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University professor recommended for tenure after groundswell of support, national attention

The decision comes seven months after Harris was denied tenure from Curry’s Promotion and Tenure Committee and over two months after his appeal was rejected

Harris joined the University as a professor in the Curry School in 2011.
Harris joined the University as a professor in the Curry School in 2011.

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After a tenure review widely believed to be riddled with racial bias, a lengthy appeal process and national outcry, the Curry School of Education and Human Development has pivoted its position, recommending that professor Dr. Paul Harris be approved for tenure. 

University Provost Liz Magill, who passed down the May 8 rejection of Harris’ initial appeal, has approved the tenure recommendation.

“I was happy to support Dean Pianta’s decision to review Professor Paul Harris’ appeal and grant him tenure based on the additional information he provided,” Magill said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily. “Professor Harris is an excellent educator and U.Va. is fortunate to have him.”

The decision comes seven months after Harris, an associate professor who joined the Curry School in 2011, was denied tenure from Curry’s Promotion and Tenure Committee and over two months after his appeal was rejected. Harris’ denial letter alleged inaccurate information on his publications, underciting Harris’ research citations and neglecting to consider his research published in journals with impact factor. 

The denial also noted his published work in the Journal of African American Males in Education — a peer-reviewed journal with a 23 percent acceptance rate — appeared self-published. 

The negative recommendation garnered attention nationwide when Harris’ wife, Taylor Harris, mentioned his case in an essay in Catapult Magazine titled “Whiteness Can’t Save Us.” At the same time, Black scholars gained traction on social media detailing their experiences in academia under the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory. 

Over 4,000 signed an open letter sent to University Provost Liz Magill and Curry School Dean Robert Pianta last month in support of Harris’ case. 

The overwhelming support has left Harris with hopes that the publicization of plight might help others in the same position. 

“I am so grateful for every person who took time in the middle of a pandemic and their own personal challenges to support me in my tenure appeal,” Harris said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “And I'm hopeful that the light shed on my case will help decrease the likelihood that others will go through what I did unnecessarily.”

Pianta expressed plans to “reopen” Harris’ tenure case June 24, adding two professors to the Promotion and Tenure committee tasked with reviewing Harris’ tenure file, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

In an internal memo to the Curry School, Pianta shared his reflections on the year’s Promotion and Tenure review cycle, noting that he realized the “importance of our [Promotion and Tenure] reviews reflecting a broad view of scholarly impact, particularly in emerging fields.”

“I also gained a deeper understanding of the impact of community-engaged scholarship, particularly when involved with questions of relevance to marginalized groups, and the important role that community-engaged scholarship plays in describing, identifying, and elevating assets of such groups,” Pianta wrote. “For scholarship having an equity focus, in which many of our faculty engage, these perspectives seem even more valuable.”

These realizations, Pianta said, have pushed him to reconsider the relevance of “traditional indicators, such as impact factors and citation counts” — two markers noted in Harris’ denial. 

From Magill’s approval, the recommendation to approve Harris’ tenure recommendation will go to the Board of Visitors for final approval. 

Now, finally on his way to tenure, Harris says his family is focused on healing from the turmoil of the last seven months. 

“In the coming days [and] weeks [and] months, we’ll take inventory of the toll this took on our family and pray about what healing looks like for us,” Harris told The Cavalier Daily. “And whatever that is, that’s how we’ll move forward.”

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