Tenure, Tacos, and Trump: Lafayette College Professor Goes On Hunger Strike Over Tenure Denial

screen-shot-2016-08-31-at-5-06-08-pm150px-seal_of_lafayette_collegeLafayette College professor Juan Rojo found a rather unconventional way of protesting the denial of tenure at the small college this month. When College President Alison Byerly rejected a department recommendation for tenure, he announced that he was going on a hunger strike to force action from the college board. On August 30th, he swore that he would not take anything other than water and sports drinks until the board yielded. However, he announced a few days later that he had decided to break the fast with some tacos at a favorite restaurant. It was all a rather curious response for any academic but it seems to make sense to Rojo. He even brought Donald Trump into the mix of comments.

Rojo was born in Mexico and has taught Spanish language and literature at the college since 2008. I generally favor faculty governance in such cases and look at denials by presidents with a fair degree of skepticism. In this case, there appeared to be ample support for Rojo’s tenure among his colleagues. However, many presidents insist that they only way to improve their schools is to force higher standards through tenure decisions.

In fairness to Rojo, he had solid publications and what was described as a promising field of research into “sex tourism.” He admitted that he had a rough start on teaching and it was the teaching that was cited by the President in her rejection of the tenure recommendation.

Rojo’s statements after the hunger strike were equally odd. He wrote on Facebook that “I wanted to make sure people understood that stopping was a decision consciously made rather than me simply giving up. Deciding to stop the hunger strike was an agonizing decision, more so than the decision to start. I still feel good, physically. Emotionally, I feel completely spent, particularly after we made the decision. I hope the attention the larger issue is getting can spark a discussion beyond Lafayette.”

The Board has not acted but did send a letter of concern to Rojo over his actions. In the meantime, Rojo said that he will be heading to his favorite local taqueria. He added:

“In honor of Donald Trump and those who took time to write me telling me I should be deported, and in the absence of any taco trucks in the area, my wife and some friends are meeting in my office at 10:00 and heading out to La Plaza for a taco de lengua. Just one for me but I am very much looking forward to it.”

By the way, tacos de lengua are beef tongue tacos. Taco trucks, tongues, tenure and Trump — not your everyday fare for academic disputes.

As for the short-lived hunger strike, Rojo insisted that “Emotionally, I am spent. The decision to suspend the hunger strike was agonizing. Even now, I am not convinced that it was not a mistake but I wanted to make a show of good faith.”

I am not sure that it was a good decision even if made in good faith. Many academics move on from bad tenure decisions to seek academic positions elsewhere. Moreover, it is not unheard of for such decisions to be reversed. However, going on hunger strikes over a difference over academic merit is not likely to improve one’s case. The best argument is to stand on your academic abilities rather than your fasting abilities to change minds on a tenure question.

15 thoughts on “Tenure, Tacos, and Trump: Lafayette College Professor Goes On Hunger Strike Over Tenure Denial

  1. On the other hand, his specialize knowledge may lead to completely new career in his very own travel agency.

    Nothing like entrepreneurs from other fields pioneering disruptive innovation.

    Bon voyage!

  2. A professor? This guy does not sound very bright. “I wanted to make a show of good faith.” How’s that? Maybe his protest was a joke and he’s happy to be back at his landscaping job.

  3. So Professor Rojo decided to do a hunger strike in hopes of attaining tenure. Why not? The guy has taught at Lafayette for 8 years and apparently was tenure-track and subsequently denied at the end of his tenure — despite publications in academic journals. So that sub-tier loser school spun him along and then pulled out — they used and abused the guy. We are creating a nation of serfs who will never have any job security or benefits – whether it be in academia, manufacturing, etc —

    • So that sub-tier loser school

      US News ranks liberal arts colleges. The top 150 are schools with a certain amount of cachet and have competitive admissions. Lafayette’s composite ranking is #37, between Pitzer (of the Claremont Colleges) and Skidmore. The school is 190 years old and accepts only 30% of all applicants.

  4. I eat lengua tacos @ a taco stand in San Diego. They are superb. Where I grew up in CT. many bars had pickled lambs tongue as bar food. Also very good. Americans are too squemish about what they eat.

  5. “The Board has not acted”. That is a key statement. At good Universities there is always a fine balance between the powers of chairmen, deans, presidents and boards. I taught 30 years at Rice University. I am pretty sure that its Board would have taken up this case and acted if that Professor had petitioned the Board for a review of his case.

  6. Dieter, Rice is a great school. I had a sister who lived in Houston. She was accepted @ Rice to get her masters but chose the less expensive U of H. I love walking through campuses all around this great country. Rice is an oasis in chaotic Houston.

  7. I have never agreed with tenure, either at universities or at public schools. I am disappointed at the direction universities have taken, especially this emphasis on publishing junk. The vast, overwhelming majority of articles published in the Arts, for instance, are cited by exactly no one…ever. And the Sciences is churning out quantity over quality, too. They pick the most ridiculous topics at times. And of course there are the free speech debacles. It’s becoming a warehouse of safe spaces and political agendas instead of the pinnacle of higher learning and rigorous debate and thought.

    Somehow, the rest of the private sector seems to manage just fine with laws protecting employee’s rights.

    I had a high school teacher who would read a book all day in class and just gave us reading assignments out of the text book. Tenured. He just wasted our time.

  8. If he believes Trump wants him deported, does that mean he is an illegal alien?

    Also, for those who have been brainwashed to believe that opposing illegal immigration is racist, here is Bill Clinton talking about the severe impact of illegal immigration:

  9. Sorry about his employment problems.

    The thing about the arts and sciences faculty and the visual and performing arts faculties is that they have an obligation they no longer recognize: to be uplifting or to be gone. Several generations of faculty have turned the academic and arts faculties into sandboxes. Time to hit the eject button on most of them.

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