Letters to the Editor do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.
Dear Editors of the Daily Free Press,
I am writing to you as a follow-up to the recently published story (3/31/2023) on the denial of tenure for Assistant Professor Rodrigo Lopes de Barros, a case that is currently under review at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. As a result of the attention the DFP article generated, BU faculty have mobilized to ask President Brown to reverse his negative decision. On Monday, April 24, a collectively signed letter was sent to President Brown, with copies to Provost Morrison, Associate Provost Victoria Sahani, CAS Dean Stan Sclaroff and Associate Dean of GRS Malika Jeffries-EL.
The signers of the letter respectfully ask that the Daily Free Press make the letter available to its readers. They do so because of the gravity of the injustice committed as well as because of the potential negative effects for BU’s reputation that would result from a finding in favor of Assistant Professor Lopes de Barros by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. It would constitute a formal substantiation of the allegation of racism being made by Lopes de Barros’s legal team. Among other things, this would seriously hamper BU’s efforts to recruit faculty of color in the future.
Professor of Spanish and
Latin American Studies
Director of Graduate Studies,
Department of Romance Studies
Former Chair, BU Faculty Council
The following is the faculty letter mentioned in the above statement.
Dear President Brown:
We write as faculty members of Boston University, strongly and respectfully encouraging you to consider granting tenure to Rodrigo Lopes de Barros. While we understand that his candidacy for tenure has been denied and that his appeal has also been denied, there are two types of problems with the handling of the tenure case that we would like to bring to your attention.
The first type of problem consists of errors of fact in the University Appointments, Promotions and Tenure Committee’s report. While Lopes de Barros’ evaluations were nothing short of glowing at the level of the external evaluators, the department and the college, the UAPT raised a new concern that was factually inaccurate, arguing that his two books “have not been completed.” In fact, both completed manuscripts were submitted before the UAPT conducted its evaluation.
Another error of fact lies in the miscounting of citations. Unlike the external evaluators, department and college, the UAPT raised a new concern about Lopes de Barros’ “relatively low citation rate.” Unfortunately, however, the UAPT report relied on Google Scholar to count citations, and Google Scholar substantially underestimates Lopes de Barros’ citations, in part because Lopes de Barros has a Brazilian compound surname. Since the UAPT report is not transparent about how and when Google Scholar was used, it is difficult to determine the exact consequences of these errors, but our best estimate is that Lopes de Barros’ actual number of citations is more than double the number that appears in the UAPT report. This error is compounded by additional errors in the citation counts of scholars to whom Lopes de Barros is compared in the UAPT. For example, 93% of the citations that the report credits to a comparison scholar are actually those of a different scholar with the same name who studies immunology.
The second problem consists of the UAPT report’s misapplication of BU’s standards for tenure and promotion. With respect to citations, even if the incorrectly low number of Lopes de Barros’ citations were to be accepted as fact, this number would be comparable to eminent scholars in his field, including scholars at Duke, Harvard and NYU, all of whom recently received tenure at prestigious institutions and all of whom completed their doctorates before Lopes de Barros.
In any case, a narrow focus on citation counts is inappropriate for the type of scholar that Lopes de Barros is: It prevented the UAPT report from recognizing Lopes de Barros’ international reputation for excellence as an award-winning filmmaker and award-winning creative writer.
With respect to the response rate for external evaluators, the UAPT report characterizes this as “low” for Lopes de Barros, but the requests for Lopes de Barros’ tenure letters took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, for a scholar who publishes across disciplines and in multiple languages, the response rate of 30% is actually higher than might be expected. It was certainly higher than the case for one recent promotion to full professor in Lopes de Barros’ department of Romance Studies, at 23%. This full professor went on to depart BU to occupy what is perhaps the most prestigious position in Latin American Studies in the United States. In sum, the UAPT report misapplied the standard of external letter writers’ response rates by failing to fully consider the context of (a) the pandemic, (b) the nature of Lopes de Barros’ work as transdisciplinary and multilingual and (c) the response rate for comparable candidates. With respect to the UAPT’s question about the scope of Lopes de Barros’ work: The report raises the possibility that “Perhaps his work is spread a bit too thin. But is this a feature or a bug?” Indeed, the transdisciplinary, multilingual and multimodal nature of Lopes de Barros’ scholarship was uniformly recognized as a strength by the external evaluators, the department and the college. He was hired precisely because of this strength and an insistence on narrowness is not an appropriate use of BU tenure standards here.
These are all the “weaknesses” that the UAPT identified, and all involve errors of fact, the misapplication of standards or both. Against these, the UAPT report acknowledged many strengths, all of which are detailed by the external evaluators, the department and the college: the breadth, innovation, quality, quantity, interdisciplinarity and impact of his scholarship. For example, the external letter writers overwhelmingly recommended tenure for de Barros. As the college-level APT report states, “The ten evaluators are unanimous and even joyous, unambiguous and enthusiastic in recommending promotion and tenure.” On top of this, all levels of evaluation agree about de Barros’ excellence as a teacher and an advisor and his exceptionally strong service record.
Indeed, de Barros’ own department urged him to go up for tenure early because they believed his case to be so strong, as indeed it is, and would have been recognized as such had it not been for the problems in the evaluation of his tenure case mentioned here.
Finally, we would be remiss if we did not point out the systemic nature of the errors in this process. If de Barros had an English surname, published in English and only produced scholarly articles, it is likely that none of these problems would have arisen, and he would have been granted tenure. It appears that the pathologies in the UAPT report (no doubt unintentionally) compound into patterns of discrimination against the exact kind of scholar BU should seek to attract and retain. Indeed, we are concerned that the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination is looking into this case.
Unfortunately, BU risks missing out on an exemplary scholar, teacher and University citizen. We, therefore, urge you to grant de Barros tenure.
Spencer Piston, Associate Professor, Political Science
Takeo Rivera, Assistant Professor, English
John Thornton, Professor, History and African American Studies
David Mayers, Professor, Political Science and History
Michael Birenbaum Quintero, Associate Professor of Music, Chair of the Musicology & Ethnomusicology Department
Jon Masin-Peters, Visiting Assistant Professor, Political Science
Louis Chude-Sokei, Professor of English/Director of African American and Black Diaspora Studies Lida Maxwell, Professor, Political Science, Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies James Iffland, Professor, Romance Studies and Center for Latin American Studies Nancy Harrowitz, Director, Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies, Professor of Italian and Jewish Studies Christopher Maurer, Professor, Spanish, Romance Studies
Alicia Borinsky, Professor, Spanish
Saida Grundy, Assistant Professor, Sociology
Nicolás Fernández-Medina, Professor of Spanish & Iberian Studies; Chair, Romance Studies Dorothy Kelly, Professor of French, Romance Studies
Mary Battenfeld, Clinical Professor, American & New England Studies
Taylor Boas, Professor and Chair, Political Science; Professor, Latin American Studies André de Quadros, Professor, Music
Jeffrey Rubin, Associate Professor, History
Alejandro Botta, Associate Professor, Hebrew Bible, School of Theology
Carol Neidle, Professor, Linguistics, French
Neil Myler, Associate Professor, Linguistics
Alley Stoughton, Research Professor, Computer Science
Paula Hennessey, Senior Lecturer, Romance Studies
David Lyons, Professor Emeritus, Law and Philosophy
William Waters, Associate Professor, World Languages and Comparative Literature Rachel Nolan, Assistant Professor, School of Global Studies and Center for Latin American Studies Gregory Williams, Associate Professor, History of Art & Architecture
David Carballo, Professor, Anthropology, Archaeology, and Latin American Studies Susanne Sreedhar, Professor, Philosophy, Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Kaija Schilde, Associate Professor, Pardee School
Debra K. Borkovitz, Clinical Professor, Mathematics and Mathematics Education Marcus Walton, Assistant Professor, Political Science
Ana María Reyes, Associate Professor, History of Art & Architecture
Susan Eckstein, Professor, Sociology