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Anthropologist protests plans for his second tenure review

Akhil Gupta, an assistant professor of anthropology whose tenure denial is to be reconsidered by the dean of humanities and sciences, has filed a complaint alleging the new review process is flawed. Gupta alleges that his tenure promotion file includes "biased data" and that an associate dean has a "conflict of interest" that should lead to his exclusion from the second review process.

The dean's office received the complaint Monday, May 12, and is in the process of responding, assistant dean Judith Cain said. The tenure review process at Stanford is confidential and John Shoven, dean of humanities and sciences, declined to comment further, she said.

Shoven wrote Gupta on May 1 that his office would reconsider his tenure case, as a result of a review by a faculty grievance officer appointed by the dean. Gupta said he then requested that the dean submit the case to the provost for the reconsideration instead.

The university's policy requires that when a grievance leads to a reconsideration, that reconsideration is first to be made at the level where the denial occurred, said Kathryn Gillam, senior associate provost. "The purpose is that it gives the original decision-makers a chance to take another look before taking the decision to another level," she said.

In a letter dated May 8, Gupta said, Shoven outlined how the school would conduct the reconsideration of Gupta's case. It would involve excluding one item from his existing tenure file ­ a confidential letter from a Stanford faculty member. The file would then be submitted to a new Advisory Committee on Appointments and Promotions composed of six faculty members appointed by the dean. The dean's council, made up of the dean and his four associate deans in the school, then would review the case again before the dean made another determination.

Gupta said he responded May 12 requesting that the dean remove other letters from the file ­ letters from non-Stanford faculty referees that allegedly had been added to the referee list by Associate Dean Stephen Haber. He also requested that Haber not participate in the second dean's council review process.

"I suspect that there is some biased material in my file, and the biased material is not to be removed in the revaluation that Dean Shoven proposed," Gupta said. "My worry is that if a new appointments and promotions committee that is fair, impartial and experienced is presented with biased data, then they are likely to be swayed by the biases in the data."

Gupta acknowledged that he has not read the letters in his tenure file. Stanford policies do not permit him to read them, but he said that he has read a lengthy summary of them prepared by the dean's office. Based on the negative comments in the summary and on conversations with other faculty, he said that he believes that Haber added to the referee list at least one individual outside his field whom the associate dean believed would be "ideologically or intellectually opposed to the interpretive type of social-cultural anthropology" scholarship that Gupta has pursued as an assistant professor.

Asked the basis for his belief, Gupta said that "there have been widespread suspicions among the social-cultural faculty in anthropology that Dean Haber was partisan and intellectually and ideologically opposed to interpretive anthropology, and this led the social-cultural faculty to express their lack of confidence in his ability to oversee the department."

Haber, who was the cognizant dean for anthropology until recently, declined to comment.

The school's official promotions policy document on the World Wide Web directs departments preparing tenure promotion files to have draft letters to external referees reviewed by the cognizant dean before they are sent. This is "to safeguard against the choice of inappropriate referees, too narrow a 'field' definition or an inappropriate comparison group," the policy says.

Students and faculty have contributed about $4,500 to a legal fund for Gupta, according to James Ferguson, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Irvine who has co-authored scholarly articles with Gupta. "The legal fund is meant to help with Akhil's expenses in consulting a lawyer with respect to his possible avenues of legal redress," Ferguson said. "Contributions have come from people in many different disciplines and many different countries ­ many from people who've never even met Akhil, but feel strongly about the issues of principle that are raised by his case."


By Kathleen O'Toole