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Jane Iwamura: Racial and Gender Prejudice in USC Tenure Decisions

November 19, 2010

The content below is selectively taken from the information given out at an event that took place on Sept 22nd in Doheny Library, Race, Tenure and the University: A Public Forum, which was cosponsored by The Asian Pacific American Student Services, Black Cultural and Student Affairs, El Centro Chicano, Peers in American Studies & Ethnicity Organization.


What is tenure?

Tenure is a promise of lifetime employment awarded to scholars who demonstrate excellence in scholarship, teaching, and service.” (1)


A university of and for Los Angeles?

In our surrounding neighborhoods and around the glove, USC provides public leadership and public service in such diverse fields as health care, economic development, social welfare, scientific research, public policy and the arts. We also serve the public interest by being the largest private employer in the city of Los Angeles, as well as the city’s largest export industry in the private sector.” Excerpt from USC’s mission statement. (2)

2009 Minority Population of Los Angeles County (estimates)(3):

Black 9%

Latino 48%

Asian 13%

2007 USC Minority full-time employees with faculty status (tenure track, tenured, and non-tenure track with faculty status) (4):

Black 3%

Latino 4%

Asian 17%

Jane Iwamura is Assistant Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. On May 5, Dr. Uwamura was denied tenure at USC. Dr. Iwamura is appealing the denial and she will be undergoing what USC terms a “reconsideration process” this coming academic year.


The Case for Iwamura

Dr. Iwamura is one of the founders of her sub-discipline, Asian American Religious Studies, and has contributed greatly to the fields of Ethnic Studies, American Studies, Sociology of Religion, and Asian American studies, more generally.

-Dr. Iwamura is jointly appointed to Religion and American Studies & Ethnicity. The Department of American Studies & Ethnicity and the Department of Religion both gave a positive recommendation on her case. [Her tenure was denied at the administrative level.]

-Dr. Iwamura is author of Virtual Orientalism: Asian Religions and American Popular Culture, Oxford University Press (forthcoming December 2010).

-She is co-editor, with Paul Spickard, of Revealing the Sacred in Asian and Pacific America, Routledge. Cited by Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Religion’s editorial board as one of fifty foundational books on religion, race, and ethnicity.

-She has published 10 original articles in widely circulated academic journals in her fields…. Her article “Critical Faith: Japanese Americans and the Birth of a New Civil Religion” originally appeared in American Quarterly and subsequently was twice reprinted.

-Iwamura is the recipient of prestigious awards and fellowships at USC

-“Albert S. Raubenheimer Outstanding Junior Faculty Award,” USC College’s highest award for research, teaching and service given to junior faculty.

-“Remarkable Women Faculty Award,” Women’s Student Assembly and Office of Campus Activities.

-USC Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

-General Education Teaching Award, USC College.

Dr. Iwamura’s denial of tenure belongs with a consistent pattern of denial of tenure to faculty of color, and especially women of color, at USC. Over the last six years alone at USC, a systematic pattern has emerged of denial of tenure and promotion to women of color. At least 4 women faculty of color have been denied tenure and several others faced delays or suspensions of their tenure reviews. What is striking about all these cases is that each one of those who has been denied tenure has gone on to occupy a tenured position at an equivalent or a superior institution.

-In addition, numerous scholars of color have left USC after finding it to be a hostile climate, a judgment not unrelated to the frequent denials of tenure to their colleagues.


Sources Cited

-1.Tenure Denied: Cases of Sex Discrimination in Academia, American Association of University Women Educational foundation and the American Association of University Women Legal Advocacy Fund (2004).



-4.Rebecca Carr, Association of American Universities Data Exchange, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Denise permalink
    July 13, 2011 2:07 am

    I had Dr. Iwamura for two courses and liked her. I think she deserves tenure, but I don’t think her denial of tenure has anything to do with her race or ethnicity at USC.

    • July 17, 2011 5:29 am

      Hi Denise,
      I think it’s hard to tell whether the decision on Prof. Iwamura’s tenure was racially motivated or not. There has been a disproportionate number of women of color who have been denied tenure lately, so looking at the pattern, I think it’s not a totally implausible contributing factor. Perhaps more likely, much of her scholarship was about racism and her politics did not fit comfortably within mainstream perspectives. As women of color face more social obstacles than most other people, I think the resulting non-mainstream politics and scholarship can indirectly be related to her race and together, and those factors could explain the denial of tenure.

      One last thing worth pointing out is that she was approved for tenure by the faculty of both departments that she was teaching in, who evidently thought her teaching and research was of the necessarily high caliber expected at USC. Iwamura was denied tenure at the administrative level, a move that 15 years ago was rather rare but has become shockingly common as university administrations have taken more and more decision-making power away from academic departments, who decades ago were almost completely autonomous, and exercised it themselves. What particular knowledge would an administrator have of a professor’s competency in an academic discipline in which the administrator is not trained.

      Moreover, I think this politically motivated administrative decision fits snugly with other trends at USC and universities in general these days and we hope to write more on them for future issues.

      Thanks for reading!

      • denisechiang permalink
        August 4, 2011 8:28 pm

        Thanks for following up on my reply. Prof. Iwamura had some colleagues at USC who are Asian who are probably still working at USC. Janelle Wong is a Chinese-American female professor in the Political Science department. I think she still works there. I had a lot of Japanese-American professors at USC and they were just adjunct or visiting. It’s obviously very hard to be a full-time tenured professor. I think Prof. Iwamura is now a visiting scholar at UCLA.

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  1. Table of Contents « Uscundercurrent's Blog
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