Dr. Bidegain's tenure at FIU sign now

In this letter, we intend to express our profound disagreement with the arguments supporting your recent decision not to grant tenure to Dr. Ana Marнa Bidegain.

Referring to enrollment quantities in Dr. Bidegains classes your letter states:

These [low] enrollments also raise questions about whether students choose not to register for these courses, or whether there is not sufficient student interest to support the area of study.

We judge this statement to be highly problematic on many grounds. Its sweeping generalization obscures the fact that not all her courses have had the same alleged low level of enrollment. Furthermore, on common sense grounds, we estimate that it may take some reasonable time for newer courses to attract large numbers of students, which does not determine the value of said studies. Most importantly, the signers of this letter do not accept your explanation that Dr. Bidegains area of study denotes insufficient student interest. The students who undersign this letter are not hypothetical, but real FIU students. For many of us the area of study in question is not only interesting, but also vitally important and highly relevant.

In the short span of time that Dr. Bidegain has taught at FIU, many students have benefited greatly from her mentorship. Several students have developed theses on religion in Latin America and among Latin American migrants to the U.S. for whom Dr. Bidegains expertise has been centrally important. These researches are very relevant in contemporary academia and particularly important in view of the dynamic field of Inter-American relations. Those of us who are aware of the peculiar character of the Miami area as a living bridge (cultural, religious, ethnic, economic, political) between the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean, would judge as a major mistake the marginalization of Dr. Bidegains area of study.

We perceive a dangerous corollary in the consequences that you seem to draw from quantitative evidence. The importance of an area of study in a university such as FIU should not be determined by formulae analogous to the free market offer-and-demand economic mechanism. According to such criteria, we could expect that at some point in the future Mathematics may also be threatened by its lack of popularity among students. Some objective criteria evaluating the inherent value of areas of study should weigh in determining their relevance in the curriculum! In this regard, the importance of Latin American religious history in our geographical area and for our student population, and the great opportunities for related research in Miami should count. Some areas of study that are important will attract fewer numbers of students. There is factual evidence that more people choose to study Accounting than those who choose to study Philosophy. This does not make Philosophy discardable.

Your argument makes us wonder whether our authorities at FIU consider the cultural background of Latin America irrelevant or second rate, not at the same level as other sub-fields in the study of religion. This possibility is appalling, considering the potential of this area in Miami. Even on pragmatic grounds, the kind of material that Dr. Bidegain teaches, and the directions of research that she promotes, would contribute much to the reputation of FIU. We could compete with major universities in areas such as Migration and Latin American religion, given the cultural characteristics of our geographical location.

In your letter, you also state the following:

I do not believe that Professor Bidegain is adequately invested in the teaching enterprise to warrant tenure. Although research is a necessary condition for tenure, it is not sufficient. A faculty member must play a prominent role in the overall teaching mission of the department.

We do not understand what the vague expression adequately invested in the teaching enterprise means. Dr. Bidegain has been a teacher for most of her adult life and recognized as such by several prestigious universities.

Some of the strengths of Dr. Bidegains teaching style at FIU include the following:

- Her courses present a balance between the general objectives of courses, survey materials, good background sources, and at the same time stimulate research in topics of personal interest to the students.
- With much pedagogical wisdom, the courses contribute to develop the potentials and strengths of individual students, taking into account each persons particular cultural location as a good starting point for research.
- Her Research Methods class also stimulates students to go beyond personal interests and engage in research teamwork.
- Dr. Bidegain trusts in the potential of students and seeks to empower us by stimulating our strengths, while remaining critical of our deficiencies.
- Dr. Bidegain is involved in the concrete aspects of academic progress of the students. For instance, she directs students to sources, bibliographies, databases, scholars, courses, etc.
- Dr. Bidegain demonstrates great creativity in the design of new courses; always alert to the changing needs of learning vis-а-vis a dynamic academia and an even more dynamic world.
- Dr. Bidegains classes present students with the possibility of exploring history through a variety of media, such as art, film, music, literature, and intellectual essays by leading Latin American figures.
- Dr. Bidegain integrates the lessons of history with thematic units of interest today, such as gender perspectives, transnational processes, transformation of the religious landscape, etc.
- The courses stimulate inter-disciplinary approaches to the subject matters.
- Dr. Bidegains method of developing a research topic (leading up to a term paper) in three phases of the semester is very good as preparation for serious academic research and writing at the graduate level.
- Her courses make us aware of the uniqueness of this area in terms of ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Her emphasis on the topic of migration and religion in some of her courses has generated a variety of excellent preliminary researches covering many distinct groups and traditions that are present in Greater Miami.

The voluminous record of her achievements, distinctions, publications, research, and teaching experience amply demonstrates evidence of excellence in Dr. Bidegains academic trajectory. Many distinguished scholars in North American, European and Latin American universities could testify in favor of her merits.

We would also like to express our disapproval of your decision to close the Department of Religious Studies. In fact, some of the arguments put forth above apply to our criticism of the latter decision as well. This department plays a very important role promoting critical understanding of religion. In the past, the academic study of religion could pass as a scholarly luxury. In the contemporary panorama, the critical study of religion has shown itself to be an urgent need. Academia in the U.S. has moved forward with this awareness and expanded the institutionalization of the academic study of religion. FIU would be missing the opportunity to share in the expansion of this promising field by closing Religious Studies.

We hope our respectful criticism of your decision may be acknowledged.


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Karin ChristensenBy:
Politics and GovernmentIn:
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President FIU, Office of the Provost FIU


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