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After Fighting to Gain Tenure, Dr. Paul Harris Leaves UVA on His Own Terms

Dr. Paul Harris—a Black scholar whose tenure denial at the University of Virginia (UVA) was reversed following a groundswell of support from across the nation—has accepted a teaching position at Penn State University.

Dr. Paul HarrisDr. Paul Harris

The initial denial of tenure for Harris—a former assistant professor of education at UVA—sparked outrage among numerous minority scholars who denounced what they viewed as a biased initial tenure review. More specifically, the Promotion and Tenure (P&T) Committee that voted to deny Harris tenure falsely claimed that his publication record didn’t meet expectations, noting his work in the Journal of African American Males in Education seemed to be “self-published,” even though the journal is a selective, peer-reviewed journal. Following the initial decision to deny tenure, more than 4,000 of Harris’ former students and colleagues signed a petition denouncing the decision.

Reversing course, the P&T committee later voted to recommend Harris for tenure and promotion and his case was approved by UVA’s provost and the school’s Board of Visitors. Prior to the reversal, Diverse hosted a webcast last July where Harris joined a number of prominent minority scholars to discuss inherent biases within the promotion and tenure process at a number of institutions.

Harris — an alumnus of UVA — said that he and his family were invested in the Charlottesville community. In addition to serving as a faculty member at UVA, he pastored Victory Church of Charlottesville since 2018. But after visiting Penn State once they made him an offer with tenure, Harris said that he knew “this was the place for us,” he told Diverse in an interview. 

“We began to take an inventory on the toll that it took on us,” Harris said of the appeals process that lasted for months and drew national headlines before UVA ultimately reversed its decision. “It was about our health — physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

Harris added: “For us as a family, the bigger story has really always been about how people spoke up, showed up when they saw what was happening,” he said, adding that the collective protests “gave voice to my case and the broader issues relating to P&T processes.”

At Penn State, Harris — whose research focuses on the identity development of Black male student athletes; college and career readiness of underrepresented students; and the empowerment of anti-racist school counselors — will teach graduate students in the counselor education program with the goal of also developing some undergraduate offerings. He will hold an affiliate appointment with African American Studies and the Center for Educational Disparities.

Dr. Royel M. Johnson, an assistant professor of higher education within the Department of Education Policy Studies at Penn State University said that the addition of Harris to the faculty is a major win.

“Dr. Harris is an exceptional scholar whose interdisciplinary expertise is synergistically aligned with Dean Kimberly Lawless’ vision for an anti-racist College of Education,” said Johnson. “I am excited about the opportunity to work with Dr. Harris to address some of the country’s most pressing educational challenges related to access and equity.”

Walter Hudson can be reached at [email protected]



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