One of the few black philosophers in the UK claims that he has been rejected for a full-time job because his proposed course is too challenging to white-dominated academia.
Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman was appointed Britain’s first research associate in the philosophy of “race” at University College London in October 2013, making him one of just five black philosophy academics in UK universities, he says.
Much of Dr Coleman’s work has concentrated on whether the university curriculum is “too white” by excluding the writings of overlooked black scholars in favour of “dead white men”.
A public talk at UCL in March 2014 led by Dr Coleman, titled “Why isn’t my professor black?”, was attended by several hundred black students and academics, and chaired by Michael Arthur, UCL’s provost and president.
But Dr Coleman, who strikes through his surname to highlight how it was bestowed on his family by slave masters in Jamaica, said that he has now been told that there is no job for him at UCL when his fixed-term contract expires in October, despite what he believed was an outstanding record in teaching, research and wider social engagement to promote debate around racial issues in higher education. Dr Coleman was also named Online Communicator of the Year at a UCL awards ceremony on 7 May.
He said that his application to become a permanent lecturer had been turned down because the post was contingent on the creation of a new black studies MA, which was recently deemed unviable.
Dr Coleman said that his proposed “critical white studies” course did not find favour with colleagues, who wanted to offer a black studies programme less critical of the white establishment.
“White hegemony was…to be put under the microscope,” he told Times Higher Education.
“Turning the spotlight on to the ivory tower, putting the fear of God into many of its scholars – predominantly racialised as white – who had contented themselves hitherto to research and teach in an ‘aracial’ – aka white-dominated – way,” he added.
Among those criticised by Dr Coleman include Francis Galton, the famous Victorian “father of eugenics” and UCL benefactor.
Jonathan Wolff, executive dean of UCL’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, said that the proposed MA was rejected because “it became apparent that UCL is not yet ready to offer a strong programme in this area”.
“If the new MA was accepted a new job would have been created, for which Dr Coleman would have been encouraged to apply, although, of course, the appointment would have been open to all applicants in accordance with UCL’s rigorous equal opportunities policy,” he said.
He thanked Dr Coleman for “the work he has done to shine a light on issues and practices at UCL and beyond, and the preliminary steps taken to establish this important MA”, which it remained committed to setting up.
UCL had recently made new appointments in African studies, which is also “making further progress in equality and diversity issues more broadly”, such as its efforts to gain a race equality charter mark, he added.
Dr Coleman, who took a PhD in philosophy at the University of Michigan, said that he is likely to work in US academia if he cannot gain a post at UCL.