Dr. Billy Hawkins, University of Georgia
A typical error Black academics make is to believe that the academy is open and accepting of new ideas and insights. They initially welcome us with open arms, but we soon find out that the shelf life of this welcome is brief and that their minds were never really open and accepting. I have come to think of it in terms of the structural deficiencies and inability of these institutions to sincerely assimilate fresh new perspectives and energies into their paradigms. Therefore, in the context of the phrase “new wine in old wineskins” the evolutionary Messiah, Jesus Christ, informs of the perils of progressive thinking within an archaic system.
Dr. Boyce Watkins lack of tenure at the University of Syracuse speaks to this issue and to the broader issue of how Predominantly White Institutions are conservative and myopic in their agendas, curricula, and missions than they are progressive and bastions of forward-thinkers. The tenure process has always worked as a mechanism to temper and corral the radical embers that spark change from the status quo and challenge previous preconceive notions. Inherent in the tenure and promotion process are prescriptions for appropriate behavior and academic inquiry. Speaking truth to power is not one of the prescriptions rewarded in this process, especially if you are a Black professor.
Dr. Watkins has taken up the mantle of speaking truth to power and being a “scholar for the people.” Every institution of higher learning should be in the business of liberating people and creating a more just and harmonious society. Unfortunately, many refuse to evolve and remain true to their adherence to white supremacy ideals. In which case, the role of the Black man has always been limited to entertaining the white masses – singing and dancing or running and jumping. We have not been perceived as intellectually equal and capable of reprimanding their inappropriate racist behavior, within and without the ivory towers. When we are critical, we are deemed radical, and when we are politically active, we are deemed rebellious, and thus, we are ostracized and denied tenure for not having the luxury of having academic freedom and privilege of being a scholar.
Syracuse University failed in providing tenure and promotion to one of the most progressive scholars in Dr. Watkins, but once again, they excelled in preserving old wineskins. Consequently, they may have been prophetic in realizing their inability in harnessing Dr. Watkins call to greatness.