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James Departs Africana Studies

Joy James is the “John B. and John T. McCoy Presidential Professor of Africana Studies and College Professor in Political Science at Williams College.” Or do we need to change her title? Turns out that my obsessive web surfing has uncovered a real story. A reliable Williams source reports that “She is still employed by the College but no longer associated with Africana Studies.” Comments:

1) Pathetic! James was the highest profile faculty hire of Morty’s administration, the first tenured Ivy League professor to come to Williams in many decades, almost certainly one of the highest paid employees at Williams. And now she isn’t even “associated” with the department that she was hired to lead! Morty messes up very few things, but he seems to have messed up here.

2) This should be the lead story in this week’s Record. Begin by checking with the Registrar as to why she isn’t listed in the catalog. Then get a statement from current Africana Studies Chair Kenda Mutongi. Then poke around some more. Does current Record editor Kevin Waite ’09 have sources as good as those of Mike Needham ’04? And don’t forget to credit EphBlog. I also give excellent quote.

3) I don’t have details on what went on behind the scenes, but it sure seems like someone (in Africana Studies?) got in a huge fight with James and that, as a result, James left the department. Without knowing more details, it is tough to know who is at fault. None of this speaks well for the Administration. The President and the Dean of the Faculty are supposed to referee these sorts of disputes and keep them from getting out of hand.

4) What are the odds that hiring James two years ago was a big mistake? The great risk in bringing in senior faculty that you do not personally know is that you can never be sure what it will be like to work with them, however smart and well-published they may be. James might have seemed like a great hire, to those who did not know her, but only a fool would expect anyone at Brown to tell Morty that, “She is an egotistical jerk, impossible to work with. She hates everyone. But, please! Take her off our hands.” Outside hires are risky. Williams should probably do less of it.

5) Note that it is just as likely that James is wonderful but that someone else started a fight with her and she had no choice (?) but to leave the Africana Studies. That seems less likely to me since she is, easily, the most powerful faculty member associated with the department. Who could force her out if she wanted to stay? There is a story here and I bet that some of the senior majors in Africana Studies know it.

6) What happens now? James is on sabbatical but will, I think, return to Williams next year. What classes will she teach? What department will she join? The fun will be endless! Perhaps she will spend most of her time on tendentious teach-ins. My bet: She leaves Williams within three years.

7) Fun threads mentioning Professor James: here, here and here.

UPDATE: Whoops! I was joking about the title change above. Turns out that reality is every bit as funny as I am. The college directory reveals that Professor James’s new title is “John B. and John T. McCoy Presidential Professor of Humanities and College Professor in Political Science.” We don’t need no stink’in Africana Studies!

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#1 Comment By hwc On October 17, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

Diving into a story like this is one of the things that campus political correctness no longer permits. Anyone looking into this would be immediately tagged as a racist.

#2 Comment By Ronit On October 17, 2008 @ 5:50 pm

hwc – do you have anything informative or insightful to contribute? No? Didn’t think so.

#3 Comment By hwc On October 17, 2008 @ 6:26 pm

Care to refute what I said? No? Didn’t think so.

#4 Comment By Ronit On October 17, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

Burden of evidence is on the one making the allegation. That would be you, my paranoid wingnut friend.

#5 Comment By PTC On October 17, 2008 @ 6:30 pm

She is right you know. Williams is not a very diverse place. Not Really.

#6 Comment By David Kane On October 17, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

1) Well, as much as I disagree with HWC on various topics, I am happy to provide evidence on this one. I almost didn’t write on this story (and I have shied away on related aspects) precisely because I fear being “immediately tagged as a racist.”

Ronit, do you really think that my fears are irrational?

2) PTC, I am not sure what you are referring to? On what metrics is Williams not “diverse?”

#7 Comment By Ronit On October 17, 2008 @ 6:52 pm

David – first of all, stating the fact that your fears agree with hwc’s fears does not qualify as ‘providing evidence’ that said fears have any grounding whatsoever in reality.

If you can write about the story respectfully and fairly, with a conscientious regard for facts, then I doubt that anyone would be inclined to call you a racist. If others have called you a racist for similar stories in the past (examples, please), then I am sure that had more to do with your tone and style of presentation – as I have tried to explain in a recent thread. If you cannot speak of any issues related to minorities without coming across as sneering or condescending, making up uncharitable theories where you lack the facts, then it is more advisable to lay off.

While I cannot speak for everyone who reads this blog, my experience of Williams students and faculty tells me that most are not inclined to knee-jerk political correctness, which is why I found hwc’s supposition utterly paranoid and unfounded. However, calling out bad arguments and poorly reasoned conclusions is not the same thing as political correctness, and it is absolutely unfair for you to attempt to inoculate yourself against disagreement by pre-emptively casting those who disagree as if they were calling you a racist. This strikes me as a cheap debating tactic, and makes it less likely that serious people will take you seriously.

#8 Comment By JG On October 17, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

Was going to respond more substantively, but I just can’t bring myself to care that much about your paranoia and self-identified victimhood. Get over yourselves.

#9 Comment By David Kane On October 17, 2008 @ 7:17 pm


Well, I am happy to step once more into the breach. Let us give it a shot!

But, first, let my offer the obvious proviso that everything I write in this thread (and any other) will always, in some sense, “lack the facts.” No one ever has all the facts. Even my sources at the College who may think that they know what is going on can be wrong. All opinions are based on the facts as best as we know them. As long as I don’t pretend to know a fact which I don’t, in fact, know, I hope that you will give me the benefit of the doubt. It is fine to accuse me of ignorance, but it is annoying to be called a racist. Anyway, here goes!

I think that race plays a central role in this story. James’s race clearly was important in her hiring by Williams. (To be clear, James has a CV that would get her tenure at Williams whatever her color. But, at the time she was hired, Williams was not looking to hire any random female Ivy league professor. (When was the last time Williams did that?) The College was looking to hire an African American professor.)

Rightly or wrongly, Williams wants more African American faculty, especially African American faculty with serious academic resumes, especially senior African American faculty who could plausibly lead a new department in Africana Studies.

I think that the College was upset to lose African American faculty (Craig Wilder, Dennis Dickerson) who might have fulfilled that role. I suspect that the College did not view some of the current African American faculty as being either qualified to credibly lead such a Department (weak CVs) and/or unwilling to do so.

Given all that (and the Diversity Initiatives process created by Nigaleian), I think that the College was desperate to hire someone like James.

Does that mean that the due diligence in hiring her was not everything that it could have been? I don’t know! But I worry . . . And none of us will ever know just what that due diligence involved.

I don’t expect that you will agree with all the above. And, obviously, I lack the ability to read Morty’s mind. (As does everyone else who might claim to know more about the “facts” of the matter.) But I hope that you will grant that this is a plausible description of the scene and that a non-racist might think it correct.

#10 Comment By hwc On October 17, 2008 @ 7:33 pm


Are you suggesting that Prof. James was hired because she is black? To fill some kind of quota for minority professors?

Uh, uh. You’ve don’t it now. The political correctness police will be knocking on your door in no time. Don’t you know that we are supposed to ignore the obvious or be accused of “framing the discussion insensitively” or whatever…

I support minority set-asides and quotas. I just like to be honest about them. If that’s insensitive, then maybe we should rethink whether minority set-asides and quotas are a net plus.

#11 Comment By Ronit On October 17, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

hwc – The notion that Joy James, of all people, would need a minority set-aside or quota in order to be qualified for a teaching job at Williams, is patently ridiculous. Please try thinking before posting the next turd you find floating in your stream of consciousness.

#12 Comment By rory On October 17, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

well, while hwc congratulates himself on his blunt speaking about set-asides and quotas (heh, btw), let’s just note that we know far, far too little about the situation (she was hired. years later, she switched departments) to actually put together any sort of hypothesis/explanation.

I also doubt that we would need to read morty’s mind, or that any of this is strong enough evidence to question her hiring process and the due diligence behind it. Many fantastic professors have falling outs with other fantastic professors (it happened in my department a couple years ago. Both profs then moved to other ivy league schools) that lead to changes of department/school.

So while it’d be interesting to know the why behind her leaving africana, the assumptions about others by hwc was quite whiny and self-defensive (and wrong), and the tangent by david about her hiring was premature, completely without factual basis, and an exercise in ideological thinking (which is fine, but, seriously–there’s no evidence anywhere that explains talking about her hiring).

#13 Comment By David Kane On October 17, 2008 @ 8:03 pm


1) You think that my claim that, 3 years ago, Williams was especially interested in hiring senior African American faculty is “completely without factual basis?”

2) Just how much evidence would you need before you “uestion her hiring process?” Obviously, my claim is not that I am certain that her hiring process was flawed. Yet, anytime bad things happen around a new employee (whether or not the bad things are her fault), I question the hiring process. No hiring process is perfect. And, obviously, I do that in cases with whites too! I still question the hiring/promotion process involving Aida Laleian.

3) “Many fantastic professors have falling outs with other fantastic professors.” True! How many professors at Williams have “falling outs” that cause them to leave their departments, even the departments that they chaired? Round numbers: Zero. James case, in a Williams context, is quite extreme. (The only other example that comes to mind was Mark Taylor’s move from Religion to Humanities. My understanding of this move was that it had nothing to do with a falling out but was more caused by Taylor’s desire to be free of department obligations/constraints as well as his forthcoming move to Columbia.)

4) How does “ideological thinking” differ from regular thinking? How can you be sure that it is I, rather than you, engaged in the former? Just curious.

#14 Comment By PTC On October 17, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

2) PTC, I am not sure what you are referring to? On what metrics is Williams not “diverse?”-dk

David- On the metrics of acceptance for independent, perhaps non politically correct, perhaps outside the scope of what is considered normal “diverse” thought. My view in this matter comes from knowing Williams students over the years… profs that I know who teach at other institutions as well… and my wife who went there for a semester prior to graduate school.

Williams’s students are extremely bright, but too often closed off from the outside world in many respects, and unwilling to take social and intellectual risks do to the pressures of the institution. That is my opinion. For example, you and I may disagree in many respects when it comes to points of view and in particular, the way in which you often frame arguments… like you have done in this thread. That does not mean that I am unwilling to look at your opinion, and give it some thought. I also happen to like you.

What hwc has stated here has some merit. Not a doubt in my mind, but it goes deeper than that.

Williams is a closed non diverse institution in many ways. I agree with Joy James on that. It is a small, controlled place. In my opinion, Williams’s students live in a culture that is largely closed off to the outside world, where it is very easy to get a bad reputation or be repudiated for open non popular points of view or behavior. For example, sexuality, sexual exploration and promiscuous behavior seem unacceptable and awkward at Williams. It is a place where a person could very easily get a bad reputation for any number of social or intellectual reasons. That is not the case in many other institutions with similar demographics, like Cornell, for example.

One of the things that I have noticed about Williams students over time is that the senior year spring term often involves a huge awakening. They are more likely to take risks, because they cast off the fear of any stigma. I have had many encounters with students who during this final time in their Williams tenure cast off the cultural boundaries of the school and mix with townies. This behavior more closely resembles the model of a prep school culture, rather than one of a college.

#15 Comment By rory On October 17, 2008 @ 8:20 pm


1. no. but there’s 0 evidence that this shift in department is in any way connected to any fault in the hiring process. as such, bringing it up now is a complete tangent to the actual news of the day. It’s like if we talked about the economy today and I started going on and on about the medicare bill. both slightly connected, but not really worth bringing up. I also have no problem with them wanting to hire a senior african american professor. And from all outside views, they got a perfectly qualified professor. no better or worse than any other search process.

2. see 1.

3. that’s nice. the falling out that happened in my department was a first also! completely irrelevant and improper anecdotal thinking. williams is a small sample–that it happened once proves nothing (and, considering departments/subject fields are like fiefdom, using the sample of williams may not be the best basis for comparison)

4.really? think about the difference between fox news and say, the wall street journal. same ideology…completely different way of reporting the news.

#16 Comment By Ronit On October 17, 2008 @ 8:21 pm

David – in response to your point 3, I am sure that there are plenty of cases where poor personal relations with colleagues have caused professors to leave, but I doubt that we are likely to hear about such cases unless they blow up in spectacular fashion. Most of these conflicts are kept discreet.

#17 Comment By anon On October 17, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

“I don’t have details on what went on behind the scenes, but it sure seems like someone (in Africana Studies?) got in a huge fight with James and that, as a result, James left the department.”

This blog is pretty funny at times in how off it is about what really goes on at the college. When you write that you “don’t have details” it implies you know the general picture, when you obviously know nothing more than that James is no longer in Africana Studies. I do know something of this case and there was absolutely no fight, huge or otherwise, with anyone. Also, Africana studies is not a department, it’s a program. No longer being part of a program is very different from actually leaving a department.

As a side note, you have the situation with Mark Taylor exactly reversed. It was all about a falling out. And yes, there have been other professors who have left departments for similar reasons.

At times this blog serves a useful purpose. Far more often it is simply a sad gossip site but with even less factual grounding than most actual gossip!

#18 Comment By PTC On October 17, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

anon- Do you think Williams is diverse?

#19 Comment By Ronit On October 17, 2008 @ 8:55 pm

anon – If you “know something” about this case, and you dislike gossip-mongering, then I suggest that it’s incumbent upon you to say what you know about the circs. One who merely insinuates they know something but refuses to back this up is unlikely to be taken seriously.

#20 Comment By anon On October 17, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

PTC– Can you be more specific? Diverse in what areas? Economic? Cultural? Geographic? Ethnic? Compared to what? New England LACs? Universities? Factories? New York City? Omaha?

#21 Comment By anon On October 17, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

Ronit– I’m not trying to be coy here and honestly don’t know of specific details, but in conversations I have had with people who do know more details no mention whatsoever of any sort of conflict with other faculty members has ever been made. I’ll leave it up to Prof. James to discuss her reasons for no longer being part of the Africana Studies program.

Admittedly, I’m just an anonymous poster, so make of this what you want. I do think it was absurd of DK to insinuate that were was a “huge fight” when he had no evidence whatsoever. His comments about a lot of aspects of faculty at Williams have been equally off-base if not downright incorrect (what it means to be made a full professor, etc.). I assume you all realize that many people out there think this is the official blog for the college, and it sad to think of the impressions they must thus have of Williams.

#22 Comment By PTC On October 17, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

anon- see post 14.

#23 Comment By David Kane On October 18, 2008 @ 12:42 am


How about some more details? What you say above is interesting but conflicts what I have been told. Recall the previous thread where I speculated that “Or someone has gotten into a fight with James.” A source claims, without giving further details, that this is what happened. Unless you can provide some insight, I’ll go with that.

Moreover, what other explanation do you have? James was hired as an African Studies professor. It was in her title. Then, out of seemingly nowhere, she leaves the department. Was it because she didn’t like the coffee selected in the lounge? She objected to the color of the web site? Come on! Something is going on here.

I appreciate your correction that Africana Studies is a program and not a department. My mistake! But, I think, largely irrelevant to any of the rest of my analysis.

Note, also, that I am not claiming that other Williams professors don’t get into fights or don’t, in extreme cases, leave the College. My claim is that, with the possible exception of Taylor, I have never heard of a Williams professor cutting ties with Department X and then staying at Williams. Unless you provide other examples (and those should be a matter of public record in the course catalog), I’ll stick with my claim that this is very unique.

As to the hiring process, if Morty had known that James was going to quit Africana Studies after two years, I suspect (but do not know) that he would not have hired her. Certainly he would not have included the words “Africana Studies” in her title!

Anon writes that I am confused about “what it means to be made a full professor.” Well, help me out! Explain what it means so that I stop misleading thousands of readers.

#24 Comment By David Kane On October 18, 2008 @ 12:57 am


Also, since you are so plugged in, can you explain why James is listed as an Adjunct Professor in Political Science? This is a mystery to me.

#25 Comment By them On October 18, 2008 @ 1:35 am

Yes….there was a big fight. Trust me, I know.

#26 Comment By aparent On October 18, 2008 @ 3:51 am


It seems that Prof James has been listed as an adjunct in the PoliSci Dept since her arrival in 2005.

The course catalogs for 2005-06 and 2006-07 (the two years for which she was chair of the Africana Studies program) show that she taught one course in Fall 2005 (“Racial-Sexual Politics and Cultural Memory”), two in Spring 2006 (“Racial-Sexual Politics …” and “Race, Culture and Incarceration”), one in Fall 2006 (“Racial-Sexual Politics…”), and one in Spring 2007 (“Race, Culture and Incarceration).

During the 2006-07 academic year, Prof James also brought Grant Farred to Williams for the spring semester as one of the year’s two Sterling Brown professors. After the end of the school year, a summer 2007 Williams news release detailed an outside fellowship (with a stipend of $50,000) that Prof James was awarded.

Either or both of these facts may or may not have had anything to do with Prof James not teaching any Williams courses at all in 2007-08 and another prof succeeding her as chair of the Williams AS program.

In the 2008-09 Williams course catalog, Prof James is shown as teaching (now in the Interdisciplinary Studies program) three Fall 2008 courses (“Race, Culture and Incarceration,” “Black Women in National Politics 1964-2004,” and “Racial-Sexual Politics …”) and two in Spring 2009 (“Black Women in National Politics …” and “The Origins of Totalitarianism”).

Perhaps it was determined that her interests lie outside of what was envisioned for the Williams AS program.

#27 Comment By aparent On October 18, 2008 @ 4:34 am


Scratch what I said about Prof James and the 2008-09 school year — that information was from an archived Williams course offering listing. The current, official 2008-09 catalog shows Prof James to be on leave for this entire academic year, with the four courses previously listed (tentatively?) to be offered in 2009-2010 in the INTR program.

#28 Comment By aparent On October 18, 2008 @ 4:45 am

Prof James is currently a visiting prof at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for African and African American Studies, teaching one graduate and one undergraduate course in each of this year’s semesters (including “Black Women in National Politics …” and “Race, Culture and Incarceration” in the spring).


#29 Comment By James McAllister On October 18, 2008 @ 11:06 am

One minor comment. Placing blame or responsibility on President Schapiro for any hire at Williams is misplaced. College presidents do not run searches or get involved in individual hiring decisions.

#30 Comment By Larry George On October 18, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

Do we suppose she will return?

Does she have an office in the new buildings? Did she move in? Does she own a home in Williamstown?