A sit-in with students holding protest signs, "Ethnic Studies Now"
University Hall sit-in (December 2) to protest the tenure denial of Professor Lorgia García-Peña
Coalition for a Diverse Harvard (@harvarddiverse)

January 6, 2020

Dear President Larry Bacow, Provost Alan Garber, and Harvard Colleagues:

We are writing as the national leadership of the American Studies Association, which is the oldest and largest scholarly association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of U.S. cultures and histories. At the urging of a diverse cross-section of our membership, which includes numerous major academic award winners, members of national and international societies, distinguished professors, and field-shaping researchers, we express our puzzlement and distress over Harvard University’s denial of tenure to Professor Lorgia García-Peña. Dr. García-Peña has earned a national and international reputation as a research scholar whose work is impacting and transforming American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Latinx Studies, and other interdisciplinary fields that are vital to the present and future of the twenty-first-century research university. Her publication record is prolific and of the highest quality, while her excellence in teaching and professional service/leadership exceed any elite standard of expectation for a colleague rising to the tenured Professor rank.

We cannot comprehend how this denial of tenure for such a highly regarded, productive, and creative scholar comports with Harvard’s recent and highly publicized institutional initiative to build Ethnic Studies as part of the university’s scholarly and pedagogical infrastructure. Dr. García-Peña has been a vital, dynamic part of this laudable effort, and (to our knowledge) is currently serving on Harvard’s search committee for new faculty in Ethnic Studies. While we applaud the administration’s constructive response to the well-justified advocacy of the Harvard Ethnic Studies Coalition (HESC) to pursue a faculty cluster hire in this field of study, we cannot remain silent over the outcome of this tenure case, which fundamentally undermines the intent, sustainability, and credibility of Harvard’s commitment to vitalize Ethnic Studies as part of its scholarly research mission that is symbiotic with a robust, multi-dimensional embrace of diversity and inclusion.

In concert with numerous colleagues around the world who have already articulated similar concerns, we respectfully call on the administration of Harvard University to provide a transparent, ethical response to our collective dismay over Dr. García-Peña’s tenure case. As part of this response, we ask that you undertake the following measures:

  • Public release of administrative documents pertaining to Dr. García-Peña’s tenure denial, including relevant official letters from Dean Gay and President Bacow.
  • Creation of an impartial investigative committee to review Dr. García-Peña’s tenure case for evidence of implicit, institutional, and/or overt bias as well as errors of protocol or deviation from institutional and professional “best practices.”
  • Reform of the tenure review process to increase transparency and confidence in outcomes.
  • Expansion of Harvard’s commitment to Ethnic Studies by establishing a fully staffed Ethnic Studies (or similar) Department, with clear plans for building its research, curricular, and faculty infrastructure.

The American Studies Association proudly serves as a site of professional and intellectual fellowship for multiple generations of scholars, including and especially women, LGBTQ+, Black, Latinx, Native American and Indigenous, Arab American, Asian American. and other institutionally underrepresented colleagues and students who are the past, present, and future of the academy. We recognize that there is a distressing history of hostile professional and institutional climate for untenured faculty of color at Harvard, and it is unfortunate that Dr. García-Peña’s tenure denial is amplifying this history at precisely the moment when Harvard is attempting to take progressive steps toward fulfilling a robust and rigorous diversity, equity, and inclusion mandate. Most importantly, Dr. García-Peña’s academic and professional achievements reflect those of a scholar who embodies Harvard’s aspirational commitment to deepen and enrich its global reputation as a top research institution for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Dr. García-Peña’s scholarly record is beyond reproach. Her first single-authored book, The Borders of Dominicanidad: Race, Nation, and Archives of Contradiction, earned national and international recognition and won multiple awards from top scholarly organizations in several academic fields. In addition to a dozen refereed articles and chapters, she has already completed her second book, forthcoming from Duke University Press, Translating Blackness: Gender, Migration, and Detours of Latinx Colonialities. She was Harvard’s Professor of the Year 2015, won the Roslyn Abramson Award for excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and Graduate Mentoring in 2016, and was recognized by Harvard’s Graduating Class of 2017 as the Professor of the Year Selection.

Dr. García-Peña’s record of institutional and professional service and leadership is equally superlative. Over her six years at Harvard, she has served on multiple search committees for tenure-track faculty positions while also participating in the yearly review and hiring process for lecturers in several departments. Dr. García-Peña also served as a principal member of the search committee for the 2019–2020 Warren Center Faculty Fellowships.

The American Studies Association and its members recognize that Dr. García-Peña has played a central role in building Harvard’s reputation as an elite university with the capacity and institutional will to build critical interdisciplinary studies across Ethnic Studies, Latinx Studies, and related scholarly fields. She was significantly responsible for creating the graduate secondary field in Latinx Studies as well as the secondary field in Ethnic Studies for students with concentrations in History and Literature. Dr. García-Peña works with Harvard’s Graduate Program in American Studies; the Committee on Ethnicity, Migration, Rights; the Committee on Women, Gender, and Sexuality; the Afro-Latin American Research Studies Institute, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and the Observatorio de la Lengua Española-Cervantes.

Amid the underrepresentation of tenure-track Latina professors at Harvard, Dr. García-Peña has demonstrated generous, collegial, and consistent institutional leadership in her efforts to make Latinx Studies and Ethnic Studies a viable and visible component of Harvard’s teaching and research mission. The leadership and members of the American Studies Association ask that Harvard’s administrative leadership heed this principled, ethical, and broadly-based call for accountability and eagerly await your response.

Sincerely,                   
Scott Kurashige, President                            
Dylan Rodriguez, President-Elect
American Studies Association
On behalf of Executive Committee Members: Hōkūlani K. Aikau, Soyica Colbert, Roderick Ferguson, and Deborah Vargas

Posted for ASA Office in Press Releases
Post date: January 6, 2020

Community announcements and events are services that are offered by the ASA to support the organizing efforts of critical constituency groups. They do not reflect the decisions or actions of the association’s governance bodies, the National Council or Executive Committee. Questions should be directed to the committee, caucus, or chapter that has authored and posted this notice.