By Monica Chen (ME ’18) and Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)
By hiring a more diverse and qualified selection of full-time HSS professors, students hope the rigid structure of the curriculum will transform to include more viewpoints from a wider range of minority groups that can identify with a greater array of students.
The Department of Humanities and Social Sciences is currently in the process of hiring three new full-time faculty members as well as two post-doctorate faculty members. The prospect of new faculty is an “exciting moment,” according to the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, William Germano, as it is the first hire in at least 10 years.
The three new full-time faculty members will each have a unique area of focus. One will specialize in economics or another quantitative social science, another will specialize in philosophy, and the third will specialize in art history from the 20th century to the present. The economics and philosophy positions will be on a tenure-track, meaning that the new hires will begin as assistant professors with the prospect of tenure. The art history position will be of open rank.
The two post-doctorate faculty members will be hired on a two-year appointment. One will likely focus in comparative literature and the other in history. A post-doctorate position is a “springboard” to a full-time career in humanities and social sciences, according to Dean Germano.
Currently, the HSS Department is in the process of interviewing candidates. The hiring committee for each position is chaired by a current full-time faculty member. Professor Buckley, Professor Sayres, and Professor Stieber, chair the committees for the economics, philosophy, and art history positions respectively. Professor Swann and Professor Grossmann will chair the searches for the comparative literature and history post-doc positions. As the hiring process advances, finalist candidates for the new full-time positions would visit the Cooper Union and meet with students and faculty members.
The hiring of five new positions is no small issue and could have a tremendous impact on the HSS curriculum. New professors could bring new ideas, experiences, and teaching techniques to the classroom and help “shape the forward culture of Cooper,” according to Dean Germano.
Given that the current HSS curriculum has been structured by the same six current full-time faculty professors for over a decade, introducing three new full-time faculty members will completely alter the arrangement of the curriculum. Seeing this as an opportunity to transform the “oppressive Euro-centric” focus of the curriculums to include more diverse perspectives ranging from race to gender, a group of students have recently drafted the following petition:
1. The humanities full-time faculty publically recognize and commit to dismantle the racial cissexist biases that are motivating the humanities department.
2. The full-time faculty release student enrollment data from the past 10 years, so that the community may discern whether these reductive curriculums have an effect on student participation and interest in HSS courses.
3. The full-time faculty institute the ideals of affirmative actions in the hiring process of current and future faculty appointments, ultimately leading to the hiring of educators that do not represent the racist precedent in the humanities department.
4. The full-time faculty participate in a campus wide community discussion where both students and faculty can open new dialogue regarding concerns over the humanities curriculum.
The petition currently has over 300 signatures urging the HSS full-time faculty-hiring committee to acknowledge and resolve the perceived tradition of systemic racism that runs within the department. Currently, students are advocating for the HSS curriculum to place a greater emphasis on teaching history and literature through the perspective of minority groups. The petition argues that Humanities courses should be representative of the entire Cooper Union student body rather than limiting our understanding of history through a Western-European viewpoint. Waseem Nafisi (Art ‘18), a supporter of the petition, states, “If you take a look at HSS 3, we dedicate an entire semester to European history but the rest of the world was not included in the course.”
Waseem recounted, “This will allow students of color as well as transgender and queer studentsto feel included and acknowledged not just within the HSS department, but in our institution as well. I was talking to a black student who came from a school that was predominantly African American. She felt comfortable to be able to speak out in class and raise her hand and participate in class discussions…She could see herself in the professors and felt that she had a place in the community. Coming to Cooper, she states that there are almost no administrators or professors of color within the art school. She doesn’t have a place in the classroom because she’s reading texts by primarily white authors through a European gaze—her history and therefore, herself, are not visiblein the curriculum… For us to learn about our world through a gaze that does not represent these minority voices is really detrimental; we really narrow the perspective through which we see the world andwe reproduce these racist and ignorant stigmas through this curriculum.”
Diverse perspectives in history and literature could potentially provide a narrative that is reflective of the various ethnicities, sexual orientations, and other cultural differences observed amongst the entire student body, not just the views of the current full-time faculty professors. The petition asserts that the intention of a humanities course should broaden students’ understanding of various cultures and prominent historical events, specifically through the standpoint of different cultural groups involved. The petition does not call to completely eliminate the influence of Western culture from the courses, but rather to include additional cultural perspectives to the teachings of the curriculum. By hiring a more diverse and qualified selection of full-time HSS professors, students hope the rigid structure of the curriculum will transform to include more viewpoints from a wider range of minority groups that can identify with a greater array of students.