LATEST LETTER TO TEMPLE UNIVERSITY FOR DR. ANTHONY MONTEIRO
This letter was sent to Temple University Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and to Temple University’s President and Provost, on June 11, 2014.

In January 2014, Dr. Anthony Monteiro, distinguished W. E. B. Du Bois scholar and celebrated community activist, was dismissed from his position in the African-American Studies Department at Temple University after 10 years of service. The termination of Dr. Monteiro, evidence indicates, was conducted with an animus antithetical to established policies and procedures of Temple University.

The purpose of this letter is to summarize for respected members of the Board of Trustees at Temple University, and for its President and Provost, the grounds for national scholars’ appeal that Dr. Monteiro be reinstated to Temple’s African American Studies Departments. The letter also places this appeal for reinstatement in the context of wider circles of concern in the Philadelphia community, in African American Studies programs across the country.

Due to Dr. Monteiro’s reputation as a celebrated scholar and social justice advocate, within a couple of weeks of his retaliatory firing, 250 professors from across the nation, including Angela Y. Davis, Cornel West, Gary Y. Okihiro, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, David Roediger, Robin D. G. Kelley, James Cone, Howard Winant, Joe Feagin and others, signed a letter calling for his reinstatement. Local labor, community and student organizations followed suit by holding a series of community and on-campus protests calling for his reinstatement. Nationally noted scholars Cornel West and Marc Lamont Hill participated in the latest on-campus demonstration. Philadelphia’s NPR affiliate covered that event where speakers also included Pennsylvania State Representative Curtis Thomas, the legislator whose district includes the main campus of Temple University and labor leader Henry Nicholas whose union represents a number of employees at Temple.

We recognize the unusual nature of this intervention into the departmental affairs of a particular university by national scholars. But several important factors have led many to step forward. First, these national scholars have long known of Dr. Monteiro’s exemplary scholarship and there is an egregious injustice in his firing. Second, Dr. Monteiro’s firing has drawn national attention because he is a prominent scholar-activist, whose Du Bois symposia and lectures at Temple and elsewhere, have been widely respected and known in the academy for over a decade. Third, national scholars have been informed that many Temple faculty face risks (especially faculty of color) when they challenge the decisions that have been taken, especially in the charged climate of the African American Studies Department now headed by Dr. Asante. Over half of all Temple faculty (53 %) are especially vulnerable in non-tenure track positions. Finally, at a moment when area studies units (Women Sexuality, Black, Latino/a, Asian-American and Jewish Studies) are vulnerable to downsizing or elimination at university’s around the country, national scholars are concerned with the precedent set by threats to Temple’s Department of African American Studies. The firing of Dr. Monteiro and the marginalization of his rigorous historical approach to the study of the African American experience make the African American Studies Department at Temple vulnerable to elimination. The Monteiro firing has been motivated by Dr. Asante’s recent imposition of his mode of self-referential Afrocentrism upon the department, an approach which falls outside of the respected academic consensus of reputable scholarship on the black Diaspora.

The protests calling for Dr. Monteiro’s reinstatement are animated by concerns among a widely diverse sector of Philadelphians who link the firing of Monteiro to the failure of Temple University to respect issues of importance to the poor black and Latino communities that surround the campus. The termination of Dr. Monteiro (the rationale for which has changed repeatedly and contradictorily in recent months) occurs within the context of a disturbing decline in the number of black faculty at Temple University. Black professors accounted for a mere 4.6% of the faculty in 2013. The paltry number of African-American and Hispanic faculty (2.7% in 2013) reflects poorly on an institution that proclaims itself “Diversity University.” The declining number of Black students at Temple only compounds the problems of faculty representation. Of all Temple Students, African Americans were only 12.8% in 2012, a significant drop from previous years.

Dr. Monteiro, known by many as Philadelphia’s native son, is an erudite professor and celebrated teacher who was born and raised in North Philadelphia. He is a rarity at Temple who has combined a commitment to scholarship with a decades-long, eloquent and public defense of the interests of the black community and all working people of Philadelphia at rallies, in union halls, and neighborhood meetings across the city. Initiatives by Monteiro, like his Saturday Free School classes provided for community residents by him pro bono, have advanced Temple’s often-stated mission of ‘outreach’ to the Philadelphia community.

Professor Monteiro’s dismissal by Dean Teresa Soufas of Temple’s College of Liberal Arts came after he helped spearhead a successful public campaign that challenged the Dean’s attempts to strip the African American Studies faculty of autonomy to administer its own department. His firing was fueled by retaliation, political animus and malicious intent, and as such violates academic freedom, due process and Temple University’s policies and procedures safeguarding contractual rights in employment matters.

It is important to note that at the time of his hire, Dr. Monteiro left a tenured position at another university on the expressed promise of receiving a tenured position at Temple. The representations made to him repeatedly by Temple administrators about his place in the future of the Department have now apparently been cast aside, by a few officials, especially by the chair of African American Studies, who now wishes to impose a singular and narrow methodology on the department.

Retaliatory and threatening onslaughts against faculty by administrators have alarming precedent recently at Temple.  In the last 6 years, black male professors (tenured, tenure-track and non-tenured track) have resigned citing discriminatory practices and “a series of retaliatory actions,” especially from this Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

The firing of Dr. Monteiro is an extension of the broader crisis in Temple’s College of Liberal Arts. In the last decade, Temple’s College of Liberal Arts has downsized and has weakened its area studies, including Latino/a, Women’s and Jewish Studies. During part of this time, Dean Soufas has gained a reputation for her discriminatory attacks on faculty and staff and her determination to run area-studies programs “like a plantation,” as faculty of color have put it. The crisis in the College of Liberal Arts at Temple is also reflected in its own steady erosion in the percentage of matriculating students of color and the gross underrepresentation of black faculty.

Regretfully, the crisis in governance of the African American Studies Department that led to Dr. Monteiro’s firing has been used to force a change in the department’s academic philosophy. Dr. Molefi Asante, a controversial and prominent member and current chair of the Department is leading this charge. In a move to reframe the entire Department from Dr. Asante’s self-referential theoretical perspective on Afrocentrism, the African American Studies Department is reportedly being renamed the “Department of Africology.” Dr. Asante’s move goes against the insistence of a 2010 external review of the department’s academic direction, which insisted that the department not be limited to a single “Afrocentric” perspective.

The Afrocentrist orientation, while acknowledged even by critics as one attempt to respond to anti-black racism, is, particularly in the self-referential mode of Dr. Asante’s work, prone to a narrow and deficient paradigm for scholarship. It stands outside of the bounds of reasoned, intellectual inquiry. Or, as historians and African American Studies professors have argued, Afrocentrism is a form of African essentialism, one that slights W. E. B Du Bois’ commitment to history, empirical studies, and ethnographic research.[1] Deployed and understood by only a handful of scholars, the Afrocentric paradigm, if made the dominant approach, will isolate Temple University’s African American Studies Department from the standards of academic excellence prevailing in the nation’s programs of African American and Africana studies.

Of particular relevance to current debates at Temple, Dr. Asante’s narrow reframing of the Department endangers the legacy and pioneering work of scholars like W. E. B. Du Bois, whose now classic texts, among them, The Philadelphia Negro, offered rational, empirical assessments of the black experience, which sought to understand and explain racial oppression and inequality in the US context. Ironically, the university has fired Dr. Anthony Monteiro from African American Studies, a professor whose scholarship and perspective stand firm on the importance of these principles to society and the university. Dr. Monteiro has also anchored a broad and rigorous commitment to Du Bois’ legacy of analysis and activism in the Department. In contrast, the institutionalization of Dr. Asante’s Africology and Afrocentrism leaves Temple’s African American Studies Department marginalized within the academy, on a very small island, unsupported by scholarship and research around the world.

As stewards of the project of higher learning, the University and its Board of Trustees must consider the consequences of this move for its students. Its academically deficient paradigm imperils the intellectual explorations of undergraduates and will be devastating to the careers and futures of Temple’s graduate students, who will graduate from Temple with credentials largely unrecognized throughout the academy.

Recent Facebook posts by Dr. Asante confirm that he collaborated with Dean Soufas to dismiss Dr. Monteiro. Asante, for months, had publicly denied having any role in the termination of Dr. Monteiro. In these Facebook posts, Dr. Asante justifies the firing with non-collegial petulant caricatures of Dr. Monteiro as a “charlatan,” “low-level purveyor of Marxism and anti-African ideas,” and more. Dr. Asante’s use of a naked and anachronistic anticommunism to justify baseless attacks on Dr. Monteiro’s integrity as a scholar and a teacher are libelous and pose a dangerous threat to academic integrity, academic freedom and the image of Temple University, citywide and nationally.Dr. Asante’s statements against Dr. Monteiro also reveal a deep-seated political animus and prejudicial contempt that has been longstanding. With his recent public statements, Dr. Asante inadvertently reveals that he used the power of his office as Department Chair to help fire Dr. Monteiro. His goal was to eliminate any possible challenge to the project of making Afrocentrism the singular perspective in the Department. On the other hand, Dr. Monteiro has advocated for the centrality of diverse perspectives in the Department.

Dr. Asante also has publicly denigrated students, many of whom are majors and minors in African American Studies, as well as doctoral students. They are variously vilified as “leftist” “white radicals” “anti-African” and often “dissenters trying to take over the Department.” Will these students, we ask, experience retaliation when taking courses in the African American Studies Department?

Together with previous, well-publicized charges of plagiarism and abuse of authority against him, we believe Dr. Asante’s seemingly unethical conduct and his commitment to a bankrupt, self-referential approach to African American studies render him unfit to make decisions about faculty or lead an academic department. We believe that a visible pattern of unethical conduct and his commitment to a marginal paradigm of study bring disrespect upon his Department and Temple University. As reported in news coverage (Philadelphia Inquirer), charges of “grave misconduct” in Dr. Asante’s use of a female faculty colleague’s work – confirmed by three Faculty investigative committees – resulted in Temple University reinstating that faculty member wrongfully terminated by Dr. Asante.  Only a university President’s overruling of faculty committee recommendations saved Dr. Asante from a university tribunal to weigh the “grave misconduct” charges.

The administration’s solution to the current crisis in African American Studies should not allow the Department to disappear from the University. Rather, we call upon the Temple University administration to assume its proper stewardship, its highest intellectual charge according to the Bylaws of the Board of Trustees, by reinstating Dr. Anthony Monteiro and making a commitment to African American Studies, one which continues the legacy of former Temple President Peter Liacouras who fought to make Temple the first Ph.D. program in African-American Studies in the country.

Johanna Fernandez, Ph.D., Baruch College/CUNY, Dept. of History, and Black and Latino/a Studies

 Mark Lewis Taylor, Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary, Dept. of Theology and Religion & Society

[1] E. Frances White, “Africa on My Mind: Gender, Counter Discourse and African American Nationalism,” in Is it Nation Time? Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism, edited by Eddie S Glaude (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 130-155; Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 187-196; Tunde Adeleke, The Case Against Afrocentrism (Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2009)

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