Students Demand Power Over Hiring After Job Offer To “Racist” White Professor

In an open letter to Pomona College’s Sociology Department, Dean of Academic Affairs, and President, an anonymous group of 128 students, alumni, and “allies” of the Sociology Department demand that the college rescind its offer to hire “racist” and “unethical” Dr. Alice Goffman as a sociology professor and turn over control of future hiring to students.

“We, a collective of Sociology students, alumni, and allies at Pomona College, are writing to express our anger and concern regarding the recent hire of Alice Goffman. Goffman’s hire proves the college’s failure to wholeheartedly address underrepresentation of faculty of color … [T]he national controversy around Alice Goffman’s academic integrity, dubious reputation, her hyper-criminalization of Black men, and hyper-sexualization of Black women does not embrace and align with our shared community values,” the letter begins.

“To this end, we demand … the rescindment of the offer to hire Alice Goffman as the McConnell Visiting Professor of Sociology,” the authors write. “In the case that she has accepted the offer, we demand the termination of her contract.”

The open letter also demands “the creation of peer-appointed, influential student positions on the hiring committee” that place students “at the forefront of all current and future hiring decisions in the Sociology Department.”

One major problem with Goffman, according to the letter, is that she is a White female who was chosen over two Black candidates. “[T]he two other candidates for this position were highly qualified Black women whose critical research focuses on intersectionality and structural inequality,” the authors write. “[This hire] boasts the framework that white women can theorize about and profit from Black lives while giving no room for Black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.”

In a message to the Independent, an anonymous Pomona student who attended presentations by candidates for the position explained “that as someone who went to the presentations, I did think Alice [Goffman]’s was the most coherent and put-together.”

Goffman gave her presentation on “Mapping the Fatefulness of Everyday Life,” while the other two candidates, Dr. Katrina Bell McDonald and Dr. Marla Kohlman discussed “Intersecting Race and Gender” and “Intersectionality: Politics and Praxis,” respectively.

Goffman is known for her work on the impact of mass incarceration and policing in low-income African-American communities, but students believe her work disqualifies her from teaching at Pomona College.

“Her [Goffman’s] methods have endangered her research participants, encouraged the hyper-policing of Black communities, and continue to perpetuate anti-Blackness,” the students write. “Additionally, hiring white faculty who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study reinforces harmful narratives about people of color. This practice is detrimental to Pomona’s goal of supporting students of color; we condemn the harm Goffman’s research has caused Black communities.”

The letter goes on to accuse Goffman’s publications of being “racist, sensationalist, and unethical.”

The students also are seeking a formal letter from the sociology department detailing where it went wrong in choosing Goffman for the position:

“We are requesting a formal letter recognizing the flawed process of hiring Goffman and how from now on, student involvement will be central to such decisions. We ask that the faculty committee exercise greater transparency by explicitly detailing the hiring procedure and addressing the lack of communication with students regarding the faculty opening and potential candidates. Since faculty are in positions to influence and inspire the student body, it is very important that students are made aware of and involved in hiring practices that directly impact our college experiences.”

The letter’s authors also claim that the “majority of Sociology majors are students of color” and complain that “the faculty are not at all representative of their students’ diversity.” They also ask for more professors of color in all fields, as it “is deeply concerning [that there are not more professors of color] given that the percentage of students of color has been increasing with each admitted class, with the Class of 2021 consisting of 56.7% students of color.”

Although the Sociology Department does currently include faculty of color, the students are not satisfied, as the hire of Goffman—a White female—will mean that “the Department will have zero women of color faculty members.” (emphasis original)  

The letter claims to have garnered 128 signatures, but this is impossible to verify, as none of the signatories’ names are listed.

“128 names [have been] redacted for individual safety in recognition of the violence inflicted on communities of color by various publications, namely the Claremont Independent,” the authors explain.

The college has until 5:00 p.m. next Tuesday to respond—or else, say the authors.

“Should we not receive a response to our demands,” they write, “we will take direct action.” (emphasis original)

30 thoughts on “Students Demand Power Over Hiring After Job Offer To “Racist” White Professor”

    1. She was just “keeping it real”, surely the narcissistic sjw’s of the 5C’s understand how that overrules morality and the law.

      “She didn’t do nothing, she was turning her life around”.

  1. “Goffman is known for her work on the impact of mass incarceration and policing in low-income African-American communities, but students believe her work disqualifies her from teaching at Pomona College.” This is just one example showing the author’s profound lack of understanding of the entire situation. Doing research on topics of race & mass incarceration does not automatically qualify one as a legitimate scholar. It’s the way she conducted her research (e.g. fabricating data) and the racist stereotypes she uncritically perpetuated – as explained in the letter, hyper-criminalization of black men and hyper-sexualization of black women, just to name a few, that’s problematic.

    1. She’s a sociologist, so by definition her work is worthless. But her work is less worthless than the other two.

    2. ****, she really failed to sufficiently condemn non-progressive stereotypes? Very problematic indeed. Should revoke her professorship until she repents, accepts the orthodoxy and asks forgiveness.

  2. This letter by the unsigned raises a lot of questions. The letter make hefty claims of which the authors (allegedly anyway, since signatures cannot be verified we do not know if this is 1, 9, or 128) do not wish to be associated with their own positions. They claim this is for their own safety because publications, such as the The Claremont Independent, has perpetrated violence against communities of color. Considering the letter cites no evidence to that claim, it’s hard to find it persuasive in any sense. My guess, however, is that they are referring to symbolic violence which then has the capacity to fuel the fires of physical violence. Whether or not The Claremont Independent engages in symbolic violence is another issue altogether.

    They bring up one critique by Dr. Victor Rios for On the Run as evidence of the numerous critiques by sociologists without even as much as giving us a citation for their quotations of his review. For those interested, it’s from Dr. Rios’ review of it in the American Journal of Sociology, Volume 121, Issue 1 in 2015. Talk about cherry-picking. What about the sociologist William Julius Wilson in his review, The Travails of Urban Field Research, of her book On the Run in Contemporary Sociology, Volume 43, Issue 6, 2014? He called her book “timely” (p. 824) and that the study has “rich and interesting descriptive data” (p. 825). Additionally, he states: “Her discussion of cultural and social diversity was ignored in some of the earlier reviews of On the Run. Reviewers attacked her for reinforcing racial stereotypes by focusing on individuals who are involved in the worst criminal activity. Yet they fail to acknowledge or sufficiently discuss the section of her book that focuses on the more successful families and individuals on 6th Street – those who are “making it” despite overwhelming odds against them – individuals and families who behavior stands in sharp contrast to the young offenders and a few of their female partners and relatives features in most of the book.” (p. 825)

    At the risk of misrepresenting Wilson’s review, he does have critiques of her work (see p. 826 for his critique of her analysis of agency). However, the review of Wilson and the review of Rios are quite different. And that’s almost the point. Academics disagree with each other. They do it for a living. However, the writers of this letter disagree with Goffman’s work and present their analysis as truth with a capital T. From their point of view, she is a racist vis-a-vis her publications. They *demand* she be ousted. From my point of view, they come off as ideologues and not so what I would expect from students learned in the craft of sociology.

    I found it interesting that the authors of this letter were so vitriolic in their response to her getting hired. They come off as if they had systematically studied all of Alice Goffman’s work. One has to wonder whether or not any of the authors of the letter have read anything other than reviews of On the Run. If they have such a meta-analysis of all of her work, then why not present it as a separate document? Is there one? I did not read that anything such as that would be presented. Why not meticulously go through Goffman’s publications and point out methodological or ethical flaws or just flaws in sound reasoning?

    All of this being said, I agree with activism in varying degrees. I agree with many of the points brought up that impact students of color at universities. Sociology has a lot to say about those issues, which is important. However, I believe their focus and mission is undermined by their own poor scholarship. I anticipate a rebuke for that comment considering they said near the end of their letter, “We know this because our lived experiences and our studies in classes with women of color faculty have taught us so.” I would like to say a couple things on this. One: lived experiences are incredibly important for understanding social phenomena and oppression. Two: women of color faculty work in environments that privilege white faculty members, especially white men. To become hired, achieve tenure, and advance is no easy feat for people of color. Whether that is bigoted prejudicial notions or through a more structural understanding of racism, there is a lot of push back on women of color faculty members so it is not a surprise that those women who make it produce good scholarship.

    The problem here, I believe, is when people try to translate scholarship and theory into practice. These authors think of themselves as activists and are trying to make a better world, at the very least a better campus. However, thinking of yourself as an activist does not ipso facto make your analysis correct and lived experience does not ultimately equate to validity. After all, many problems we have in society are the product of the incongruous lived experiences of various groups and individuals (e.g., between people thought of as white and people perceived as non-white). In my assessment, they appear to rely on the work of others to interpret Goffman’s scholarship for reasons I have already cited. They then try to bully and intimidate others to get their way.

    My hope is that Alice Goffman can become hired and that this letter can just be disregarded. Additionally, I hope we as students and citizens can engage critically with scholarship in meaningful ways and not just dogmatically push our way throughout society.

  3. Yes, there was some controversy about Goffman’s work. But the allegations of unethical behavior remain just that – unproven allegations. This is beside the point, though. Whether or not the Soci Dept should have decided on Goffman or one of the others is irrelevant. This was a decision to be made by the department and approved by the administration. Students are admitted to programs of study. They are not invited in to determine hiring policy.

  4. Special Snowflakes in a gigantic tizzy over a faux science field.

    Time to break out the popcorn. Every player in this particular saga is likely flawed beyond measure.

  5. Hey:

    If you don’t like who the hires are, LEAVE. Go someplace that appreciates your ideas and views.

    You do not own the place, you are renting space for 4-6 years. It’s those who are in it for the long term who have the right (and duty) to hire and fire

  6. “[T]he two other candidates for this position were highly qualified Black women whose critical research focuses on intersectionality and structural inequality,”

    Establishment candidates, in other words. Party apparatchiks.

  7. Instersectionality seem to be very problematic to me. It perpetuates anti-Truthness, and priveleges people who want to discriminate based on skill-color.

  8. Once again, the nutbags at the Claremont Colleges demonstrate how out of touch and weak they are. More bad publicity for these so-called prestigious schools. I’m embarrassed.

  9. Thinking twice about having our high schooler consider the Colleges. This is becoming less and less a source for quality education. If students are selecting the professors, how can that drive a high caliber of instruction? I am hoping that these shenanigans are exclusive to Pomona, which we can exclude from consideration, and focus on Mudd.

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