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Students Oppose Pomona College’s Hiring of Alice Goffman as a Visiting Scholar

A group of “students, alumni, and allies” of the sociology department at Pomona College have written an open letter to the department and senior executives of the college to protest the hiring of the ethnographer Alice Goffman as a visiting professor of sociology.

The college confirmed in a statement emailed to The Chronicle on Sunday night that it had offered Ms. Goffman a position as a visiting scholar, starting this fall, and that she had accepted.

The letter’s authors, who remain anonymous, demand that the college rescind the hire and give students more voice in future hiring decisions. The authors protest Ms. Goffman’s hiring because they say it fails to “address underrepresentation of faculty of color” and demonstrates an “institutional inadequacy to recognize and advocate for the best interests of students of color.”

They base their objections in part on the recent controversy over Ms. Goffman’s research methods in her 2014 book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Those methods, they say, have contributed to false perceptions about black people and have harmed black communities.

The letter makes three demands: rescinding of the job offer, a meeting with the faculty hiring committee to discuss greater transparency in future hires, and a formal letter from the hiring committee explaining the rationale behind the decision to hire Ms. Goffman and outlining steps the department will take to ensure that such “undemocratic, covert hiring processes are never repeated.”

In the college’s statement, Audrey Bilger, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, defended Pomona’s hiring process as rigorous, saying it “includes a range of activities, from a public presentation to faculty and students to meeting with our faculty diversity officer.” In this case, she added, Ms. Goffman also met with students over lunch.

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