Speculate This: Manufacturing Campus Outrage


The following article was first published by the Valley News on June 2, 2016.

 Critics Are Missing Role of Scholarship in Tenure Decision

The recent campus outrage surrounding Dartmouth English professor Aimee Bahng’s failure to receive tenure is fueled by the contention that racial animus motivated the decision. This serious accusation, however, remains unsupported by any evidence. The Dartmouth Asian Pacific American Alumni Association (DAPAA) claims that the Bahng decision represents the “latest in a line of denials to faculty of color,” but the only other faculty member named in related reports is Derrick White (who did not receive tenure in the History Department last year).

Moreover, the shared minority demographic status between Bahng and White does not prove that they were systemically denied tenure because of their non-whiteness. Indeed, alleging that members of the tenure committee are racist, without proof of the same, amounts ipso facto to racism.

Because the reasons have not been made explicit, one can only speculate as to why Bahng was denied tenure. If so, then why not make an educated guess by analyzing the information available in her curriculum vitae? Teaching excellence, university service and popularity on campus (though laudable achievements) hold little sway in tenure deliberation. Instead, demonstrating a strong record of publishing original research in peer-reviewed and high-ranked journals (for example, Q1 and Q2 according to the SCImago Journal Rank or SJR indicator) constitutes the most important factor. In her book, The Professor Is In (2015), academic career counselor Dr. Karen Kelsky explains that co-authored articles and book chapters, in collections edited by other scholars, are not regarded as equivalent.

During her seven years on the tenure track in the English Department, Bahng published one article in the Q4-ranked Journal of American Studies, and one book chapter in an edited anthology. (Publications prior to joining Dartmouth College are not considered). Further, tenure committees at top research universities and small elite liberal colleges expect the candidate to have published a single-authored manuscript. An edited and collectively written collection, such as Bahng’s Speculate This!, does not fulfill this essential criterion. Therefore, could it be plausible that the committee found her scholarship record wanting?

This question holds greater relevance considering the exclusion of Dartmouth College from the coveted category of “highest research activity” by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, earlier this year. Perhaps, the embarrassing fall from the highest echelon of research excellence influenced the college to rethink its tenure strategy. Rationality, however, is not in vogue anymore. Attributing imagined sinister causes for unfavorable outcomes is far more seductive and politically expedient, as it enables the nostalgic recreation of the 1960s campus unrest with the 21st century benefit of hashtag activism (#DontDoDartmouth).

Diversity is a significant principle because it brings value in the form of different opinions shaped by a plurality of experiences. However, the term diversity as religiously parroted by the protesters should be qualified as one of form — i.e., differences in appearance including race, ethnicity, and sexual and gender identities — and not of substance. In fact, diversity of thought is rarely welcome on campus, as evidenced by the recent destruction of a display created by college Republicans honoring the lives of slain American police officers. Ironically, when defined in this manner, the concept of diversity champions a racist perspective that reduces Bahng to an Asian American token amidst the hordes of white people at Dartmouth College.

Finally, as the movement galvanizes the Hanover community to condemn Dartmouth College for denying Bahng lifetime employment with a six-figure salary (averaging at $142,558 per year with multiple benefits), it may be useful to remember others in the Upper Valley who are much less fortunate. The diverse black, Hispanic, and Native American families that struggle with unemployment, drug abuse and chronic poverty simply cannot afford to indulge in the manufactured outrage of identity politics, or to put it in Twitterspeak, #eliteproblems.


Meg Hansen graduated with a masters degree from Dartmouth College in 2014, and serves on the Board of the MALS Alumni Council.

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