Tenure Denied: 1974
When Louise Lamphere was hired in 1968, she joined the Department of Sociology and became one of a handful of women in tenure track positions on the Brown faculty. When the Anthropology Department soon spun off from Sociology, she was the only woman on the tenure track in that department. During her first five years at Brown, Lamphere's research and teaching focused on social structure and kinship among the Navajo.
Louise Lamphere's tenured colleagues in the Department of Anthropology thought well of her early scholarly work and teaching. In recommending renewal of her contract in 1969, Sidney Goldstein, who was then Lamphere's Department Chair, said: "[H]er teaching is regarded very highly." In 1972, the Department again recommended renewal of her contract as an assistant professor. Philip Leis, who had by then become Chair, described her teaching and scholarly achievements as "excellent contributions" and Professor Dwight Heath said each of her papers has "constituted a significant contribution."
As her interests shifted to include a focus on gender, Lamphere taught a course on women in cross-cultural perspective and was central to the introduction of women's studies courses at Brown. With Michelle Rosaldo, she co-edited Woman, Culture, and Society, one of the first books attempting, as they put it in the preface, "to integrate an interest in women into a general theory of society and culture." The collection, published in 1974, days after her tenure denial, included her article, "Strategies, Cooperation, and Conflict Among Women in Domestic Groups." Highly regarded in the profession, the book was praised by the distinguished anthropologist Evon Z. Vogt as "wonderful -- a classic."
Her new focus on women did not, however, find favor with her colleagues in Anthropology. In a 1974 memo to Philip Leis, the department chair, concerning whether to grant tenure to Lamphere, one tenured colleague criticized the "narrowness of her perspective" and teaching "kinship and social structure with a focus on militant feminism."
Similarly, recently tenured Associate Professor George Hicks wrote Leis that in one class, Lamphere had discussed sexism in America, using as an example Brown's "perpetuation of sexism by holding lunch meetings at the University Club," when women could not eat in the main dining room. Hicks called the lecture "treacherous to students, and irresponsible." Hicks was also critical of her chapter in Woman, Culture, and Society, saying it substituted a "polemical attitude" for any kind of reasonable critical approach and the "sacrifice" of "intellectual rigor" for "the satisfaction of muddled ideology." Leis agreed with Hicks and deemed her recent work [on women] "her worst," and her chapter "atrocious."
In May 1974, the Department of Anthropology voted against granting Lamphere tenure. It did not ascribe this decision to any criticism of Lamphere's new work on women or to her "militant feminism," but rather to what it characterized as the work's "theoretical weakness."
In his May 9, 1974 letter to Provost Merton Stoltz explaining the department's decision, Chairman Philip Leis said that "Lamphere's broader theoretical acumen is not impressive... [her] essay in Woman, Culture, and Society... reveals an extremely weak theoretical orientation. Leis used similar language in his letter to Lamphere: "your theoretical approach -- evidenced especially in your recent work -- tends to be weak."
If "theoretical weakness" did not sound like sex discrimination to Provost Stoltz or others in the administration, to Louise Lamphere it did. In her recent oral history, Lamphere reflected on this comment on her work. Anne Fausto-Sterling, a member of the Committee on Women Faculty at the time Lamphere was denied tenure, also recognized the implication of "theoretical weakness." In this video clip, Philip Leis offers his views on the reasons Lamphere did not get tenure.