Daily Egyptian

Students demand resumed search for Africana philosophy professor

By Tierra Carpenter, @Tierramc_

About 20 students gathered Monday for a sit-in in the lobby of the Chancellor’s Office at Anthony Hall where they demanded the university resume a search for a professor who specializes in Africana philosophy and African-American philosophy.

Johnathan Flowers, a doctoral candidate in philosophy from Oak Park, said the department has been trying to get a professor in this position for the last 10 years, and this is the first year the administration had approval to conduct a search and interview applicants.

But Flowers, who is on the hiring committee, said the administration cancelled the search this month because they say the hire would not increase enrollment or the amount of majors.

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“To cancel it right before we were going to have on-campus interviews is suspicious at best, and an example of institutional racism at worst,” Flowers said.

He said another reason university administrators have given for not going through with the hire is the Illinois budget impasse, although the new position was approved during the third month of the impasse.

SIU spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said a number of faculty searches have been put on hold because of “the lack of a state appropriation in the current year and a proposed 20 percent cut in next year’s appropriation.”

“These include a number of high priority positions as determined by the deans,” she said. “Overall, we have not filled more than 100 positions due to the state budget impasse.”

She said this does not mean the positions won’t get filled, but searches are paused until Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led Legislature agree upon a state budget.

“The last [departmental review], which happened about three years ago, indicated the department needed an Africana specialist in order to remain competitive overall, and it also needed an Africana specialist to increase the diversity of the department of faculty, which is all white,” he said. “It’s all white, all male except for one woman.”

Flowers said his goal is to get this professor hired and then help other departments in similar situations. He said having a professor that specializes in Africana and African-American philosophy would serve all students.

“An Africana hire would enable white students to understand their own white privilege, to understand what people are talking about when they say that America is organized around white supremacist ideologies,” he said. “It would enable them to understand why students on this campus feel accepted but not welcomed. It would enable them to understand things like black lives matter, and it would enable them to understand what role they can play in pushing back against these kinds of institutionalized oppressions.”

Bryce Pulley, a junior from Marion studying philosophy, said he agrees that having a professor in this position would help with racism on campus.

“The primary problem with racism, and just in general any kind of bigotry, is a lack of understanding and just flat out ignorance,” Pulley said.

He said as a white male, he sees how it could help people understand different people and cultures.

This comes during a time when racial tensions on campus are high.

Debates about races began after Leilani Bartlett, a freshman from Chicago studying business, said in a Facebook live video that she experienced racial comments in her residence hall, Brown hall. The video spurred a response from the campus’ interim chancellor and an April 12 demonstration of about 100 people. In a recent Daily Egyptian poll that collected 1,249 student responses, 77 percent of students said racism exists on campus.

Flowers said his group will continue to hold demonstrations until administrators agree to their demand.

“It’s a demand they should take seriously if they are concerned about the kinds of incidents of racism and systemic oppression that are being manifested on this campus,” he said. “We will continue to restate our demand in large and small ways, letters, sit-ins, protests, whatever it takes to get the hire search resumed.”

Joshua McGowan, a sophomore from Chicago studying radio, television and digital media, said he will continue to participate in demonstrations for this cause.

“Why are students being charged the same tuition if all of these programs are being cut and all of these teaching positions are being eliminated”” McDowan said.

Donald Chamberlain III, a graduate student in social work from Carbondale, said his group is tired of dialogue after years of talking.

He said he will continue to support this cause because he cares about SIU.

“This is your university,” Chamberlain said. “This is your SIU, and you can’t complain about things you’re not willing to take actions to change.”

Flowers has a meeting scheduled with interim Chancellor William Bradley Collwell for Tuesday to further their discussion and hear the university’s position on the issue.

“Even understanding their position does not change the fact that we will continue to demand this hire,” Flowers said. “We are willing to meet with the administration and hear their rationales, but we will not change our position on the demand.”

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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