Letter to NYU President on Dennis Denoon’s Comments and Cluster Hire Initiative

May 7, 2021

Dear President Hamilton, Provost Fleming and Vice President Coleman,

As Faculty of Color for an Anti-Racist NYU,  we write, once again, to highlight the linkages between hiring practices in the Politics Department and the regrettable and distressing recent public statements by yet another member of that department, Professor Dennis Denoon. We are also writing to ask if the Politics Department at NYU is participating in the recent cluster hire initiative at NYU and if the department has made any requests for funds to hire faculty with expertise in Black and race politics in its most recent APR request.  

You will recall that we last wrote to you on August 10th of last year, in the wake of the unrelenting effects of the pandemic’s toll on communities of color and the massive national and global protests against systemic and institutional violence and racism, to draw your attention to the national, public outcry against Professor Larry Mead’s article “Poverty and Culture”.  As we indicated then, our goal was not to challenge his academic freedom to publish racist and dehumanizing accounts of families and communities of color. Rather, we pointed to the national profile New York University acquires given the fact that the political science department at the major research university that Professor Mead belongs to, in 2020, has NO Black faculty nor any BIPOC  that conducts research in or teaches on the politics of race in a substantive way. In addition to the embarrassment and disgrace this brings to NYU, we also outlined what kind of negative impact this has on undergraduate and graduate students, especially students of color.

We are at yet another moment of crisis when the effects of the pandemic are laying bare the long-standing dynamics of systemic racism in the form virulent Anti-Asian violence, not to mention the murders by police of Duante Wright and Adam Toledo. President Hamilton, as you indicated in your press release, you condemn this racist violence and state, “Members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community at NYU should know that the larger University community continues to support them, and to create an environment where all community members might thrive”.

Can members of this community thrive in the Politics Department when one of its professors, Dennis Denoon, is quoted in Nikkei Asia as saying “Claims of widespread anti-[Asian] sentiment in the U.S. are either misinformed or attempts to create ethnic friction…Just because a small minority of Americans make claims about anti-Asian sentiment, and these are repeated by senior Chinese government leaders, does not make these claims balanced or accurate statements”?  How are members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community at NYU to thrive when a senior professor in the Politics Department questions the veracity of claims about anti-Asian “sentiment” in the wake of a widely reported and unrelenting uptick in anti-Asian violence that has been fully acknowledged by city, state and national political and institutional leaders, including yourself? How many embarrassing statements need to be made by faculty in the Politics Department before the University decides to tackle the harm to its reputation and takes responsibility for a lack of Black faculty and no robust and serious scholarly attention to the study of race and politics in the Politics Department? 

Once again, we do not wish to curtail Professor Denoon’s academic freedom to deny the existence of anti-Asian violence. But we do ask how the composition and hiring practices of the department that he belongs to contributes to the reproduction of systemic racism? The administration has a responsibility to make good, concretely and specifically, on its stated commitments to end systemic racism by creating an intellectual and scholarly community in which a diverse faculty can contribute to generating research and dialogue to meet the pressing issues of race and politics that we confront today. Further,  NYU’s commitment against Anti-Asian Racism should include advocating against racial profiling of faculty through Trump Era initiatives, namely the China Initiative. Faculty of Color for an Anti-Racist NYU are deeply troubled by actions taken against our Chinese and Chinese American and Iranian American colleagues in the Medical School.   

Since the letter we sent you last August, we were glad to learn in further correspondence with the Provost and with Vice Provost Charlton McIlwain that work was underway to develop a systematic approach to hiring and retaining faculty of color through a university-wide cluster hiring initiative that has now become public. We are also glad to learn, through sharing information with one another, that some departments and schools have been able to move forward with in-progress hires of hi-profile POC scholars and artists, and to imagine future collaboration. However, we see very little in this initiative that can tackle dysfunctional departments that continue to foster racist views under the guise of “scholarship” with no apparent consequence, as in the case of the Politics Department and Dennis Denoon and Larry Mead’s published views.

While there is much to say about this initiative and what it does and does not do, we note these worrisome aspects of the initiative:

  1. Lack of funding. Based on our current understanding, this initiative is a suggestion for how departments might structure their APR requests over the next few years, but the administration has not authorized or prioritized a budget for increasing the racial diversity of the faculty at NYU. We request that the Provost authorize new lines for hiring in these positions to create a positive incentive for departments and schools to participate.
  2. A lack of incentive for departments to participate and/or to prioritize racial diversity and anti-racism in hiring practice. This is in part because of the lack of funding as outlined above, and in part because of the fungibility of the aims and intellectual content of the clusters that do not prioritize scholarly attention to race and anti-racism.
  3. Lack of clear consequences/implications for departments and schools that do not participate. There is no place where the initiative outlines if and when a department is subject to external review of its hiring practices or goes into receivership when it does not comply with the hiring priorities of the University.
  4. Lack of concrete money and resources for attracting and retaining scholars who are contributing to scholarship on the politics of race in departments that are committed to this intellectual work. 

We urge the University to make good on its stated commitments to fighting systemic racism within our own community by concretely and specifically targeting departments with no Black faculty and by further expanding the diversification of faculty in those departments such as Politics, Economics, Anthropology and Art History. It is now more unacceptable than ever that the composition of a department like Politics is allowed to garner attention in the form of the racist statements of Professor Mead or the denialism of Professor Denoon, damaging the reputation of the University. It is only with a diverse faculty that we will broaden the areas of inquiry in the fields and disciplines these departments engage, creating robust and vibrant intellectual communities in which all at the university, but especially faculty and students of color, can thrive and meet the educational challenges of our troubled world.

Sincerely,

Faculty for an Anti-Racist NYU

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