Culture and Theory: Letter to Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies

As graduate students in the Culture and Theory program, the Ph.D. program is co-governed by the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, we wish to express serious reservations about the Department’s labor and institutional politics over the 2013-14 academic year.

We welcome the arrival of Professors Emily Thuma and Catherine Sameh. They enrich our program not only with their research, but also with their noteworthy credentials as teachers and administrators. We nonetheless strongly object to the conditions of the hiring and decision process, the disregard for the stated needs of graduate students and the adverse effects on the department’s non-tenure track faculty.

We are concerned with the decision to pass over Denise Ferreira da Silva, despite overwhelming student support and the pressing need for senior faculty. Here we are thinking specifically of the 2013 WASC External Review Committee Final Report, which cited the need for “a full Professor” who could “provide the kind of concrete foundation that the Department once had to support and sustain excellence in scholarship, teaching and training of graduate students.”

On this score, da Silva’s credentials are unparalleled, as was the support she received from both Culture and Theory and Graduate Feminist Emphasis students eager to work with her.

We are equally concerned with the Department’s lack of communication with graduate students during the hiring process. The general absence of information regarding how decisions were being made and what impact our input had on the job search undermined the importance of the hiring process to graduate students. Graduate students work most closely with tenure-track faculty as advisees, TAs and GSRs and future colleagues navigating the maze of professionalization and an uncertain job market.

Because the Culture and Theory Graduate Student Association did not have a representative on the hiring committee to speak for our interests, decisions that should have involved graduate students were instead made on our behalf. The apparent disregard for our input during the hiring process, including to whom and when the offers were extended, further devalues our already undervalued position within the university and the Department.

Finally, we are concerned with the treatment of Gender and Sexuality Studies’ adjunct faculty. We object to the stark reduction of Dr. Karen Kim’s teaching load and the laying off of Dr. Priya Shah. Our lecturers have played a vital role in the growth and wide appeal of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the university. Over their many years of service at UCI, they have taken on the lion’s share of undergraduate teaching, while mentoring countless students and adding numerous majors and minors to the department.

Furthermore, Dr. Shah brought her experiences as a former Graduate, Emphasis Student (GFE) student to a generation of graduate students, who have now lost a trusted mentor and respected colleague. We are troubled with how this contributes to the precarious position of adjunct labor in the neoliberal university. As a feminist program, our labor politics should accede to the highest ethical standards.

For these reasons, the graduate students in Culture and Theory express our serious concerns with the intellectual and political trajectory of Gender and Sexuality Studies. As a crucial component of our Ph.D. program, we are invested in the future of this Department. The continued strength of our collective enterprise will require a renewed commitment to critical, collaborative, and interdisciplinary scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

We hope this letter will open an urgent conversation about the stakes of progressive graduate training, the politics of this academic department, and the future prospects of feminist inquiry at UCI.


The Graduate Student Association of the Program in Culture and Theory can be reached at CultureAndTheoryGSA@gmail.com

[corrections as requested by GSA Culture & Theory: In the opening clause, the sentence “…by the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies and we wish to express serious reservations” was changed to “by the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, we wish to express serious reservations.” As well as the phrase “firing of Priyah Shah” implies Professor Shah had done something wrong. The phrase was changed to “the laying off of Priyah Shah.”]