In May 2020, former Harpur College Dean Elizabeth Chilton announced her decision to leave Binghamton University. As previously reported by Pipe Dream at the time, Chilton explained that her new position as Washington State University’s provost and executive vice president would allow her to apply her experience “to some of the most critical issues facing higher education: access, inclusion and student success.”
The article also made sure to mention Chilton’s creation of a new cluster hiring initiative. The official Harpur College of Arts and Sciences website touts a multiyear initiative meant to attract scholars in the field of critical studies in race and equality. In doing so, Harpur College states it seeks to attract scholars dedicated to studies of race, social justice and structural inequality as part of the 2019 SUNY PRODiG program dedicated to hiring 1,000 historically underrepresented faculty members to the SUNY system in the next 10 years. Harpur College also notes its particular interest in appointing researchers and faculty members “who are deeply connected to and integrated into the communities that they study, as a means to build on the strong tradition of engaged scholarship at [BU].”
Where the BU administration was once loud and clear about the creation of this hiring cluster, they have so far been silent in reporting that it has stopped. When Harpur College first announced the creation of this initiative, it contained the promise of two allocations in the previous academic year, 2019-2020, and at least one in the current year, 2020-2021. As of today, the two allocations from 2019-2020 have been filled, but one appointee will not start until fall 2021.
While BU is quick to blame this delay on the $11 million deficit and hiring freeze as a result of the pandemic, the delay remains a clear signal of the University’s longstanding refusal to discuss or combat racism on campus. In an open letter to BU President Harvey Stenger written on June 12 signed by over 200 students, faculty, student groups and alumni, demands were clear: “We ask that you ensure that any searches remaining from Dean Chilton’s cluster hire initiative — developed specifically to increase Black faculty — that were stopped due to the [COVID-19] shutdown recommence, fully funded, in 2020-2021.” Included in the list of demands was diversity training for all staff, counselors of color in the University Counseling Center, University-wide curriculum on Black and Brown history and Stenger’s public addressing of those students and student groups which he has continually ignored.
Rather than implement any of these demands — which garnered over 200 signatures from faculty, students, student groups and alumni — Stenger instead implemented a Campus Citizens Review Board, a $200,000 reallocation toward the Clifford D. Clark Diversity Fellowships for Graduate Students and the $1.5 million creation of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship. While these steps are welcomed, they are just that: steps. Not to mention, they are not steps that students and staff have continually and explicitly asked for. SUNY Distinguished Professor Nkiru Nzegwu’s individual letter to Stenger also addressed the malleability of the policy shifts behind such scholarships and review boards, all of which unjustly trivialize student demands or protests. Nzegwu also highlights the failure of several current services to adequately serve Black and Brown students explaining, “It would be sad if again black students’ experiences of racial injustice and brutality become the basis of progressive initiatives while they continue to face racism and discrimination in receiving those essential services.” Clearly, these actions are miles away from the true, systemic change needed in the University’s curriculum and faculty.
For BU to halt the vital and explicit demand to hire more Black faculty is unacceptable. Even further, for BU to halt the appointment of two Black faculty members in the name of a hiring freeze while simultaneously hiring eight new assistant professors in Watson College of Engineering and Applied Sciences is plainly inexcusable.
To stand in front of our staff and attempt to silently rescind a crucial promise to hire tenure-track research professors dedicated to critical race studies in the name of money only to turn around and hire eight professors is a slap in the face to those who put their time and effort into these competitive nominations. More importantly, students and staff set their hopes on these potential hires, and our administration has yet again exploited them in a fit of performative activism. Such blatant display of our administrative priorities speaks volumes, and it is just one of several instances of the University’s, and Stenger’s, virtue signaling.
In keeping with multiple Pipe Dream editorials, including the most recent discussing these eight new hires, I again call for greater transparency from our administration. Not only do students deserve to know where the money to hire these professors came from, but also the reasons for prioritizing such hires over the cluster we were already promised. As Chilton wrote herself in an article promoting cluster hires, “we cannot wait for an influx of resources in higher education in order to recruit, retain and support a diverse cohort of faculty, staff and students.”
I take pieces from the open letters written by English faculty last summer when I say now that Harvey Stenger’s persistent silence is damning. I, as well as every other nonwhite person on campus, know my worth. Though I have grown immensely through the illustrious relationships formed with other people of color or allies on campus, I know that for all the faith and labor I give BU inside and out of my studies, I am getting little to no effort in return. To refuse discussion at every turn is a direct reflection of Stenger’s privilege and lack of commitment to the diversity and inclusion statements he makes. Until our administration makes a reliable, transparent effort to uplift marginalized voices, our community will continue to call for change.
And to Stenger, if you ever read this, I ask for the second time since my unanswered letter to you in June: What are you really going to do to help students like me?
Kaitlyn Liu is a junior majoring in English.