arrow17 Comments
  1. Sili
    Nov 21 - 9:44 AM

    ” Perhaps Shelby’s publication record was not extensive enough.”

    Do we not know who was granted tenure? It should be possible to get an impression of what is enough then, shouldn’t it?

  2. DNLee
    Nov 21 - 9:46 AM

    I agree, something isn’t right. How does one one earn a prestigious and competitive NSF award and be denied tenured? And what is the department saying? That her work and productivity aren’t good enough? That her emphasis on mentoring and modifying the academic culture aren’t on par with rest of the department.

    I agree publications matter, however the emphasis on quantity & quality is something that troubles me. The whole point of academic research (used to be) is the be daring and creative. Having a host of pubs that are neither influential or interesting defeats the point….and it’s boring.

    I hate to see this happen. She has every right to fight this and something does seem off. But when it’s done, who really wants to in a department that treated you so poorly. I wouldn’t. Everything is sure to be awkward. If the decision is overturned, how does an individual operate/mingle with colleagues who obviously voted against her? How does a department come back from that?

  3. Rebecca
    Nov 21 - 11:19 AM

    I get a different pub count. Yes, she has an OMets and a JACS paper from 2007-08, but these are clearly from her graduate work with Greg Girolami (not John Hartwig) at Illinois. At DePaul, she’s generated three Acta Cryst’s and a JOMC.

    Is that enough for tenure at a Master’s-granting institution? Not for me to say.

  4. Greensodagal
    Nov 21 - 5:40 PM

    Our academic world is geared toward personal bias and personal projects. The majority of our students, graduated and not, reflect this mentality in their work or lack of it.

  5. Aaron
    Nov 21 - 10:08 PM

    Schools have limited numbers of faculty (tenured) positions. Take a look at who was given tenure during this time. I guarantee whomever beat out Shelby was either more qualified or had better political connections. I doubt it had anything to do with her color.

  6. k
    Nov 22 - 4:02 PM

    As a DePaul alum, I must admit that DPU is lacking in terms of non-white, non-male tenured professors, but I place that burden squarely on the shoulders of the Vincentian fathers and their “parent company”, the Catholic church. DPU does have a diverse student body, and it’s a shame that that diversity is not reflected in the population of tenured professors. OTOH, IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology, my other alma mater) is much more diverse in terms of tenured
    professors. The student body is also diverse, but there are likely fewer students who are first-in-family college attendees.

  7. Hap
    Nov 22 - 4:10 PM

    If that were the case, though, then why did DePaul have to break its own rules to deny her tenure? If they had tenure criteria in place, and she didn’t meet them, well, they simply could have laid their cards out on the table and say that she wasn’t good enough had they been asked, but apparently they couldn’t do that.

    If the criteria for tenure were appropriate in the cases of others given tenure at the same time, well, then you have to wonder why that wasn’t true in her case. If DePaul’s criteria were too lenient, they likely hired unqualified people for other positions, and if they were too harsh that doesn’t help the others denied tenure, nor explains why they used harsher criteria. In either case, if you expect people to play a game for six years at low pay in the hope of winning (getting tenure), well, then changing the rules at the end of the game is sort of frowned upon.

  8. [...] This crosspost from the CENtral Science home of Terra Sigillata appeared on 21 November 2010. [...]

  9. KBHC
    Nov 23 - 8:47 PM

    First, thank you David for writing such a thoughtful post about this, for trying to present as much information as you can, and for asking what should be an obvious and important question: why was Shelby denied tenure? Why were all the individuals denied tenure at DePaul in that round people of color?

    It seems disingenuous to tokenize a woman of color in the Chemistry department by featuring her prominently on the website, and then deny her tenure.

    Again, many thanks to David for featuring this important story, doing the legwork, and getting the conversation going!

  10. Paloma
    Nov 24 - 7:35 PM

    You should look into the layoffs of professional women of color at DePaul during the last two years – I know of five at a minimum.

  11. [...] Terra Sigillatta: Marking the magnificient memory of Henrietta Lacks Terra Sigillata: Racism charged in DePaul chemistry tenure denial [...]

  12. Dr. Evil Bat
    Dec 01 - 10:03 PM

    I just looked up the DePaul Chemistry Dept. web page & ran a handful of professors through “Web of Science”. The full professors have publication lists that are respectable anywhere. However, one associate professor had only 1 article show up *at all*. The department chair is an associate professor, and has 14 publications since 1996. Another associate professor has a total of 30 publications, of which only 12 were published since he joined DePaul, apparently in 2003, judging from the addresses given on the first page of his articles. I would say, therefore, that Dr. Shelby’s publication record is within the range among professors who outrank her & that in any sensible group, her awards should have made the difference. Also, it’s no surprise that it took her a few years to get her experiments to the point of publication. The more prolific publishers at DePaul I sampled tend to be theoretical or computational, rather than experimental, chemists.

    An observation from someone who lost the tenure roulette [though not in chemistry]: “An excellence in teaching award is the kiss of death for tenure”. Possibly a big NSF award is the same thing? I know of someone who wasn’t granted tenure because he was so much nicer than the professors on his committee, all the new grad students wanted to work for him, and he had enough grant funds to accept a lot of them [whereas the majority on the tenure committee had none or only quite small grants]. And yes, he had an excellence in teaching award, which is what prompted the observation… He went to a university higher up the food chain than this one, taking his grants & his group with him, so they actually did him a favor – though that most emphatically not their intention.

    I’ve become very aware of what I call tenure abuse [in a slightly different form] at smaller institutions – something a friend, who observed it firsthand, described to me as: first, they throw out all the applications from women. Then they throw out all the applications from anyone whose name indicates might be foreign, w/out checking if they are or not [at least one of my college classmates ran into that for graduate school, & a letter from a professor who knew the chair of the admissions committee did nothing to change the decision, but he got into an even better school in the end], then they throw out all the applications from men whose thesis advisers they don’t know personally. At this point, they trash the reputations of all these men & conclude there are no qualified applicants. However, any one of the applicants has already published more in his/her short adult life than any of the committee members has published in the last decade, because most of them stopped publishing pretty much the day they got tenure.

    Naturally this mindset also permeates tenure committees. There are so many applicants that they can play this game indefinitely, and chew up the lives of dozens of people who are more creative & more intelligent than they are.

    This country is sinfully profligate with its most talented people.

    • JJM
      Dec 04 - 4:46 AM

      I have never bought the “too good at … (usually, teaching)” or jealousy rationales for denial of tenure. That is not to say it cannot happen; but, most of the time, those claims are facile ways of avoiding reality and bolstering one’s standing among friends.

  13. bklyndiva
    Jan 06 - 2:00 PM

    This is a very nice blog entry, thanks for summarizing it. I am a chemist of color and also went to the Depaul site when I heard about this issue. While the publication record is of concern, it is comparable level of productivity to senior colleagues. Flushing someone who managed to get a CAREER award is a bit extreme. I hope she is able to leverage her success to find a more suitable department. The word is out, it is unlikely that anymore chemist of color will bother to apply for positions at that institution.

  14. Mz
    Jan 17 - 1:53 PM

    Being a student of Depaul and working in the chemistry dept and knowing these professors, I can say there is more to it than strictly publications. Not all people are good professors. Depaul also has other minority prof. who have tenure but the media only focuses on those who did not receive it because as always, someone who did not get her way chose to play the race card. I, as a minority student, find it disgraceful that people feel the need to use this to their advantage. If you do not meet all of the qualifictations, no matter how small or what the justification is, then accept the consequences or deal with them with grace.

    • ME
      Jan 17 - 2:09 PM

      You obviously have no understanding of the tenure and promotion system.

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