American Indian studies may regain tenured faculty

Jennifer Niemela

After nearly two decades in the academic wilderness, the Department of American Indian Studies stands poised to regain tenured faculty, a status the department lost in 1980.
The department will gain a tenured chairperson by fall quarter. Currently, all tenured faculty who work in American Indian studies hold their tenure in other departments.
The search for a chairperson, which began last summer, ends Saturday. The search committee will then begin the process of reviewing the applications; they hope to name the new chairperson this summer.
“This is the first time we’ve been allowed to search for a chair,” said Carol Miller, chairwoman of the search committee. “This is a terrific moment for the department.”
Miller said the College of Liberal Arts dean’s office, which authorized the search, has supported the department’s initiatives in recruiting a qualified tenured chairperson.
CLA Associate Dean Michael Hancher said he had high hopes for the new position and for American Indian studies’ future. “Ideally, the department will be a nationally centered program, a center for strong scholarship,” he said.
Frank Miller, acting chairman of the American Indian studies department, said he hopes a tenured chairperson will push to add more tenured faculty.
Although the University was the first college in the nation to form an American Indian Studies department, in 1969, the program hasn’t had tenured faculty since 1980. That year, the administration merged the department with Chicano studies and American studies.
Miller said the consolidation in 1980 insured the department’s continuance in a time when the College of Liberal Arts had too many departments.
“A positive side was (the consolidation) was a way to add continuity and stability to the department,” he said.
David Born, former chairman of the American Indian studies department, said tenure was revoked from the department because it does not have a graduate program.
“Part of the tenure process is working with graduate students,” he said.
Miller said that tentative plans include a graduate minor program, but not in the near future.
“We need to be careful about our priorities,” he said. “But there are possibilities for further development.”
Hancher said the possibility of tenured faculty in the department depends on the new chairperson.
“The ink isn’t dry on (plans for more tenured faculty),” he said. “It really depends on the strength and vision of the new chairperson.”
Carol Miller said that, although she’s impressed with the credentials of the applicants so far, the number of qualified scholars nationwide is relatively small.
“We’re drawing from American Indian studies, which is only 25 years old, and we’re looking for a senior scholar,” she said. “It’s a small national pool.”
Currently, the department employs five teaching specialists who aren’t tenured and draws three faculty from other departments to teach part time.
“We have a good relationship with other departments,” Miller said. “But the department needs its own tenured faculty.”
Born said he worries that faculty who are tenured in other departments are unable to contribute enough time and effort to the American Indian studies program.
“We need people who are devoted 100 percent to this discipline,” he said. “This is no criticism; those faculty do a fine job, but it hinders the development of the program to not have full-time faculty.”