Harvard students stage sit-in to protest professor’s tenure denial

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / May 20, 2011

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Seven students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education started a sit-in outside the dean’s office early yesterday to protest the school’s decision to deny tenure to a popular professor.

“I believe the dean is going to do the right thing,’’ said Ayana Kee, a doctoral student, before heading into Longfellow Hall and education dean Kathleen McCartney’s office.

The students showed up at 7 a.m. and stood briefly outside the building holding poster boards stating, “Tenure Mark Warren.’’ As many as three campus police officers stood at the entrance to monitor the event and allowed the students inside the hall.

Warren, a prominent scholar who studies community organizing in school reform, was recently denied tenure, sparking protests by students and some staff. Recently, the students held a rally and invited McCartney, but she did not attend. As a result, the students organized the sit-in.

“There are very few professors here who focus on racial justice and who focus on actually working with community members and teaching students how to work with community members, and that’s what we need, and professor Warren is a perfect person for that,’’ Kee said.

Participants in the sit-in said that in addition to compelling the school to grant tenure to Warren, they would like to see the education school adopt a more social justice-based approach to education, as opposed to one that focuses on results and the business side of education.

Organizers of the sit-in said they expected about 30 students to participate, working in shifts. Initially, they said, the protest will unfold during business hours, but organizers said they plan to extend it round-the-clock.

Harvard spokesman Michael Rodman said last night that the school’s decision not to grant Warren tenure should not be seen as an indication of where the school is headed.

He also said that McCartney has contacted the students involved in the sit-in via e-mail and offered to meet with them.

Since 2003, the school of education has lost a half-dozen professors specializing in diversity and community involvement because they were denied tenure or recruited by other universities.