Letter: Kathleen Fitzgerald should be reappointed

Matthew Hughey Ph.D.

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Dear Editor,

My name is Matthew W. Hughey. I am an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. I am writing to you on behalf of visiting associate professor of sociology, Kathleen Fitzgerald Ph.D.

 I do not often write letters of this ilk, but I am so moved in this occasion after reflecting on your institutional decision not to renew her contract and after meditating on Nelson Mandela’s admonition, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Accordingly, I implore you to neither stand on the wrong side of history nor to claim a neutral stance, but rather, to reappoint Fitzgerald to her position. Failure to do so will result in a severe disservice to the larger campus community of students, faculty and administrators, but also to the field of social science in general and sociology in particular. The decision not to renew her contract is reversible. Reasons for doing so are as follows:

I first met Fitzgerald through the Association for Humanist Sociology, a body of social justice‐minded scholars, of which she is currently president‐elect. But even before I met her, I knew her reputation as a scholar and as a person that I “needed to know” because of her intellectual acumen and her virtuous passion toward working “for a more just world” – a principle enshrined in your university mission statement.

As I got to know Fitzgerald, I was further convinced of her dedication toward service and teaching. This sentiment was further driven home when I recently visited Loyola University New Orleans – in April 2013. I gave a talk on race and racism to an interdisciplinary cadre of Loyola students and faculty. That event was conceived, organized and executed by Fitzgerald. Such activities are not within her direct scope of teaching responsibilities, but she carries them out because she values intellectual debate and discussion and understands the import of exposing students to scholars and ideas that they would normally not encounter in their daily lives.

At that same event, I witnessed student after student approach her and thank her for organizing the talk – an event she wove into the assignments and readings for her classes. She was able to effectively – and with aplomb – bridge classroom discussions with pragmatic examples and give students a truly valuable education – a resource sorely infrequent in our age of both the philistine dismissal of intellectual pursuits and rejection of social justice endeavors.

Her sociological research and publishing on race, racism and inequality is both rigorous and timely. She has published several peer‐reviewed articles and has just published a book with Westview Press entitled “Recognizing Race and Ethnicity: Power, Privilege, and Inequality”.

I was one of the scholars to blurb the back of the book, of which I wrote in part that it should be “an important part of any sociologist’s library.” While the book is scholarly and rigorous, its true strength lays in its use for teaching students.

We live in an age in which various reactionary discourses, political agendas and social structures rally their attack upon the notion that race is socially and culturally constructed or that race matters since the civil rights era. Fitzgerald’s work is a Bible for teaching race and ethnicity to students, in that it demonstrates in clear and effective
 prose, an array of causes and consequences of racialized dynamics: from the social forces that prey upon the black and poor via the commodification of human bodies as living capital for the growth of the privatization of the prison‐industrial complex, to the illumination of social actors that now demonstrate a thorough disregard for human life as drug companies and military agendas intertwine in their resumption of neo‐liberal, colonial projects against darker‐skinned nations on the global periphery and throughout the southern U.S. Fitzgerald’s teaching and research on these issues are not just useful, they are paramount necessities for the development of democratic praxis and human rights that are today sorely under‐valued and under assault.

I find it hard to understand how -in a time when one of your own faculty members – Walter Block – openly defends segregation and has suggested that slavery was “not so bad” – you can decide to let go one of the more robust teachers and scholars of an antithetical and empirically grounded position on race, slavery and segreation.

Are you not for diversity of opinion, intellectual debate and the search for truth? Moreover, perhaps you do not understand what a hostile environment can be created for all students, but particularly students of color, when you decide to keep on faculty that express antiquated, myopic and antebellum‐era views of race while letting go one of your most progressive faculty on the subject.

Additionally, do you not want committed faculty that hoist more than their fair load up stairs of the ivory tower? Her service load is impeccable – from multiple hiring committees to a bevy of ad hoc and official committees in just the past few years alone – she is clearly a workhorse and a vital mechanism for the operation of your sociology department, college and university.

I can think of no place that would cast away such work that you get from Fitzgerald at, frankly, a bargain – even in a neoliberal economy of depressed wages and stagflation.

If there is a single hallmark to Fitzgerald, it is that her love for the effective bridging of academic thought with teaching shines so brightly that it “shocks established habit and challenges traditional thinking” in such a way that transcends political affiliation or ideological standpoint.

Her passion for, and commitment to, teaching, research and service is both caring and meticulous. She is simply exceptional. Failure to keep such a talent on your faculty – especially after your institution recruited her out of a tenured position – is both irresponsible and strays far from the Jesuit values of your institution.

I urge you to reverse your decision and keep Fitzgerald on. What an embarrassing and tremendous loss it would be for Loyola University New Orleans to lose such a beacon of research, service and teaching. This potential error is avoidable. Please make the right decision.


Matthew Hughey Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Sociology and Adjunct Faculty of African American Studies at the University of Connecticut 

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