May 11, 2022 - News

Black professors leave DU, citing campus climate

College students during a rally at the University of Denver.
A rally held at the University of Denver campus on May 4, in support of Black faculty and students. Photo courtesy of DU graduate student

Three tenured Black professors at the University of Denver will be leaving the school at the end of this academic year.

Why it matters: The string of departures raises questions about the university's ability to retain faculty of color and leaves fewer Black educators on campus.

Driving the news: More than 70 students attended a May 4 rally on campus organized by graduate students to call attention to the professors' exits and tell the university what they feel should be done.

  • Four graduate students spoke to Axios Denver about issues within DU's psychology school, demanding more accountability for faculty over racist incidents and microaggressions.

What they're saying: "If you’re losing three [Black professors], that's a lot," said associate psychology professor Apryl Alexander, who is among the three leaving.

  • She told Axios Denver she loved the university, adding her reasons for leaving are "complicated," but attributed her decision to the university's climate, and workload inequity.

The other side: DU's administration said in a statement to Axios Denver that the resignations are a "great concern" as the university strives to retain its faculty and staff of color, and the national workforce sees increased job turnover.

  • "Leaders at the university have been working diligently to address the expressed concerns of our faculty of color and will continue to do so," DU spokesperson Nicole Militello said in a statement.
  • The university is also launching a workload equity task force in response to concerns expressed by the faculty of color.

Details: Travis Heath and Terri Davis are the two other professors departing. All three teach at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology.

Alexander is known for her local activism. There are six Black women tenured professors at DU — including Alexander and Davis — according to data compiled in 2021.

  • Alexander also serves on the Citizen Oversight Board, which appoints the city of Denver's Independent Monitor, and was previously affiliated with Black Lives Matter 5280.

Heath and Davis declined to comment to Axios Denver. Heath made his announcement on Twitter, while Davis told students in class, according to a student who was present.

Of note: Alexander said faculty of color are responsible for what she called "invisible labor," like serving on committees and task forces, and supporting marginalized students on campus.

  • These duties make it hard to balance teaching and research, which can help faculty advance in higher education. "This has been a long concern, especially for tenured-track faculty," Alexander said

What's next: Alexander will be teaching at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Heath will serve as department chair at the San Diego State University College of Education. It's unclear where Davis will go next.

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