More than two years after the Black studies program at the University of Arkansas was left forgotten with the death of its director, the school has revived it with hopes of pushing for a more diverse student population.
Charles F. Robinson II, a history professor and the program’s director, says the program will need more than its current $60,000 annual budget to be successful, though.
“I’d like for us to be a leader in this regard. I’d like to think that as a flagship university, we should lead in these types of pursuits,” Robinson says. “I cannot think of any other program that would say more about the university’s commitment to furthering the diversity of this campus.”
At Fayetteville, Blacks are the largest campus minority group, with 982 students. They make up 5.5 percent of the student body, while Blacks make up 15.6 percent of the state population.
Dr. Bob Smith, the university’s provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, says he’s committed to making the Black studies program a success. He says the program’s startup budget this academic year was just a down payment.
“I would hope that no one would get terribly discouraged,” he says. “In time, we’ll find ways of adding people.”
The program amounts to a minor in Black studies. Sixteen courses are offered. Students must complete 18 credit hours, or six courses. The core courses cover Black history in the United States, the peoples and cultures of sub-Saharan Africa and Americans who are members of minority groups.
The program has no full-time faculty and only a few courses are taught each semester. There’s no permanent meeting room for the six-member faculty committee that guides the program. For his part, Robinson meets with students in his office on the fifth floor of Old Main.
Eleven students were enrolled in the Black studies program in the fall semester. Most of them were Black.
Robinson says he would like the university to eventually offer Black studies as a major, to hire three to four professors for the program, to designate office space for it, and to attract students of all races and ethnic backgrounds to the study.
The University of Central Arkansas in Conway offers a major in Black studies, as do a few universities in the Southeastern Conference, including Louisiana State University, Vanderbilt and the universities of Mississippi and South Carolina.
The Fulbright College has five other programs that focus on geographic areas or peoples: Asian studies, European studies, Middle East and Islamic studies, Latin American studies and Russian studies.
The university initiated the Black studies program in 1969. Nudie Williams, a history professor, led the program for several years. When Williams died in July 2003, only a couple of students were in the program, Robinson says. The director’s position was vacant for a year after Williams’ death. Last summer, Robinson was asked to invigorate the program.
Fulbright College Dean Don Bobbitt acknowledges Robinson’s concerns.
“We were able to supply resources to get this off the ground. We hardly have started,” he says. “The program will grow if it develops a successful track record.”
— Associated Press
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