Acclaimed Liberian Writer Makes “Full Professor” at Penn State University

By J. Lisa Lumeh

Dr. Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, a Liberian creative writer and professor of 32 years, who believes in molding young people for a prosperous society, was recently promoted as “full professor” at the Pennsylvania State (Penn State) University in the United States after a two-year scrutiny of her credentials and literary works.

Dr. Wesley has taught at the undergraduate level at Penn State Altoona for 15 years. “I teach creative writing and literature to an institution with about 5000 students. Penn State is one of the largest single institutions in the U.S.,” she said.

According to her, there are two committees responsible for promotion, including the College and Campus committees, approved by the campus wide committee.

Prior to her promotion, Dr. Wesley said one of the things the institution looks for in a person, is that you are continuously doing well by working on your scholarship and research, and doing things that a university professor does.

“In some places, university professors just go to work and teach, but in an institution like Penn State, university professors are constantly learning how to do things like going to conferences, presenting papers, writing, publishing your work and being invited.  For this reason, Penn State sees me as a leader. That is, I am constantly in demand,” she bragged.

For Penn State and most top institutions in the world, according to Dr. Wesley, when you are tenured as an Associate Professor; you have to do exceptional work in publishing, research and in teaching, and it usually takes some process. “You should have enough publication that will warrant that promotion.

My university purchased at least 15 copies of each of my books to send to 10 scholars worldwide, who have never met me,” she added.

Dr. Wesley, “I was tenured in 2011 and after some years, I published four collections of poetry in hundreds of magazines and anthologies, internationally in Africa and America.” In doing so, “you become a distinctive faculty that gets extra niche to become a full time professor.”

To be elevated to a new position, especially a full professor, Dr. Wesley said one goes through a certain kind of evaluation. Meaning that, you have to do something significant outside the university for the larger cause of the university.

“When you enter a university, you get evaluated every year by the students. But in your second year, the institution initiates a major evaluation which will evaluate your teaching, scholarship and creativity, adding that they review the kind of work you put out, who has viewed and given it a high rank and how much impact is it making in the world.”

As an expert in African Literature, Dr. Wesley noted that one thing the institution values is your demand as a scholar.

“Penn State has identified me as an expert in my field. That means, worldwide, people know me as a ‘go to’ when they want to talk about African Literature and teaching as a professor.”

For Dr. Wesley, the review process could not hinder her promotion because she had published in all kinds of anthologies, journals from Spanish America to Europe. And just before the promotion, she said a memoir about her experience with the Liberian civil war article came up and the Harvard Divinity School published it simultaneously in a book.

She counted “racism” as one of her biggest challenges as a professor teaching in U.S. universities; stating that, for Africans to be recognized, they have to work ten times harder than others do.

“The challenges in teaching in America are racism and discrimination. It is a very ingrate culture. For you to even get a job you deserve, you have to fight.

“When you’re teaching, a lot of the students are conditioned to disregard people of color. If you don’t believe in yourself, it is hard to succeed. But one of the things that many Americans who are prejudiced understand is expertise.”

As service to the university, Dr. Wesley said she has formed part of organizations that support education internationally. For example, the Liberia Studies Association (LSA); African Studies Association — ASA (an association of professors that teach African studies); African Literature Association (ALA); and the Modern Language Association (MLA).

These, Dr. Wesley says, are international organizations that have members all over the world.

The MLA is the largest of all associations and “I have served one time for five years on the executive committee. It is a scholarly association of professionals not only in education but in languages.”

Before moving to the US, Dr. Wesley taught the University of Liberia from 1980-1990 as an assistant professor in English. She mentioned Dr. Sawyer as one of the people who advised her to be a professor. “He mentored and encouraged me to become a college professor,” she said.

Dr. Wesley said she was teaching part time until she got her PhD. “After finishing my PhD at the Western Michigan University, I was hired by the university full time as a “visiting assistant professor.”

“My first job, due to all kinds of racist traits, a lot of Universities were after me and I had people who were supposed to send my letter of references. They messed them up because they wanted to give the job to others.

The chances I had were gone because of systemic racism (racism that is embedded in the system that opens the doors for white people and keeps the doors closed when black people are coming). Sometimes, white people don’t know they are doing that and black people don’t realize it,” she said.

Dr. Wesley has been invited to read at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art, the Library of Congress, Ford Foundation in New York City, London Poetry Festival and at dozens of other universities in the U.S. and around the world.

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