Race, Gender, Discrimination, Tenure

Document Type



“All is fair in love and war,” and . . . tenure battles? However, even in war there are rules of engagement. In “tenure wars” rules apply too. The American Bar Association requires law schools to employ clear rules of engagement in “tenure wars,” akin to how the United Nations collectively proscribes rules of war between nation states as well as punishes violations committed on the battlefield. When innocent nations are attacked by illegal acts of aggression, a coalition of the willing allies within the United Nations defends against the aggression.

Even if all is fair in love, war, and tenure battles, it remains most troubling when acts of aggression are targeted at tenure candidates based on discrimination. Violations of the “tenure rules of engagement” that “fly under the radar” preserve discriminatory practices that impact underrepresented groups, especially women and racial minorities. Discrimination persists in legal academia in part because dignity is undervalued, so much so that violations of the rules in the tenure process are simply subsumed as normal or ordinary scars of battle. Intersectional biases, such as those based on race and gender, exacerbate a tenure candidate’s fight for dignity and continued violations of the rules create institutional barriers for underrepresented groups.

Most recently, the highly acclaimed book, PRESUMED INCOMPETENT: THE INTERSECTIONS OF RACE AND CLASS FOR WOMEN IN ACADEMIA, captured the voices and experiences of injury to dignity of women of color in the academy. Kupenda and Lawson, both tenured women of color, will build upon those collective narratives. They acknowledge that many of the narratives reflected in PRESUMED INCOMPETENT are “pre-tenure” experiences of women of color. Also, drawing on Academic War Strategies for Nonviolent Armies of One, which compares seeking tenure to waging a solo non-violent battle wherein strategic alliances are an essential component of tenure success, Professors Kupenda and Lawson propose a continuation of the war analogy by using theories of war as well as post-war strategies of truth and reconciliation as a means to change the culture in legal academia.

Helena Cobban explains in her book, AMNESTY AFTER ATROCITY?: HEALING NATIONS AFTER GENOCIDE AND WAR CRIMES, the critical necessity for social healing in the aftermath of war atrocities. One important component of all the approaches discussed by Cobban is truth-telling: the acknowledgment of the collective harm.

Applying truth and reconciliation processes, Kupenda and Lawson urge that, in the aftermath of a tenure battle wherein violations of the tenure rules of engagement occurred, the first critical step for restoring dignity is truth-telling. Even if tenure is ultimately granted, often the acts of aggression remain unaddressed. Both the individual and the institution are left without a therapeutic way to respond to the trauma experienced. The process of “truth and reconciliation” is needed to bring healing to the injuries and prevent future acts of aggression. Whether she wants to admit it or not, the tenured faculty member is now a part of, and even a senior member of, an institutional structure which if not transformed will continue to visit atrocities upon others.

The remarks and subsequent publication will address the necessity of telling the truth about violations of the tenure rules and the harm suffered. Telling the truth, even if only to ourselves, and reconciling those injuries within the institutional framework of the law school structure are critical for personal and structural transformation, and elimination of persisting discrimination.



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