Georgetown University’s decision to deny tenure to a professor has raised community concerns about alleged procedural failures within the tenure review process and discrimination within the department.
Mubbashir Rizvi, a Muslim assistant professor from Pakistan who has worked in the department of anthropology since 2013, received notice from the university in August 2020 that he would not be offered a tenured position. Following months of appeals and third-party mediation with the university, Rizvi and Georgetown community members are speaking out against the university’s decision.
The university’s denial of Rizvi’s tenure application means he will no longer teach at Georgetown when his terminal-year contract expires at the end of the spring 2021 semester. In his last semester at Georgetown, students have launched a campuswide petition calling for an appeal of the decision, alleging university administrators and faculty in the anthropology department perpetuated discriminatory practices and committed administrative failures throughout the tenure decision process. As of May 6, 2021, over 700 community members and various faculty members have signed on in support.
While many of the concerns raised by the Georgetown community have focused on alleged administrative failures during Rizvi’s tenure review, documents obtained by The Hoya revealed instances of alleged discrimination toward Rizvi from fellow department members.
Inconsistencies in the Tenure Process
Rizvi joined the anthropology department in 2013 and regularly taught classes on South Asian anthropology. While at the university, his scholarship focused on environmental justice, peasant land rights and postcolonial militarization. In May 2019, just as he began the tenure application process, Rizvi published a book exploring social justice and land rights in Pakistan.
During the tenure review process, a professor’s qualifications are judged by various internal and external review boards. The professor also collects letters of recommendation, as well as examples of research and academic scholarship, which are compiled with the recommendations of the tenure review boards to create a dossier presented to the University Committee on Rank and Tenure. The UCRT is staffed by a group of tenured professors across various disciplines.
In order to achieve tenure, professors are required to meet specific criteria, including high-quality teaching ratings by both professors and students, scholarly accomplishments and service to both one’s field of study and the university, according to the faculty handbook. Based on the recommendation of the UCRT, the provost and university president ultimately make a decision regarding the professor’s tenure status.
One of Rizvi’s external reviewers, Thomas Hansen, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University, said he wrote to Georgetown to recommend Rizvi for tenure in spring 2019 in an interview with The Hoya. According to Hansen, Rizvi’s number of publications, as well as the quality and future trajectory of his scholarship, met the general standard for tenure within the field of anthropology.
In November 2019, professor Denise Brennan, chair of the department of anthropology, informed Rizvi that the department tenure review board had voted not to recommend his application, worsening his prospects of receiving tenure.
Brennan cited concerns about his academic work and teaching history, according to her official decision letter to Rizvi obtained by The Hoya.
“The weaknesses of the dossier are the number of publications, the lack of competitive grants awarded, teaching record, and the trajectory of future publications,” Brennan wrote in a letter to Rizvi.
When contacted for comment, Brennan directed The Hoya to a university spokesperson.
Despite Brennan’s reasoning in the document, Rizvi earned positive peer performance reviews and student evaluations over the course of his time at Georgetown, according to Georgetown’s course evaluation website.
Since Rizvi began teaching, the anthropology department completed three peer evaluations of Rizvi’s teaching: one during the spring 2014 semester, one during the fall 2014 semester and one during the spring 2018 semester, according to review documents obtained by The Hoya. None of the evaluations raised specific concerns over Rizvi’s teaching performance.
In the 2018 peer review of Rizvi’s class, professor of anthropology and interim professor Gwendolyn Mikell, who was on Rizvi’s tenure committee, praised Rizvi’s abilities as a professor, according to the review document obtained by The Hoya.
“Professor Rizvi demonstrated his excellence as a teacher because he patiently allowed (required) students to present their ideas and assessments, provided careful course correction if they go in the wrong direction, and used humor and visuals to help students completely engage the issues. I enjoyed the class,” Mikell wrote in her evaluation.
Mikell did not respond to The Hoya’s multiple requests for comment.
Rizvi did not receive a peer evaluation during his final year of teaching, which he felt disadvantaged his application for tenure, he said in an interview with The Hoya.
Rizvi was formally denied tenure Aug. 19, 2020, according to a letter from Provost Robert Groves to Rizvi obtained by The Hoya. Groves cited specific concerns over Rizvi’s teaching performance and research trajectory as reasoning for the denial of tenure.
It came as a shock to hear the university denied Rizvi for tenure, according to Hansen.
“I heard about the tenure denial in August, and I was surprised to hear that because I thought that his file, as I reviewed it, was quite strong,” Hansen said in a phone interview with The Hoya.
After the university formally denied his tenure, Rizvi sent follow-up appeal emails to university administrators and deans, according to emails obtained by The Hoya. When the university did not take action to address his concerns of procedural failures, Rizvi said he turned to third-party mediation with the university through the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights, an independent organization that seeks to combat discrimination by enforcing local and federal human rights laws. During the process, Georgetown hired outside counsel, who would not commit to reviewing Rizvi’s tenure case or reinstating Rizvi as a professor, according to Rizvi.
The university cannot comment on the specifics of individual tenure cases, though there are policies set forth to ensure each application is reviewed equitably, according to a university spokesperson.
“Every tenure case, including Dr. Rizvi’s tenure application, receives the most careful attention and deep consideration,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “While Georgetown does not comment on individual tenure applications, the University has a thorough process for review of tenure applications which is set forth in the Faculty Handbook.”
For Ananya Chakravarti, an associate professor in Georgetown’s department of history who specializes in early modern South Asia, the university’s denial of Rizvi’s tenure is a step backward for academics at the college.
“This is my area of regional expertise. I know how much we’re shooting ourselves in the foot in terms of losing a really outstanding young scholar in the larger field of South Asia,” Chakravarti said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “He’s deeply respected among the larger South Asian research community, especially among anthropologists.”
Rizvi’s removal will widen an already prominent gap in Georgetown’s academic coverage of South Asia, according to Chakravarti.
“Right from the beginning, my mind from an institutional point of view, this feels like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, and we’re doing it in a field we’ve traditionally not had much expertise in,” Chakravarti said.
Alleged Instances of Discrimination
In addition to the administrative failures and inconsistencies during his tenure review process, Rizvi also characterized his experience in the anthropology department as discriminatory and hostile.
When asked if he had experienced a repeated pattern of disrimination within the anthropology department, Rizvi responded, “Absolutely.”
Rizvi pointed to anecdotes illustrating this allegedly discriminatory environment, including requests to teach a class outside his area of expertise and requiring him to change a course title.
Mikell requested Rizvi teach a course during the fall 2019 semester on the anthropology of terrorism despite his academic focus on Muslim diaspora communities. In an interview with The Hoya, Rizvi said he felt Mikell was conflating his knowledge of Muslim communities with knowledge of terrorism. Ultimately, Rizvi did not teach the course.
Rizvi also alleged that department chair Denise Brennan required Rizvi to change the title of his spring 2019 course, “Race, Empire, and Muslims in the West,” to “Race and Empire,” because of concerns within the anthropology department that the department would appear Muslim-centric. Records of course offerings from the anthropology department reveal the course name was changed.
“So this is the kind of gaslighting that’s been going on for a while. I’ve been just waiting for my turn to have a bit of autonomy when I’m tenured to do what I want,” Rizvi said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.
According to Rizvi, he was the first person of color hired directly into the anthropology department. Other faculty members of color transferred into the department after initially being hired into different positions, he said. The Hoya could not independently verify these claims.
The university has failed to adequately create a diverse scholarly environment, according to Rizvi.
“This is the problem. The diversity of opinion, the diversity of offering, diversity as a word has to be not just our pigmentation but also has to be our ability to be able to bring different approaches and topics,” Rizvi said. “Which obviously comes from what our backgrounds are.”
The university is committed to maintaining an inclusive environment, according to a university spokesperson.
“Georgetown is committed to being an inclusive campus that welcomes people of all faiths, races, ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, abilities and backgrounds and we do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or sexual misconduct in violation of university policies,” a university spokesperson wrote.
Rizvi brought an important perspective on South Asian anthropology to his department, according to anthropologist and professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese Joanne Rappaport.
“As an Asian-American faculty member from a working-class background he brings a very much needed diversity to Anthropology and the humanistic social sciences at Georgetown,” Rappaport wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown community members have long advocated for greater Asian American and Pacific Islander representation at Georgetown. In 2019, students founded the “Georgetown Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign to call for greater Asian American representation in the university’s course offerings. Students have also called for the creation of an Asian American studies program. Recently, following the spike in racist, anti-Asian hate crimes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, community members have advocated for increased university support for the AAPI community.
For Chakravarti, Rizvi’s removal represents a step backward in the fight for increased South Asian representation in Georgetown’s academics.
“We’re quite lucky to have a scholar like Professor Rizvi at Georgetown because it’s not a school that has a traditional strength in South Asia,” Chakravarti said. “It could be a school with really great representation in terms of what the study of South Asia means, and we could become an important hub, but this decision feels like a massive step backwards for all of us who care about the study of South Asia on campus.”
Georgetown must do better to support faculty of color, according to Rizvi.
“I would like Georgetown University to really practice what they have been saying in terms of looking at racial justice, looking at fairness, looking at objective records and not biased assessments,” Rizvi said.
Hoya Staff Writer Giulia Testa contributed reporting to this article.