Andrea Smith—the Mind Will Not Be Contained

Suzanne Pharr February 28th, 2008

The news of Andrea Smith’s denial of tenure just reached me this morning. I am astounded but not surprised. I am astounded because I had mistakenly thought that the University of Michigan might be a large and brave enough container to hold and honor her great intellectual abilities, the breadth of her cut-to-the-bone analysis and pursuit of the truth. However, I am not surprised because for the last two decades there has been a successful conservative attack against intellectual freedom and scholarship—and the University of Michigan is its latest victim.

I have sat at many tables with Andy, as many of us call her. On many occasions, the subject has been violence against women. On others, it was the expansion of rightwing politics. Sometimes, it was taking a look at nonprofits and their funding and subsequent loss of ability to make real change. Often, it was gender and race. In every instance, she was brilliant and stretched my thinking in ways that often jolted me to consciousness from what in retrospect seemed a narrow place of my colonized thinking. My latest experience with her was on the stage of the US Social Forum in 2007 when she brought 5000 or more participants onto their feet exploding into applause and cheers for her rapid, complex analysis of the US, world domination, and women.

In the progressive movement, Andy is often considered to be without intellectual peer. Not only does she have what we admiringly call “a BIG brain,” but she is an activist, always working with others to put political analysis into political action. It is an extraordinarily combination. The analysis Andy gives us is never based on her opinions or feelings but is always carefully researched, framed, and delivered in ways that can directly affect how we go about making social change. Andy is one of the major teachers in my 68 year old life.

I have to wonder what the University of Michigan wants for its roster of tenured professors. Would greatness not be defined as being able to construct finely honed ideas based on broad research, both within the academy and from the field? Would a great professor not be someone who could communicate these ideas through teaching, writing, making speeches, working with students and community groups? Would a great professor not be someone who through her teaching and example always moves us beyond the narrow traditional containers for our ideas? Would a great professor not be someone who always courageously challenges us to look beyond the surface of conventional descriptions and explanations for the conditions and circumstances of the lives of real people?

Andy Smith—indigenous feminist intellectual, teacher, writer, and activist—how lucky the University of Michigan is to have her on their faculty. Don’t squander this opportunity to give Andrea Smith tenure and solid support to do her extraordinary work.

(Action alert sent out by University of Michigan students):

Native Feminism Without Apology!


Statement of University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith’s Tenure Case

On February 22nd, 2008, University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) issued a negative tenure recommendation for Assistant Professor Andrea Lee Smith. Jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women’s Studies, Dr. Smith’s body of scholarship exemplifies scholarly excellence with widely circulated articles in peer-reviewed journals and numerous books in both university and independent presses including Native Americans and the Christian Right published this year by Duke University Press. Dr. Smith is one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time. A nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Smith has an outstanding academic and community record of service that is internationally and nationally recognized. She is a dedicated professor and mentor and she is an integral member of the University of Michigan (UM) intellectual community. Her reputation and pedagogical practices draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus and the nation.

Dr. Smith received the news about her tenure case while participating in the United States’ hearings before the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically, during those very same hearings, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restricted affirmative action policies at UM specifically were cited as violations of international law. At the same time, there is an undeniable link between the Department of Women’s Studies and LSA’s current tenure recommendations and the long history of institutional restrictions against faculty of color. In 2008, students of color are coming together to protest the way UM’s administration has fostered an environment wherein faculty of color are few and far between, Ethnic Studies course offerings have little financial and institutional support, and student services for students of color are decreasing each year.

To Support Professor Andrea Smith: The Provost must hear our responses! Write letters in support of Andrea Smith’s tenure case. Address email letters to ALL of the following:
Teresa Sullivan, Provost and Executive VP for Academic Affairs, LSA,
Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, LSA,
Mary Sue Coleman, President,
Voice your ideas on the web forum at

2 Responses to “Andrea Smith—the Mind Will Not Be Contained”

  1. Smith Recordon 06 Mar 2008 at 4:56 pm

    ISI Web of Knowledge lists 5 journal publications for Smith based on her work at Michigan, that I can find. None of them are research articles. Instead, 2 are editorials, 1 is a literature review, and 2 are book reviews. She has also written a book, “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide” which is a good achievement, but books are not peer reviewed. Any other publications of hers must be in journals that are not included by ISI, which can be a sign that they are not strong journals. So it appears that Smith has essentially no new, peer-reviewed contributions to the field, and probably that is why she is not getting tenure. Her political activism is not counted in an academic department. Creating organizations (INCITE), giving speeches at meetings or rallies, magazine and newspaper articles, interviews, nominations for awards, etc., are not viewed as academic activities. She has to publish original research in peer-reviewed, high quality, archival journals. The evidence for that seems to range from non-existent to very thin.

  2. DH Garciaon 01 Aug 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I just did a quick library search on Andrea Smith and came up with 7 peer-reviewed articles, and that was on the first page. I used a university search engine and searched only academic publications. In short, Smith Record, you’re wrong. Some things to consider: 1) do you still believe Andrea Smith doesn’t deserve tenure. 2) rather than read the criticism openly you immediately tried to dismiss it, otherwise why do the search (badly, at that), 3) given that you are incorrect perhaps you can reevaluate why the denial of tenure was made.

    Ms. Smith is the smartest person I ever met. That, of course, doesn’t automatically qualify someone for tenure. If it did, then janitorial staff would have total job security. However, trying to frame her denial of tenure as simply a lack of academic output is disingenuous.


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