Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 24, 2019

Alice Goffman’s First Book Made Her A Star. It Wasn’t Enough To Get Her Tenure At The University Of Wisconsin

WisconsinChronicle of Higher Education, Alice Goffman’s First Book Made Her a Star. It Wasn’t Enough to Get Her Tenure.:

Alice Goffman [Wikipedia] wrote one of the most widely read sociology books in recent memory. But On the Run, her account of young black men caught up in the criminal-justice system, became entangled in ethical controversies. Now her academic career appears to be foundering.

Goffman failed to achieve tenure at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, according to James Raymo, chair of the sociology department.

The details of how that decision unfolded, and why, are unclear. Raymo, citing confidentiality rules, would say only that the department did not recommend Goffman for promotion to associate professor with tenure. Goffman, he said, did not appeal. Professors in her situation can continue at the university for one year, and she remains at Wisconsin. ...

The decision is a low point in the seesaw trajectory that has turned the junior scholar into a symbol of some of the thorniest dilemmas of academic life. Should privileged, white outsiders tell the stories of poor, minority communities? Can scholars guard research subjects’ privacy while satisfying the growing demand for data transparency? Should students be empowered to block the hiring of scholars whose work they abhor? ...

Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (University of Chicago Press, 2014) rested on six years of immersive fieldwork in Philadelphia. Journalists and scholars acclaimed it as a classic. A paperback edition, issued by Picador, sold about 30,000 copies, according to the publisher. Goffman’s TED talk has been viewed nearly two million times.

But that fame made Goffman’s work the target of intense scrutiny. Legal scholars questioned whether she had embellished parts of her book and accused her of committing an apparent felony while researching it. Others said her book presented a warped view of black life and might harm its subjects. When Pomona College hired Goffman as a visiting professor, some students demanded that the college revoke the offer.

Sociologists had mixed reactions to Wisconsin’s tenure decision.

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