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10 August 2020

Dear President Hamilton, Provost Fleming & Vice President Coleman,

The publication of New York University Politics Department faculty member Lawrence M. Mead’s “Poverty and Culture” (July 21, 2020, Society)[1] has been an embarrassment to NYU’s scholarly reputation.[2] Mead’s article has also caused an enormous amount of pain and anger within the NYU community, particularly among faculty, staff, and students of color. In a spring and summer marked by a global pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people — alongside the murder of George Floyd and rise in police violence across the country — faculty and students of color were already feeling surrounded by too much death, violence, and loss. Having one of our NYU colleagues publish a racist and dehumanizing account of our families and communities has made an already stressful and heartbreaking time in our lives a little more ugly and a little more hateful.

We are not going to spend additional time in this letter refuting Mead’s claims, which have been widely criticized by our colleagues at NYU[3] and beyond.[4] Instead, we take inspiration from the wise words of Toni Morrison, who observed:

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Morrison reminds us that racism doesn’t just steal our humanity — it steals our time. Here at NYU, it steals our time as scholars, as workers, and as students. The time spent discussing and condemning Larry Mead and his ilk is time we could devote to our own scholarship, our teaching, and caring for ourselves and those we love. And whose time is most wasted? Faculty, students, staff and administrators of color, of course. Following every attack on our communities, we inevitably get sucked into the gears of NYU’s diversity machine, compelled once again to discuss the racist and intellectually shoddy scholarship of men such as Mead. To this we say, enough.

The flurry of negative attention surrounding Mead’s article has led us to think not so much about his voice than about the voices that are missing from NYU — in particular, the voices that are missing from Mead’s home department: The Wilf Family Department of Politics at NYU employs no Black faculty. At a top-ranked research university. In New York City. In 2020.*

Consider what that means. It means undergraduates and doctoral students cannot be mentored or taught or advised by Black faculty in the Politics Department. It means no Black faculty sit on the graduate admissions committee in the Politics Department. It means no Black faculty are chairing doctoral dissertations in the Politics Department. It means no Black faculty can vote on tenure decisions in the Politics Department. This absence is indefensible.

Nor is it typical. The Political Science Department at Columbia University has Black faculty. The Political Science Department at the University of Chicago has Black Faculty. UCLA’s Department of Political Science has Black faculty. Political Science at the University of Michigan has Black faculty. The Politics Department at Princeton has Black Faculty. The same can be said of Harvard University and Hunter College, Fordham University and the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Williams — the list goes on and on. Our peer institutions are hiring and tenuring Black faculty. But here at NYU — in the department that Larry Mead inhabits — our Politics Department looks as though it’s from another era.

We therefore call on NYU to immediately authorize a cluster hire in Black politics in the Politics Department. It is imperative that over the next two years the university hire at least two scholars of Black politics, one at the junior and one at the senior level.

Mead’s intellectually indefensible and racially offensive scholarship — alongside his department’s absence of Black (as well as Latinx and Indigenous) faculty — has deeply negative repercussions, not only for the university’s reputation but, more importantly, for NYU’s current and prospective students. Now more than ever, students entering the Wilf Family Department of Politics need access to a diverse faculty whose approach to the field of Black politics is characterized by depth and rigor. Our students also need and deserve spaces characterized by respect, a sense of trust and belonging so that they feel heard and respected, and can grow and thrive intellectually regardless of their background. What they currently face is a department with zero Black faculty and the unwelcome notoriety of Larry Mead.

If NYU allows this situation to continue, what message does this send to our students, their families, and the wider scholarly community? Our students come from all over the world. They are facing a global pandemic that has exposed profound racial disparities. They are witnessing and participating in nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that have unleashed a racial reckoning across the nation and around the world. Students here need access to the faculty most capable of teaching a diverse student body in an era of profound racial transformations. Only then will our departments be able to deliver the kind of teaching and mentorship that NYU students both need and deserve.

Let us be clear: We are asking the administration to help resource a department so that it builds on its existing strengths. In this way, our call for a cluster hire is a gesture of support for the Politics Department and the students it seeks to teach. And it’s critical to note that political science is a field with a deep pool of top scholars engaged in the study of Black politics. Black political scientists even have their own association and annual meeting, the National Conference of Black Political Scientists. That said, the decision of whom to hire should obviously be up to the department and NYU administration, with the department establishing the methodology and the scope of the two searches. Given the applicant pool’s quality and size, it’s our belief that two searches in the area of Black politics should produce an outstanding and highly diverse pool of applicants to hire from.

We realize, of course, that the Politics Department is merely one example of too many departments and schools with no or few Black and Latinx faculty. Broadly, NYU should also prioritize hiring of Indigenous faculty across the university. And there are many related issues to address in the coming academic year, from racial wage and safety inequities across NYU’s workforce to immigration and policing concerns. We hope to work with NYU to address these issues in the coming months. However, given the intellectual, political, and teaching climate we face this fall, conducting a cluster hire in the field of Black politics at the NYU Politics Department is an obvious, urgent, and much-needed first step.

We look forward to receiving your response.

Sincerely,

Faculty for an Anti-Racist NYU

Sinan Antoon, Gallatin

Gianpaolo Baiocchi, Gallatin

Mohamad Bazzi, Journalism

Renée A. Blake, SCA and Linguistics

Cristina Beltrán, SCA

Sebastián Calderón Bentin, Drama

Paula Chakravartty, Gallatin & MCC

Marie Cruz Soto, Gallatin

Arlene Dávila, SCA

Jacob William Faber, Wagner and Sociology

Ada Ferrer, History and CLACS

Natasha Iskander, Wagner

Kimberly Johnson, SCA

Aisha Khan, Anthropology

Arang Keshavarzian, MEIS

S. Heijin Lee, SCA

L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Sociology of Education

Ritty Lukose, Gallatin

Jennifer Morgan, SCA & History

Fred Moten, Performance Studies

Vasuki Nesiah, Gallatin

Crystal Parikh, English and SCA

Sonya Posmentier, English

Dean Saranillio, SCA

Pacharee Sudhinaraset, English

Jini Watson, English

Deborah Willis, Tisch and SCA

Additional Signature

Subah Dayal, Gallatin

Barbara Browning, TSOA

John Waters, Irish Studies and English/FAS

Sohail Karmani, New York University Abu Dhabi

Anna McCarthy, Cinema Studies/Tisch

Natasha Iskander, Wagner

Michael Ralph, SCA/F

Nikhil Pal Singh, Social and Cultural Analysis/History/FAS

Adam Buchwald, Communicative Sciences and Disorders/Steinhardt

Kelli Moore, Media, Culture, and Communication

Dara Rossman Regaignon, English/FAS

Ann Pellegrini, Performance Studies (TSOA) and SCA (FAS)

Lauren Minsky, History

Rebecca E Karl, History, FAS

Andrew Weiner, Art and Art Professions, Steinhardt

Susannah Levi, Communicative Sciences and Disorders

Barbara Weinstein, History/FAS

Angela Zito, Anthropology & Religious Studies FAS

Andrew Ross, SCA

Lisa Davidson, Linguistics, FAS

Maria E. Montoya, History

Laura Torres-Rodríguez , Spanish and Portuguese

Anastasia Chiu, Division of Libraries

Myisha Priest, Gallatin

Sara Pursley, MEIS/History

Lisa Duggan, Social & Cultural Analysis

Kwami Coleman, Gallatin

Andrew H. Lee, Division of Libraries

Andrew Romig, Gallatin

Toby Lee, Cinema Studies

Stephen Small, FAS/Biology

AB Huber, Gallatin

Vincent Renzi, FAS

Yukiko Hanawa, FAS/East Asian Studies

Nicholas D Mirzoeff, MCC/Steinhardt

Eve Meltzer, Gallatin School

T. Urayoán Noel, Spanish and Portuguese / English

David E Kirkland, Teaching and Learning/Steinhardt

Christine B. Harrington, Politics

Rebecca Anne Goetz, Department of History/FAS

Kristin Horton , Gallatin

Sonia M Ospina, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

John M. Archer, English Department, FAS

Mona El-Ghobashy, Liberal Studies

Mitu Khandaker, NYU Game Center, Tisch

Patricia Kim , Gallatin School

Dylon Lamar Robbins, Spanish and Portuguese/CLACS CAS

Adam H. Becker, Classics and Religious Studies/FAS

Andrea Gadberry, Gallatin & Comparative Literature

Alejandro Velasco, Gallatin & History

Susanah Romney, History

George M Shulman, Gallatin

Michele Crespo-Fierro, Meyers College of Nursing

Bruce Grant, Anthropology

Amy Zhang, Anthropology

Pam J Crabtree, Anthropology

Edward Ziter, Drama/TSOA

Fred Myers, Anthropology/FAS

Naomi Clark, NYU Game Center

steven lukes, Sociology

Una Chaudhuri, English, XE/FAS; Drama/Tisch

Gayatri Gopinath, FAS

Patricia Satterstrom, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Christina M Squitieri, Theatre Studies / NYU Tisch School of the Arts

Rebecca R. Falkoff, FAS / Italian Studies

Avital Ronell, University Professor of the Humanities

Jeff Goodwin, Sociology/FAS

Linsey Edwards, Sociology FAS

Mauricio Tafur Salgado, Drama, Tisch

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, English, NYU

Gillian Gallagher, FAS Linguistics

Timothy J Reiss, Comparative Literature, FAS (Professor Emeritus)

Stephen Duncombe, Gallatin and MCC/Steinhardt

Thuy Linh Tu, SCA

Elaine freedgood, Fas

Manu Goswami , History

Prita Meier, Department of Art History and IFA

Lynne Haney, Sociology

Nicholas Boggs, English/FAS

Lenora Hanson, English

Ifeona Fulani, Liberal Studies

Ana Dopico, Comp. Lit/Spanish and Portuguese/FAS

Pepe Karmel, Department of Art History

Gerceida Jones, Liberal Studies/FAS

Mary Nolan , History emerita FAS

Faye Ginsburg, FAS Anthropology/ Ctr for Disability Studies

Awam Amkpa, Drama, Tisch and SCA, FAS

Simón Trujillo, English

Kathy Engel, Art & Public Policy, Tisch

James S Uleman, psychology, FAS

Erica Foldy, Wagner

Ann Morning, Sociology/FAS

Elizabeth R. OuYang, SCA and SPS

Salo Coslovsky, Wagner

Lisa M. Stulberg, Sociology of Education, ASH, Steinhardt

Tatiana Linkhoeva, History/FAS

Carla Jackie Sampson, Wagner

Colin Jerolmack, Sociology and Environmental Studies

Maureen McLane, English, CAS

Martha Rust, English/FAS

Vanessa Léon, Wagner

Linda Lausell Bryant, Silver School of Social Work

André Fenton, Center for Neural Science

Iddo Tavory, Sociology

Mercy Agyepong, Applied Statistics, Social Science, & Humanities

Robert Young, English/FAS

Toral Gajarawala, English/CAS

Gwendolyn Alker, Drama

Nina Cornyetz, Gallatin

Andrew Goldstein, School of Medicine

Yvonne Latty, Journalism

Finbarr Barry Flood, Art History & IFA

Linda Gordon, history

Anne DeWitt, Gallatin

Michelle Castaneda, Performance Studies/Tisch

Jessica Hamlin, Steinhardt

Eugenia Kisin, Gallatin

Rosalind Fredericks, Gallatin

Hannah Gurman, Gallatin

John Hopkins, Department of Art History/Institute of Fine Arts

Mara Mills, Media, Culture, and Communication / Steinhardt

Nicole Eustace, History

Kathleen Gerson, Sociology

Thom Blaylock, Wagner

Miriam M. Basilio Gaztambide, Art History/Museum Studies

Sibylle Fischer, Spanish & Portuguese

Matthew Rockman, FAS Biology

Valerie Forman, Gallatin

Laura Slatkin, Gallatin

Greg Vargo, English & Gallatin

Eric Klinenberg, Sociology/CAS

Elisabeth Fay, Expository Writing Program

Emanuela Bianchi, Comparative Literature

Pauline Fernandes , NYU SPS

Brandon Woolf, English/Dramatic Literature, CAS

John Gershman, Wagner

Tatiana Homonoff, Wagner

Elizabeth McHenry, English

Asli Peker, IR/GSAS

Dipti Desai, Art and Art Professions/Steinhardt

David Elcott, Wagner School of Public Service

Veena Thadani, Politics/CAS

Rosemary Quinn, Drama/Tisch

Jan Blustein, Wagner

Hallie Franks, Gallatin

Elizabeth Ellis, History/Arts and Science

Julie Livingston, SCA and History/FAS

Sara E Murphy, Gallatin

Millery Polyné, Gallatin

Shelley Rice, Tisch/FAS

Kim Phillips-Fein, Gallatin and History

Paula England, Sociology, FAS

Katherine ORegan, Wagner

Ingrid Ellen, NYU Wagner

Wagner SEAD (Wagner Action for Social Justice, Equity and Democracy), Wagner

Leeore Schnairsohn, Expository Writing Program

Normandy Sherwood, Expository Writing

Elizabeth Boyle Machlan, Expository Writing Program

Megan Murtha, EWP

Jameson Fitzpatrick, Expository Writing Program

John Victor Singler, Linguistics/FAS

Scott Taitel, NYU Wagner

Gerard O’Donoghue, Expository Writing Program, CAS

María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo , Social and Cultural Analysis

Michael Tyrell, Expository Writing Program/Tisch and CAS

Ruth Horowitz, Sociology/ Arts and Science

Laura Weinert-Kendt, EWP/CAS

Michael Shum , Expository Writing Program

Nicole Callihan, Expository Writing Program

Olivia Birdsall, Expository Writing Program

Sahar Romani, EWP

Martha E. Stark, Wagner; JD 1986; BA 1983

Dipti Khera, Art History and IFA

Jay Garcia, Comparative Literature

Nina Katchadourian, Gallatin

Emily Stone, EWP

Alisa Zhulina, Drama

Megan Shea, CAS/Expository Writing

Nader Uthman, MEIS

Abigail Rabinowitz , Expository Writing Program

Cyrus Samii, Politics/FAS

David Cregar, Expository Writing Program

Daniel Walkowitz , Social & Cultural Analysis/ History

Harvey Molotch, Sociology and Metropolitan Studies (SCA)

cc: Antonio Merlo, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science

Sherry Glied , Dean, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service

Gene A. Jarrett, Seryl Kushner Dean of the College of Arts and Science

Phillip B. Harper, Dean, Graduate School of Arts and Science

David Stasavage, Dean for the Social Sciences

Susan Antón, FAS Director, Faculty Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Development

Sanford C. Gordon, Chair, Wilf Family Department of Politics

[1] https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2020/07/31/journal-editor-regrets-publishing-racist-article

[2] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/07/28/leading-voice-welfare-reform-accused-racism

[3] https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2020/july/Statement_FAS_Wagner_Leadership_Lawrence_Mead.html

[4] https://retractionwatch.com/2020/07/27/hundreds-petition-to-retract-paper-they-call-unscholarly-overtly-racist-and-full-of-racially-violent-narratives/

* Mead also has an appointment at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, a program that trains and educates “the world’s future public service leaders” in order to “translate ideas into actions that have an effective and lasting impact on the public good” and whose faculty’s research “changes the way people frame, understand, and act on important public issues.”

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