,” Lewis said. “Now in the tenure process, the teachers or professors are required to write a narrative in response to teaching evaluations — you know, highlighting what they did correctly and providing strategies for what they can improve on, based off those evaluations — but there’s often racist comments, sexist comments in those evaluations. Well, the policy still requires those professors to still comment on racism, to rehash that trauma, as if there is a teaching practice that can overcome racism when we know there isn’t.”


Elza Ibroscheva, SIUE Associate Provost and member of the Anti-Racism Task Force’s Core Council, said the school has developed a committee charged with reviewing the student evaluation of teaching policy and drafting solutions. 


“This committee, which is comprised of faculty members whose expertise is in quantitative methodology but also specifically in implicit bias, have [begun] their work to look at our current instruments in place, to study this at a larger sort of institutional perspective and to recommend … a path forward in thinking about what our student evaluation of teaching could look like,” Ibroscheva said.


University Policy 1J7 states that student evaluations of teaching may be a contributing — but not determining — factor in considering faculty for tenure. According to Lewis, the very notion of tenure has historically served a purpose of exclusion.


“Tenure in and of itself came out of a system to preclude some from the academic upper class while allowing others in, so tenure started as sort of a gatekeeping mechanism,” Lewis said.


Lewis said the effects can be seen in his own department, which has never granted tenure to an African American professor.


“If someone presumes to tell me that in 60 years, you haven’t found one African American that merits tenure when Black people have been getting PhDs since the 1800s, that’s kind of hard for me to believe,” Lewis said. 


Lewis also said there are no Black faculty in the Department of Criminal Justice, so students are being taught about the justice system from a predominantly white perspective.


Ibroscheva said Black faculty members often shoulder more than their share of advising and assisting African American students and serving on diversity committees, creating a heavier burden for faculty of color.


Gertrude Pannirselvam, associate professor of Management and Marketing and co-chair of the Anti-Racism Task Force’s Faculty and Staff subcommittee, said for some faculty of color, this extra workload can be a choice born of necessity — but those who criticize them for taking it on should consider doing some of the work themselves.


“This comment is easy to make; ‘Oh, they shouldn’t have done so much service,’” Pannirselvam said. “That’s an easy comment to make, and that’s a very ignorant comment to make. That just shows a lack of understanding of why people do some of the things that they have to do. It’s not because they’re escaping something, it’s because they cannot go to sleep without doing some of the things that need to be done. And so my answer always is, ‘I wish my white colleagues did some of this work. It’s their burden, pick it up.’”


While faculty and task force members have clearly identified these and other problems, they’ve also suggested a range of solutions. Lewis said during his time serving on the task force, various recommendations were inspired by other universities.


“One of the recommendations was to remove student evaluation of teaching from part of the tenure evaluation, that students are not experts on how to teach and that faculty members should be reviewing classes and that should be the review mechanism,” Lewis said. “So, some of these recommendations came from University of California, Oregon State University, Pomona College … these were just some of the colleges and universities that we looked at and we saw what we believed to be a fairer and more equitable tenure process.”


According to Pannirselvam, while SIUE is in the learning process, that process is far from over.


“I think we are learning from other schools, we are in collaboration with a lot of different organizations that have been leaders. SIUE is doing a lot of good things, very good things,” Pannirselvam said. “We are way ahead of many of the institutions where I have professional colleagues, but it’s not time for us to pat ourselves on the back. We’re not there yet.”

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