Academics who live on principle and persevere through adversity with dignity and pride may not always finish first, but their strength of character earns respect.
We wrote last November about the case of Dr. Quinetta D. Shelby, a DePaul University chemistry professor denied tenure. Although a university appeals panel recommended to the DePaul president, Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, that the decision be overturned because of “numerous procedural violations” at the department level, the decision was left to stand. In the controversial aftermath, a group of faculty came out to support Dr. Shelby claiming that she and other minority faculty members were denied tenure because racism. During this past academic year, tenure was denied to six faculty: two African-Americans, two Asian-Americans, and two Latino professors. In contrast, no white faculty members were denied tenure this year.
One can never know what occurs in promotion and tenure committees, especially at institutions with heavy teaching loads such as DePaul. Shelby held a prestigious NSF Career grant but even my commenters here were mixed as to whether her publication productivity was acceptable (here and at my crosspost).
Since Christmas time or so, I hadn’t heard much more about Dr. Shelby’s case despite having some contact with her supporters and trying to get an interview with her. But I was pleased yesterday to receive the following comment at my Take As Directed blog from a person claiming to be a DePaul chemistry student taking class with Dr. Shelby this semester. I’m unable to verify that this student is indeed from DePaul but the comment did come from a Chicago IP address:
I’m a student at DePaul and have taken General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry with Dr. Shelby. I’ve never met anyone so enthusiastic to teach. She is extremely approachable and more than willing to help students with the course material when they stop by, even if it’s not her office hours. It was easy to tell how disappointed she was that she didn’t get tenure. It’s unfortunate that she won’t be returning because of this, but very understandable. You wouldn’t even know that she’s not returning next year because she continues to teach as she always has, exhibiting the utmost class by not letting this [faze] her. I honestly think Dr. Shelby will continue to do wonderful things with her career, and that DePaul is really losing out on a great professor. She embodies a true example of a hard-working, caring, and FAIR teacher.
Assuming the veracity of the commenter’s identity, this account describes exactly how one should conduct themselves in the face of adversity. Of course, chemistry students were not responsible for Shelby’s tenure denial. But I think we’ve all encountered colleagues who take out their personal issues on the students. Shelby could simply be taking this semester to aggressively hunt for jobs and just phone it in for her lectures. Instead, she displays exactly the kind of principle and character that will get her another position.
I wish Dr. Shelby all the best in moving on in her career.
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