A Feb. 10 march on the Pitzer College mounds in support of Professor Brian Burkhart gave fresh attention to the embattled Native American Studies professor’s push to remain employed by the institution.
Around a dozen students, professors, and Claremont residents showed up for the so-called indigenous voices walk to highlight what they call an “absence of diversity” within the college’s philosophy department. The march was held at the same time as a job interview for one of the candidates for a new tenure-track position in comparative/non-Western philosophy.
Burkhart contends that he is not being hired because of institutional discriminatory practices. Burkhart is now threatening to file a lawsuit against Pitzer because he says the college was unduly influenced by other colleges to exclude him from consideration. He and a faculty supporter say that the college denied an initial, expedited application he submitted and then excluded him entirely from the current search.
The college, however, has said that it followed normal procedure in considering candidates, but would not comment on the specific circumstances surrounding Burkhart.
‘Paying Tribute to the Land’
People who attended the march discussed Burkhart’s situation before they were led in Native American prayers and then in Native American folk music by Burkhart. A number of the people who attended said they were disappointed that Burkhart was being excluded.
“I don’t think that anyone at Pitzer has the agenda of discriminating against Native Americans, but the problem is part of a bigger problem within our country and within academia of not recognizing and respecting the Native people,” said Andrew Kemble PI ‘10, an organizer of the event. “We have Black studies, Chicano studies, Asian studies, Womens’ studies, but no Native American studies. In academia, oral histories are not respected as being as valid as written histories. This is a type of discrimination against the knowledge of indigenous people all over the world.”
Burkhart says that the objective of the walk was to pay tribute to the land.
“We were trying to acknowledge the relationship between the institution and the land it is built on,” said Burkhart. “This was not a protest or a demonstration. However, there is a lack of concern for the relationship to the land.”
New Tenure-Track Position
Burkhart, who has Cherokee and Navajo ancestry, came to Pitzer in 2004 on a minority fellowship to finish his dissertation and teach Native American philosophy. In Spring 2006, he was hired as an adjunct professor, a non-tenured position. His contract was renewed for the next two years.
Two years ago the philosophy department at Pitzer made the case that, with Western philosophy as the dominant ideology in the field, they needed to expand the department to include other ideological traditions. The administration solicited possible job descriptions that fit