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In Good Company

Like many media outlets last year, Black Issues followed the story of the departures of popular Harvard professors Cornel West and Kwame Anthony Appiah to Princeton University.

As time went on, the question seemed to be whether Harvard’s Afro-American studies chairman Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. would remain at Harvard or perhaps follow his longtime colleagues to Princeton. To date, Gates has said he plans to stay on at Harvard. This academic year, he’s attending the Institute for Advanced Study based in Princeton, N.J.

Over the past year, however, Gates and his colleagues have been busy expanding their department, bringing the long neglected and under-resourced African studies under its wing, establishing the university’s African American and African studies department. Expanding African American studies into the larger department has the full support of the Harvard faculty and administration. Some speculate the move was damage control for the university after West’s controversial meeting with Harvard president Dr. Lawrence Summers and eventual departure. Others say Harvard is playing catch up compared to other top-tier universities that have long had African studies departments and or combined African American and African studies departments. Whatever the impetus or rationale behind the restructuring, it can benefit the students and the university’s reputation to scholars in Black studies disciplines.

Still, some Harvard professors say they found it frustrating that historically there seemed to be no interest on behalf of the administration to establish an African studies department in years past, even though students expressed a clear interest in taking courses on Africa. As there are less than 50 African American studies programs at U.S. colleges and universities that actually offer a degree in the field, it is a frustration that many Black studies scholars are familiar with — the desire to achieve departmental status and all that comes with it. Read Ronald Roach’s article “Harvard’s New Chapter in Black Studies” to find out how the university’s department has expanded and refocused and meet some of the new scholars in the department.

In addition, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Ivy League institution that attracted West and Appiah — Princeton University. Though Princeton’s African American studies has program, rather than departmental status, it has its own all-star lineup. Kendra Hamilton speaks with program director Dr. Valerie Smith and pioneering historian Dr. Nell Painter about the particular challenges programs face in contrast to academic departments as well as the challenges unique to Black studies disciplines.

Kendra also provides an update on the ongoing dispute between Lincoln University and the Barnes Foundation (see Black Issues, July 17) — as it appears they have reached an agreement that both sides can live with.

Lastly, Black Issues correspondent David Hefner in “Changing Frequency” takes a look at how a few Black college radio stations have restructured and reformatted. The stations are attracting more listeners and getting a much-needed image boost with the addition of more informative programming and
increased community visibility.


Hilary Hurd Anyaso

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