By Neal Casey
I first learned about Dr. Boyce Watkins watching my favorite news program, The O’Reilly Factor, a few years ago.
I was not yet a student here, but had plans to attend and was very excited about the prospect of admission into the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Imagine my surprise when watching O’Reilly one night that his famous “Talking Points” segment involved the very institution in which I wished to enroll. Naturally excited and intrigued to see my school mentioned on such a highly acclaimed news program, I listened intently as O’Reilly lambasted the school for lack of academic standards and failing to come out against one of their own professors, Boyce Watkins.
I’m sure you can imagine an 18-year-old high school senior about to leave home to attend what he thought was a premier institution of higher learning, and then learning that Syracuse’s academic standards were under attack. I began to do my own research on the subject, listening to the radio clip of O’Reilly talk about his visit to Sylvia’s in Harlem, watching the YouTube clip of Dr. Watkins on CNN, etc.
By now most of us know what happened. O’Reilly took some heat for his description of his trip, black author and journalist Juan Williams defended O’Reilly, and Dr. Watkins referred to Juan Williams as O’Reilly’s “happy negro.” Immediately I began to wonder what Dr. Watkins’ problem was with the issue. There was no racism in O’Reilly’s description; he was merely showing that the primarily black patronage at Sylvia’s didn’t play into the “rapper stereotype.” I found it exceptionally questionable that Watkins would insult a respected man like Juan Williams implying that he can’t think for himself and he is just there to support O’Reilly.
When watching the clip of The Factor producer chase down Chancellor Cantor in front of Newhouse III I was happy to see the Chancellor distance herself and the university from the issue and still protect Watkins’ right to freedom of speech. While I would have liked to have seen the University take a firm stance against Watkins’ comments, I can respect Cantor’s decision.
As things calmed down from the incident I realized that Watkins was very similar to people such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, who have made their careers out of issues on race. But what seemed strange to me was that many of these “issues of race” weren’t really issues of race at all. They had launched themselves forward in their careers by seeking out racism and exploiting race to make a name for them.
My suspicions about Watkins were confirmed this fall. I received an email from him regarding a case happening in Kennett, Missouri. This email had been sent to many students and provided information on a case involving a young black female named Heather Ellis.
So the story goes that Ms. Ellis and her cousin were at a local Wal-Mart and had split up into different lines. Upon seeing that her cousin’s line was moving faster, Ellis left her own and cut in front of the other customers. Ellis then proceeded to push another customer’s items off the conveyor belt and replace them with her own. Her outburst prompted a call to the manager and eventually after more outbursts a call to the police. Ellis was then asked to leave the premises and eventually assaulted a police officer and resisted arrest. A conviction on the charges would have sent her to prison for 15 years. Watkins had lent his support to Ms. Ellis and used his organization, Your Black World, to enlist the support of others.
After receiving this email I knew I had to do some more research on the case and as I suspected the email was very biased. Watkins was claiming that Ellis was in this situation based on race when clearly no race issue existed. This was a woman who was rude, got out of control, and now had to suffer the consequences of her actions (something we’ll get to later).
I encourage you to check YouTube for the security tapes to judge for yourself. Heather Ellis ended up taking a plea deal and pled guilty.
With regards to Watkins’ tenure at this University the point isn’t whether he was right or wrong on this case, it’s that he exploited his position at Syracuse University to enlist support for his radically liberal racial agenda. Many students that I have spoken with were upset with Watkins’ use of their email addresses to attempt to gain support for his cause through a radically biased email.
So let’s focus some more on the issue of tenure at hand for Dr. Watkins. Just as he did in the Heather Ellis case, Dr. Watkins is screaming racism as a reason why he did not receive tenure last May. I think all of us who attend SU know of the University’s commitment to diversity and that racism would be the last reason that Dr. Watkins would receive tenure. He complains that there isn’t any tenured faculty in the Whitman School, yet the Dean of the Whitman School is black.
If I had to venture a guess or if it was up to me, I’d deny Watkins tenure solely based on his performance as a teacher.
While SU has looked to position itself as a premiere institution for research, I don’t know any undergraduate student on campus who believes that professors shouldn’t teach so that they can continue their research. In a 2007 interview with The Daily Orange, Dr. Watkins admitted that teaching is a very low priority to him.
That has become very apparent in the last semester. I spoke with two students who requested anonymity in this piece for fear of repercussions regarding their grades in his course. Both students recall taking a test on the same subject twice because Watkins failed to teach any new material in between the exams. They claim that Watkins consistently wastes class time, and subsequently students’ precious tuition dollars, showing videos of himself on TV that have little to do with the topic of the class. One student even outright stated that he, “wasted his tuition money on the course.”
Research and race aside, this is not the type of professor that we want or need at Syracuse University. I find it very disheartening that a man who is supposed to be a leader in his community has refused to accept responsibility for his actions. He is blaming his failure to receive tenure on race and placing the blame on the likes of Chancellor Cantor and Provost Eric Spina when the blame should be placed nowhere but on himself. Does Watkins want to project an image that if things don’t go your way you can always pull the “race card?” Watkins does not deserve the support of this University, nor its students.
In fact, we as students should stand up and offer our support to Syracuse University. We want professors who focus on their research AND their teaching. Those are the types of professors that deserve tenure and those are the types of professors we want to learn from.
Neal Casey is a member of the Class of 2012 and the founder and writer of the political commentary blog “The Salty Orange.” It can be found at thesaltyorange.blogspot.com. Neal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.