Dr. Lupita Montoya

In 2016, Dr Lupita Montoya applied for promotion to Associate Professor with tenure. After being recommended by experts in her field, colleagues in her department, and by her department chair, Dr Montoya’s promotion was rejected by the Dean and tenure committee in the College of Engineering. She appealed the decision, and after a year of bureaucracy and an investigation, a system-wide tenure review panel recommended her case be re-evaluated. The CU administrators ignored this and upheld the denial of her tenure

 

Help us raise awareness about her story and demand CU Boulder reinstate and promote her to Associate Professor. Learn her story and find out how to get involved below.

Dr Lupita Montoya (left) and Lucile Buchanan (right) in a new art installation in the Fleming building at University of Colorado Boulder. The installation is by the Los Seis de Boulder Sculpture Project (project organizer: Jasmine Baetz). The project looked for people on campus (past and present) who symbolize resistance and transformation like Los Seis, and made their images on the same molds used for the sculpture in front of Temporary-Building 1.

Lucile Buchanan was the first African American woman to graduate from the CU Boulder campus in 1918. She was denied the right to walk at her own graduation and never returned to campus [1]. A whole century later, Dr Montoya is denied her tenure promotion. The University of Colorado Boulder has made little progress in the last 100 years, yet they continue to promote their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The University of Colorado lacks the moral authority to speak on DEI based on their continued assault on Dr. Montoya' career.

Who is Dr Lupita Montoya?

Dr Montoya is a first-generation scientist in the fields of aerosol science and indoor-air quality. Her research focuses on indoor-air quality and other environmental sources of health risks, and she frequently works closely with marginalized and often low-income communities. Dr Montoya works at the difficult intersection of science and community, and is heavily invested in improving the quality of life of those often neglected by science.

 

I think work [with underserved communities] is one way to bring more diversity into science. Many of us who come from underserved communities want to do science that matters to our communities. When you come from a community that doesn’t have a lot of privileges, doing science simply because it’s sexy or interesting is a luxury that many of us don’t care for. We want to produce something that can impact not only our communities but society overall. -- Lupita Montoya [2]

Dr Montoya’s research is well regarded by her peers, and she is recognized by the scientific community for her work with communities and for promoting research among BIPOC students [2,3]. She is a much needed champion of social and environmental justice in a university and field that are not racially diverse.

Some of Dr Montoya's recent research is a collaboration with nail salon owners and workers to quantify the long-term health risks workers face from chronic exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Colorado nail salons [4,5]. At first, Dr Montoya found nail salon owners were not eager to have their businesses tested for regulated VOCs, but Dr. Montoya’s connection to the community through first-generation students opened a few doors.

 

I ultimately had several undergraduate students, all of them first generation, on the [nail salon] project. None of them had done research, but they had a personal interest in the work. They have connections to the nail salon industry. And that’s how we started. -- Lupita Montoya [2]

 

After finding elevated levels of VOCs in multiple Colorado nail salons, Dr Montoya's team studied the most effective ways to remove VOCs from the air, and her team collaborated with local artist Camila Friedman-Gerlicz to create a prototype VOCs absorbing art piece. In the future, art pieces like these could help nail salon owners keep their workers safe in a tasteful and practical fashion. [2].

Community-based air quality research like this is the norm for Dr Montoya. Beyond measuring and moving to improve the air quality in nail salons, she has done work to measure and improve air quality in the Navajo nation [6], as well as in Latino homes in Boulder, CO [7]. Most recently, Dr Montoya has written about methods to increase diversity in the environmental engineering discipline through the community-based research she champions [8]. Dr Montoya has dedicated her life to science, teaching, and environmental and social justice. Her work addresses health inequalities in air quality that we are now observing through the COVID-19 pandemic. Help spread Dr Montoya's story and tell the University of Colorado administration to reinstate her as a tenured professor.

Dr Lupita Montoya at the University of Colorado Boulder. The photo was taken by CU for their 2018 “I Look Like An Engineer” campaign, and was used campus-wide after CU denied Dr Montoya tenure. 

Injustices in Dr Montoya's Tenure Review

In January 2010, Dr Montoya was hired in the Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) department in the College of Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder as an Assistant Professor. Dr Montoya is the first Latina faculty in the college’s 125+ year history. In 2016, she applied for promotion to Associate Professor with tenure, and after being recommended by experts in her field, colleagues in her department, and by her department chair, her promotion was rejected by the Dean and tenure committee in the College of Engineering [9-13].

 

Disagreement between the department and administration is rare in the tenure review process. For example, when Dr JoAnn Silverstein chaired the CEAE department, she oversaw 30 tenure review cases. Only five out of these 30 resulted in disagreement between the department and the college/dean. Four of these cases were for the promotion of a woman [12]. Furthermore, the only other underrepresented minority woman in the College of Engineering before Dr Montoya, was a Black faculty member who was let go at the evaluation prior to tenure. The tenure review committee in the College of Engineering at CU has had a long history of biases against women faculty.

 

After her promotion was rejected, Dr Montoya appealed to the Privilege & Tenure panel, who after a year of bureaucracy and investigation found that there was significant evidence of policy violations and bias in Dean Bobby Braun's assessments of external reviews to warrant a complete reevaluation [9-13]. A leaked letter from P&T panel chair, Dr Sarah Martin, to the Faculty Senate in the Spring of 2020 expressed Dr Martin’s concerns about the unfair policies that are effectively hurting the faculty at CU. Dr Martin also expressed concerns about proposed changes that will only make things worse for faculty. The CU administrators, however, ignored the P&T panel's findings. After a repeated appeal from Dr Montoya, Chancellor DiStefano upheld the denial of her tenure. [9-13]

 

Among other things, the panel found that Dean Bobby Braun gave overwhelming weight to Dr Montoya's only equivocal review letter, and completely discounted the letters from respected aerosol science experts as "not scholarly" or "not peer" [12]. Ironically, the aerosol scientists that CU is now boasting as the CU “experts” helping them deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, are less accomplished than those that recommended Dr. Montoya’s tenure. This egregious infringement of academic freedom is one of the most offensive assaults perpetrated by the CU administration. Non-scientists have stripped legitimate scholars of their credentials to deny the only Latinx female faculty in the college's history her promotion. This is extreme disregard for an entire scientific community and they have taken notice.

While Chancellor DiStefano has repeatedly defended the academic freedom of visiting conservative “scholar” John Eastman, who has levied conspiracy theories against Vice-President Kamala Harris and spread conspiracy theories about election fraud before the attempted coup on January 6, 2021 [14], DiStefano has not bothered to answer publicly about his disregard for the academic freedom of Dr Montoya. More egregious was the Chancellor's refusal to follow the recommendations of the P&T committee and conduct a new evaluation, essentially denying Dr Montoya a salary. Eastman, however, has been collecting a salary in spite of all his offenses.

These actions are definitely affecting the opinion that scholars and others have about the University of Colorado’s claims on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In the Black Lives Matter era, these actions will not go unnoticed.

How can you help?

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  1. A century later, CU officially remembers Lucile, Colorado Arts and Sciences Magazine.

  2. Drahl, Carmen. "A Conversation with Lupita Montoya." (2019): 1106-1107.

  3. Aerosol Scientist in the Spotlight in the Spring 2020 American Association for Aerosol Research Newsletter 

  4. Nail salon workers suffer chemical exposures that can be like working at a garage or a refinery, The Conversation

  5. Lamplugh, Aaron, et al. "Occupational exposure to volatile organic compounds and health risks in Colorado nail salons." Environmental Pollution 249 (2019): 518-526.

  6. Champion, W. M., et al. "Perception, culture, and science: A framework to identify in-home heating options to improve indoor air quality in the Navajo Nation." Science of the Total Environment 580 (2017): 297-306.

  7. Escobedo, Luis E., et al. "Indoor air quality in Latino homes in Boulder, Colorado." Atmospheric Environment 92 (2014): 69-75.

  8. Montoya, Lupita D., et al. "Environmental Engineering for the 21st Century: Increasing Diversity and Community Participation to Achieve Environmental and Social Justice." Environmental Engineering Science (2020).

  9. Latina Engineer Denied Tenure at the University of Colorado Boulder, Latino Rebels

  10. A Latina Engineer Fights For A Review of Her Tenure Case, Diverse

  11. Latina Research Associate Alleges Tenure Blocking Discrimination at CU, KGNU News

  12. Latina-ex CU Boulder professor pursuing EEOC complaint over tenure denial, Daily Camera

  13. Former CU Boulder professor’s lawsuit alleges race, sex discrimination, Daily Camera

  14. Eastman Out, Inside Higher Ed

Watch Dr. Montoya present her research at Michigan State University.