Saidiya Hartman, professor of English and comparative literature, has been appointed to University Professor. Only 17 other faculty members hold the distinction—Columbia’s highest academic honor—that allows them to set their own instruction schedules and teach across schools and departments.
In last week’s announcement to the University, President Lee Bollinger wrote, “The title of University Professor is a rare distinction. It reflects on all of us, for what we value and seek to achieve every day within the academy.”
Currently, Hartman is the only Black University Professor. Academic ranks have long been the subject of criticism for failing to uphold academia’s alleged shift toward diversity and inclusion. In fact, the number of full-time Black faculty members at Columbia has been steadily declining since 2005, despite the University’s $185 million spent in faculty diversity initiatives over the past 15 years.
Hartman joined Columbia facility in 2007 with over a decade of experience teaching in English and African-American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
As a literary scholar and cultural historian, Hartman examines the lives of Black Americans through the unrelenting violence—including denied access to health care and education, incarceration, and impoverishment—that has systemically persisted through the emancipation era.
Hartman’s “critical fabulation” approach to archival research—which combines historical and fictional accounts—re-imagines the narratives of Black women throughout American history. Hartman highlights the attempts of these women to create lives within a society that denies their membership.
“History pledges to be faithful to the limits of fact, evidence, and archive. … I wanted to write a romance that exceeded the fictions of history,” Hartman wrote in a 2008 essay.
Hartman has been named a Fulbright, Rockefeller, Whitney Oates scholar and most recently was the recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant in 2019.