You report that a black philosopher claims that he was rejected for a full-time job because his proposed black studies course was too challenging to white-dominated academia (“New MA ‘too critical of white hegemony’ ”, News, 21 May). I find Nathaniel Adam Tobias
Coleman’s protestations utterly unconvincing: there is no way that anyone with a two-year-old PhD and not a single peer-reviewed publication could be offered a permanent job at University College London. Coleman should consider himself very lucky to have been offered a coveted postdoc at a prestigious institution with his research record.
I am a philosophy student at UCL and I am disappointed that Coleman’s contract will not be renewed. This is especially unfortunate considering that philosophy is a discipline with such a dismal record of recognising the work of non-white scholars.
I think this is a prime example of the issues in academia highlighted in the “Why is my curriculum white?” movement. Coleman could provide a much-needed critical voice to another unquestioned curriculum (and institution) that maintains colonial white discourses (and faces). And his proposed MA would begin to allow for wider perspectives to enter this “prestigious institution”. However, it seems that UCL’s pledge towards “further progress in diversity” is contingent on its remaining inoffensive to existing privileged [scholars]. As a former member of staff at UCL, I am disappointed. As a woman of mixed race, I am offended. And as someone who would jump to be part of that MA course, I am heartbroken.
The #whitecurriculum campaign has had more impact than most peer-reviewed articles ever have. The fact that UCL will not give Coleman a permanent position, despite his demonstrable expertise and influence in instigating a public debate on white supremacy within philosophy and UK academia as a whole, is just more evidence of the problem that his work (and the work of all academics and students challenging institutional racism in academia) seeks to address.
Let me see if I can get this straight:
1) Academia needs more black/non-white voices – agreed.
2) Philosophy is too white – agreed.
Here’s the bit where it all falls to pieces for me. Because of the above points, an academic who has failed to publish a single peer-reviewed piece should be given a full-time permanent job without a competitive application process? That is what is being argued here. Challenging and breaking down racism in the academy isn’t done by rewarding mediocrity or by “jobs for the boys” because, ironically, simply giving a job to this man reinforces [higher education’s] gender problem. Someone applying for a full-time lecturer post at my lowly post-92 wouldn’t even get shortlisted without publications. Also, people need to knock off with “demonstrated expertise” – we have a way of demonstrating that in the academy. At the moment people are just relying on the idea of false authority – “he’s an expert because we say he’s an expert”.
A strong peer-reviewed publication record is regarded as essential for getting a permanent job, and by such criteria Coleman would be unlikely to get a position at UCL or anywhere else. However, let’s not pretend that number of publications is an infallible or objective measure. Also, I’d like to know more about the process by which UCL decided against running the proposed MA. Was that to do with Coleman’s publication record? It’s a separate issue really, and I don’t think one can deny that UCL, like the academy in general, is reluctant to confront the issues that Coleman deals with in his teaching and non peer-reviewed publications.