On a warm May night, over the din of rush hour traffic, Temple students and North Philadelphia residents said their parts for a professor they sought to defend. After almost two hours of preceding speeches, it was the professor’s turn to speak up.
The sun was setting over the corner of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Morgan Hall’s shadow loomed. Former African American studies professor Anthony Monteiro smiled, tightly grasping a microphone.
At the May 8 rally, he attributed his dismissal, the protest’s catalyst, as “retaliatory and revengeful” and said it “was not just at the hands of [College of Liberal Arts Dean] Teresa Soufas, but a man who I fought for, [African American studies chairman] Dr. Molefi Asante.”
A man in the crowd shouted “Uncle Asante,” while a few booed.
Princeton philosophy professor and activist Cornel West and CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill followed. After more student speeches and a demonstration blocking northbound traffic on Broad Street, the event was over.
A week later, so were final exams and the spring semester. About six weeks after that, on June 30, Monteiro’s one-year contract officially ended and has not been renewed despite the months of protest.
Protesters began their public efforts at the March 10 Board of Trustees meeting, flustering administrators who were unaware of Monteiro’s dismissal. After a sit-in at the offices, some administrators met with the protesters.
After talks between the protesters and the university stalled, the coalition of People Utilizing Real Power, Temple Democratic Socialists and other organizations protested weekly, asking for Monteiro’s reinstatement with tenure, firing Soufas and changing Temple’s relationship with the community.
“Protest is always the mechanism for social change, especially for powerful institutions,” Monteiro told The Temple News in an August interview.
Monteiro, 68, joined the African American studies department in 2002, he said, after 15 years as a tenured sociology professor at the University of the Sciences. Monteiro said then-chairman Nathaniel Norment promised him tenure at Temple. Monteiro had been re-hired on short contracts since then. When Norment retired in 2012, the faculty was tasked with finding a new chair, and Monteiro did not have tenure.
After protests and tension, Asante was eventually elected to chair of the department.
Monteiro said he started Fall 2013 often disagreeing with Asante, who would not let him chair dissertation committees, though Monteiro said he had before.
Asante did not respond to a request for comment.
Soufas told The Temple News in March that per university policy, non-tenured faculty could serve on dissertation committees, but not chair them.
In a May 12 post on his Facebook account, Asante said the department “had changed its academic direction” to a more Africological approach. He also said the department’s name would be changed to Africology.
Asante is best known for popularizing Afrocentricity, an ideology that shifts Africa and its people to center stage when considering history and culture.
In that same post, Asante accused “white leftists” of “trying to hijack the African American agenda” after hearing of the protest on May 8.
“I think that’s an outrageous mischaracterization of the event,” senior secondary education in social studies major and protest leader Walter Smolarek said.
Monteiro’s supporters considered him an expert on sociologist W.E.B. Dubois, though Asante disagreed in his Facebook posts, writing that Monteiro was “neither an authority on Dubois nor one interested in Dubois from a theoretical perspective.”
Soufas told The Temple News in March that study of Dubois was “not something [they] need now” since “the department is changing directions.”
Additionally, Asante wrote that a contracted professor “serves at the pleasure of the program; he is not tenured and is not even on a tenure track.”
Monteiro said the tenure process was “iffy and prone to corruption.”
In the past few months, the African American studies department has lost four professors: Monteiro, Maxwell Stanford Jr., Heather Ann Thompson and Iyelli Ichile, the undergraduate chairwoman who on August 11 announced she and her fiance found positions at Florida A&M University. She was scheduled to teach two classes at Temple: Introduction to African American Studies and African American Diaspora.
Paul-Winston Cange is concerned. A junior political science major who minors in African American studies, Cange helped lead the protests to reinstate Monteiro.
“I don’t know what’s going on in the department,” he said. “It’s confusing for a professor to leave three weeks before the semester starts.” He signed up for Ichile’s introductory class and needs it to graduate with his minor.
Asante also posted on Facebook that historian Kimani Nehusi agreed to come to Temple and join the department. He told The Temple News in September 2013 that the department needed “another four full-time faculty members, which we don’t have.”
Monteiro has continued with activism and teaching free or low-cost classes at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia. He said he will teach an urban studies course this year at the University of Pennsylvania with professor Andrew Lamas. The course is titled “Liberation and Ownership.”
“My expectation is that co-teaching with Dr. Monteiro will be one of the intellectual highlights of my pedagogical praxis,” Lamas wrote in an email. “And, for my students, I expect that this course will be one of their most memorable experiences at Penn.”
Joe Brandt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @JBrandt_TU.