by James A. Bacon
Virginia Commonwealth University is hiring an assistant professor to teach “Race in Arts/Media, queer of color critique and Black feminist media studies.”
That’s quite the academic specialty. I can’t imagine there are many such scholars around. Once upon a time, I would have questioned whether there was any demand for graduates of such a program, but the national obsession with sexual/gender identity means someone is actually hiring people like that. According to CareerExplorer.com, the average salary for people with a B.A. degree in gender studies is only $27,300 yearly one year out, but it increases to almost $60,000 annually ten years out.
I shudder to think what employers are getting for their money. Consider the criteria VCU is looking for in a Black/queer/feminist professor, and then ask yourself if he/she/insert-your-preferred-pronoun will be more likely to help students gain independent, critical reasoning skills or turn out preprogrammed social-justice robots.
The job description advertised in The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the successful candidate must have a PhD in Gender, Sexuality and Women’s studies, have teaching experience in the same field, and have a “demonstrated experience working in and fostering a diverse faculty, staff, and student environment.”
VCU’s Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS), avers the job description, is “committed to social transformation.” The Department, in its own estimation, excels in “race, racialization, and antiracism studies; LGBTQ studies and queer theory; postcolonial/decolonial/anticolonial studies; health and health policies; and research and activism for social justice change in the academy and the broader community.”
Among the materials applicants must submit is a Statement of Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that illuminates his/her career aspirations and contributions toward promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. “Through this statement,” states the website, “you can share how your lived experiences, and academic and professional activities will impact your contribution to VCU’s mission of promoting equity and inclusion.”
The ad thoughtfully provides a link to an Office of the Provost page regarding statements of Contribution to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Statements of between 150 to 300 words are a university-wide mandate “required for all faculty searches.” Examples of contributions extend from personal activities to research and scholarship that “promotes equity and parity.”
The Provost’s explanation concludes with this seemingly contradictory caveat: “Equity and Inclusion will be viewpoint-neutral. VCU does not engage in unlawful discrimination in the context of hiring decisions, to include based on the ideological beliefs or viewpoints of the candidates.” In a related document, the Provost’s office reiterates, “VCU’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity is not aimed at producing ideological conformity.”
Remarkably, for a department committed to diversity, GSWS does not appear to include a single White male (at least no White males as males are traditionally understood). The 19 faculty and staff pictured here do include one individual who is indisputably a Black male and another dark-skinned person with facial hair, bright blue lips and big hoops hanging from his/her/their ears whose self-identity I would not dare guess at for fear of giving offense. So, there might be as many as two Black males, but I make no suppositions. Regardless, there are no White males. Apparently, diversity and inclusion has its limits.
Regarding the Department’s approach to academics, the GSWS website provides a Collective Statement of Resistance and Accountability. It does not strike the outside observer as open to a diverse range of viewpoints.
Together we are situated in the system of white supremacy. We all stand in solidarity with Black people, whose lives and worth have not been fully made to matter in our country, by white supremacy as a system. We denounce the ways in which we are complicit and implicit in this system…. Because our department is one that believes in praxis, particularly anti-racist intersectional praxis, we see part of our daily work as making sure the institution (VCU) lives up to the values it claims to hold. We recognize that VCU exists within a network of and in relationship to other social institutions (such as the City of Richmond, the criminal justice system, etc.), and as such we endeavor that the work we do at VCU also addresses the failings and violence of other institutions.
It does not escape my notice that the departmental chair is White, as is the associate chair, and the chair of the search committee. Ironically, one is tempted to observe, GSWS embodies the very racial hierarchy and white supremacy it denounces in broader society.
Among GSWS’s other statements of principle…
- We understand that the very existence of police is an extension of white supremacy and capitalism and therefore we are abolitionist in our praxis.
- We affirm, center and honor that the necessary radical politics have come from and continue to come from people who identify as Black & trans, Black & queer, and/or Black & femme.
- We name, call out and push back against white supremacy in its myriad manifestations including in higher education, particularly at VCU.
(But, hey, the words “critical race theory” don’t appear here!)
I find it particularly interesting that the Department denounces as “white supremacist” an institution that indulges the existence of a 19-person department that, to all outward appearances, maintains a parasitical existence. The 19-person department contributed only 34 B.A. degrees and zero advanced degrees in 2020-21, according to State Council of Higher Education for Virginia data. Two majors per faculty member strikes me as exceptionally low productivity for any university department.
Bacon’s bottom line: If I were one of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s new appointees to the VCU Board of Visitors, I would make a point of inquiring whether GSWS faculty pull their weight in terms of teaching load and, more pointedly, whether the department lives up to VCU’s laughable insistence that the university does not discriminate on the basis of political belief.