Professor Ridwan Nytagodien has been a mentor to students and aninfluential force in the establishment of Portland State’s blackstudies department, but now it seems that he has fallen out offavor with university administrators.
The dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS)Marvin Kaiser and E. Kofi Agorsa, the chair of the black studiesdepartment have recommended the termination of PSU professor RidwanNytagodien without tenure, according to BCAB member CainLowery.
Many students are feeling discouraged by the terminationrecommendation, according to Sa’eed Haji, the coordinator of theBlack Cultural Affairs Board (BCAC).
Nytagodien has been teaching at PSU since 1997 in jointappointment between black studies and international studies and hasbeen involved in PSU in many ways.
“I was advocating for a B.A. in black studies before PSU wasready for it … now that they have it, it makes it seem like theydid it.” Nytagodien credits the students “who did the ground work… collecting over 1500 signatures.”
Nytagodien has also been an adviser to the Black CulturalAffairs Board and the Association of African Students as well as apersonal advisor to Haji and other students.
Haji claimed black studies has been successful over the lastseveral years, due in large part to Nytagodien.
“He’s passionate about what he teaches … I wanted to leave PSUin 2002, but I stayed here because of Ridwan,” Haji said.
Despite all of his support from students and friends, Nytagodienhas faced some conflict with administration.
“Professors at this university who have never met me are makingdecisions about me, calling me angry and un-collegiate,” Nytagodiensaid. “My position with them [CLAS] has a lot to do with my radicalapproach of linking black studies to activism.”
Haji explained his observation that there are tensions betweenNytagodien and other faculty and administrators.
Dean Kaiser declined comment on his decision regardingNytagodien’s promotion or termination, saying “I do not feelcomfortable commenting on the decision of CLAS … I do not wantthis process prejudiced.”
Kaiser did, however, explain the process for tenure. “In thesixth year of a tenure-track faculty, we go through the process ofreview for tenure or to promotion to associate professor,” hesaid.
The faculty under review submits a portfolio to theirdepartment, which is the first body to review the faculty and makesa suggestion for promotion or tenure. All that material proceeds tothe dean’s office where the advisory committee of the collegereviews the faculty for promotion or tenure. The review processthen climbs the PSU hierarchy to the dean of the college, who makesa recommendation to the Provost of academic affairs. The final stepin the review process is the provost’s recommendation to the PSUpresident, who makes the final decision.
“While the process seems complex, the intent is that we have anabsolutely fair and equitable process,” Kaiser said. The reviewprocess will be completed by the first week of June.
Provost of academic affairs Mary Kay Tetreault declined to speakon the issue of Nytagodien’s tenure or termination, citing it asinappropriate while the decision is still in the air.
Hannah Baker, a PSU alumni and former black studies instructoris one of the many students, alumni, and community members who arerallying to keep Nytagodien from being terminated. Baker [email protected] in support of Nytagodien, and hasreceived several letters filled with a tone of sadness,disappointment, anger and “total disbelief.”
“Students have expressed that their education at PSU becamerelevant because of Ridwan’s impact on their lives,” Baker saidabout the letters she has been receiving. “In addition, they havecriticized PSU in its failure to uphold their [sic] statedcommitment to diversity and multicultural learning.”
Describing Nytagodien as having the “will to spark fire in theminds of his students,” Baker said, “It is a deep shame thatRidwan’s impact can be so evidently powerful in the lives of somany, yet so overlooked by members of an administration.”
65 letters and 224 petition signatures were delivered to PSUPresident Daniel Bernstine and Tetreault from students [email protected]. “We have appealed to them because theyhave the power to overturn the decision of Dean Marvin Kaiser,”Baker said.
Lowery commented that “students at PSU are pushing for keyissues, using radical tactics and Ridwan is a proponent of thatwithin the faculty, to fire him is to break the back of thatmovement.”
Nytagodien, although not directly involved with organizingefforts around petitioning to school, commented that “studentsrespect me and it means a hell of a lot to me that they are goingto bat for me.”
“I can assure you, however, that the students and faculty have along memory,” Baker said, “We will not soon forget the damagesincurred, and remain ready to take further public action if theprovost’s decision is unfavorable.”