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Penn State DEI official chastises activists for critique of husband

Top DEI advisor did not mention marriage to dean she defended

A top “diversity, equity and inclusion” official at Pennsylvania State University recently denounced activists who criticized decisions made by her husband in relation to the African-American studies department and DEI efforts.

Professor Jennifer Hamer, who teaches in the African-American studies department herself, took issue with a letter from six graduating students published in the Daily Collegian. She did not disclose her marriage to the dean of the College of the Liberal Arts whom she praised for doing good work to advance the department.

Hamer (pictured) is also the interim associate vice provost for educational equity and advises President Neeli Bendapudi on DEI issues, a role she also held when both of them were at the University of Kansas where the president served as a provost and vice chancellor.

“We strongly oppose the dean’s office’s recent choice to break its promise to fund new tenure-track faculty hiring lines in the AFAM department that would sustain Black studies scholarship at Penn State,” the students wrote in the campus newspaper. The dean of the College of Liberal Arts is Clarence Lang, an African-American studies professor and the husband of Professor Hamer.

Only one of the six signers is a major in the department. They also criticized Lang (pictured) for being supportive of nixing a planned Center for Racial Justice.

The April 28 letter came soon after Professor Michael West resigned as chair of the department, though he remains on the faculty. West criticized the university for not filling open professor positions in the department after several resignations.

Hamer responded to the students in a three-page letter that accused them of making “false claims” about the funding of the African American studies department made by West.

“In terms of the department’s operating budget there has been further substantial investment, not disinvestment,” Hamer wrote. “For example, the department has had a steady increase in its operating budget. This includes an enhancement for faculty travel for research and conferences — which supports their career development and facilitates promotion,” she wrote.

The letter also detailed plans to hire more faculty and other achievements of the department and College of Liberal Arts. Hamer praised the head of the college, without mentioning that she is married to him.

“I hope that you will appreciate the facts offered in this private correspondence as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of a liberal arts education to you,” she wrote. She also encouraged them to consider the “impact” their letter would have “on the people who are  the College of Liberal Arts” and on other students. She emphasized the word “are” in her letter.

The associate dean of the college took a different approach.

“About four hours after Hamer sent her Tuesday email, the associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of the Liberal Arts — Richard Page — sent the students a significantly shorter email that adopted a much softer tone,” the Centre Daily reported. “In 150 words, he invited the students to reach out if they were interested in having a conversation.”

MORE: What good are African American studies departments?


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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.