Stanford Ethnic Studies program lacks consistency, faculty say

June 2, 2022, 12:47 a.m.

From offering the first-ever Native American Studies (NAS) course at Stanford in 1992 to academically advising the first student to ever major in NAS, Professor Robert Warrior was a pioneering Native American Scholar at Stanford. 

During Warrior’s seventh year teaching at Stanford, he applied for tenure through the English department. At the time, he had written two successful books — both of which are still in print today —and also played a major role in cultivating both NAS and the Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity program (CSRE).

Yet, to many students and faculty’s surprise, Warrior was denied tenure. In January of 1999, Warrior received notice that the Dean’s office had rejected the English Department’s recommendation that he be granted tenure. 

“The line that was the most disappointing was there was a reference in the letter to me being a ‘popular mentor.’ The implication was that if I had not spent so much time mentoring, to such a popular extent, that I could have gotten more work done,” Warrior, who is now a Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature & Culture at the University of Kansas, said. He ended up staying at Stanford until the summer of 2000. 

This is not the only time that a professor with extensive responsibilities within an ethnic studies program was denied tenure. Just last year, Asian American Studies (AAS) lecturer William Gow left Stanford for a tenure-track position at Cal State Sacramento. 

“[Professor Warrior] is so well remembered in our community. It was really disturbing to me to hear that this happened and that it was not something that really inspired all that much change,” Caelin Dae Marum ’21 M.S. ’22, who majored in NAS during her undergrad, said. “[Our faculty] is really overworked. We don’t have the infrastructure to support people.” 

When asked by The Daily to comment on the tenure in the ethnic studies programs, Center for Comparative Studies for Race and Ethnicity faculty director Paula Moya drew a distinction between the interdisciplinary programs, like ethnic studies majors, and departments.  

“What this means is that while CCSRE works with disciplinary departments to appoint into those departments faculty who work in the broad field of comparative studies of race and ethnicity, it does not appoint faculty into the IDP itself,” Moya wrote. “Faculty from different disciplinary departments, such as English, history, and sociology, cross-list courses in a way that allows students to learn from faculty across multiple academic areas. For the most part, tenure decisions occur in departments and tend to be focused on disciplinary concerns.”

The CSRE program houses five majors, which include NAS, AAS, CSRE, Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies (CHILATST), and Jewish Studies. However, CSRE, like all ethnic studies majors, is not a department but an interdisciplinary program (IDP).  

AAS program director Stephen Sano, a professor in the Music Department, explained that these programs aren’t allowed to hire their own faculty. Instead, classes within these programs are often taught by affiliated faculty, who are actually housed under different departments. 

However, Sano acknowledged that this structure leads to difficulties in retaining faculty and courses since the professors’ primary responsibility lies in a different department. He also explained that ethnic studies programs don’t have a department chair or a strong, codified internal governance like other departments do. 

“We’re limited in the kind of community we can build because people are stretched really thin across what they’re doing for their home units,” Dr. Jonathan Rosa, the CHILATST Program Director, said. 

Currently, students are advocating for CSRE to follow the lead of African & African American Studies, which is in the process of departmentalization. Stanford D.E.S.A.S. has created a petition and held a CSRE Faculty and Students Community Conversation on May 27 to garner support.”

“We are aware that there is a student group advocating for departmentalization of CCSRE and are glad to know it,” Moya wrote. The decision to departmentalize CCSRE would depend on the faculty involved with the program, the genuine and sustained enthusiasm of undergraduate and graduate students, and the administration of Stanford.” 

Since CSRE programs cannot hire their own professors, it also impedes their ability to create a diverse faculty, both demographically and academically, Rosa said. According to the 2019-20 faculty demographics, only 4% of professional faculty at the University identify as Latinx and 2% identify as Black or African American. There are five faculty members who identify as Native American, which is such a small number that they don’t make up a percentage. 

Program directors get funding to hire two lecturers each year for a one-quarter period to teach courses solely within their ethnic studies program. Although this does allow directors to bring in ethnic studies scholars from other universities, it creates a lack of consistency among faculty, since lecturers are being rotated out every quarter. 

“It’s really important to maintain connections with professors, for example, with recommendation letters or just wanting to continue learning about a specific discipline,” Phong Nguyen ’25, a prospective AAS major, said. “The professors that I’ve had so far have been so engaging and so passionate and I truly learned a lot. I guess that my one wish is that they could stay here.”

AAS is in the process of hiring an associate director for the program, according to Sano. This associate director will be expected to teach four classes a year within AAS, one of which is mandated to be Intro to Asian American Studies. They will also contribute to administrative aspects of the program and help develop curriculum. 

Sano hopes it will foster consistency and community within the program. The Department of Humanities and Sciences has also greenlit a similar position for both NAS and CHILATST, according to Sano. 

“It’s an exciting thing for the school to actually step up and say ‘yeah, these programs actually need additional support’,” Sano said. 

Nguyen thinks this new position will be great and hopefully help fulfill Stanford’s commitment to offering a proper and valuable education for all students. 

“Because Stanford is not investing in our education, we usually have to take leadership of our own education. An Associate Director will help Stanford do its job of providing students the necessary resources to engage in their studies,” Nguyen said. 

This article is the first part of a two-part series about Ethnic Studies programs at Stanford. The second article will focus on student experiences with class availability and difficulties with four-year plans. 

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the CSRE Faculty and Students Community Conversation was scheduled for this Friday. It was held last Friday, May 27. The Daily regrets this error.

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