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New Study Forewarns of Major Turnover in Black Studies Programs

The two regions with the smallest Black populations — the East and West — have the most Black studies degree-granting institutions, according to a new census that also forewarns of major turnover in Black studies departments.

There are at least 311 Black studies programs in the nation, and there is “dynamic growth” in the number of institutions that offer advanced study in the discipline, according to a study conducted by Dr. Abdul Alkalimat, a professor of sociology and the director of Africana studies at the University of Toledo.

The report, “Africana Studies in the U.S.,” recently released at the annual conference of the National Council of Black Studies, provides an empirical summary of the current state of Black/Africana studies.

“This is a way for people to have a factual database for understanding the field,” Alkalimat says. “Later we will be able to use this as a baseline, so that we can replicate this study in a year or two. We will then be able to actually measure whether or not there are programs in decline or they are holding ground or are they increasing.”

The degree breakdown of the 311 programs is the following:











Students can also minor in Black studies at 88 schools. The schools in the “other” category offer certificates or Black studies as a concentration.

The study found that the two regions with the smallest Black populations — the East and West — have the most Black studies degree-granting institutions because of the leading roles that California and New York play in those regions. However, there are nine states — Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming — that do not have colleges offering a degree in the discipline, according to the study.

Even though those states all have miniscule Black populations, Alkalimat says the flagship public universities in the states should still offer at least a minor in Black studies.

“The question is not so much are you serving a natural constituency, but students who come out of every state play a role in terms of statewide, regional and national public policy,” he says.

The study also found that about 83 percent of the 311 Black studies programs have names that connect with the African diaspora. Of the programs that use the term “ethnic,” in their name, 57 percent are in either California or New York. This figure “demonstrates that where the percentage of Blacks and Latinos are high they have tended to unite and create programs that allow space for both,” Alkalimat says.

Karanja Carroll, a lecturer in Black studies at State University of New York at New Paltz, attended the NCBS conference and calls the report a huge contribution to the discipline.

“Now when people want to critique the discipline and say that we are losing programs, we can defend the discipline using the empirical data that was provided in this report,” she says. “Since we have these numbers and we know where the programs are, the next step is a content analysis of the curriculum of these numerous programs. So we can begin to establish some consistency in the discipline.”

Alkalimat also reported that that the founding generation of Black studies scholars are retiring or about to retire. The study found that over the next 10 years, there will likely be a 20 to 30 percent faculty turnover.

“So Ph.D. programs are gearing up to train people,” Alkalimat says. “And the people who will fill those positions will be the first generation to be trained in Black studies. So this is an exciting new development.”

These senior faculty members are about to hand over the discipline to young scholars, as Black studies enters what the report describes as its third stage.

The first stage was a social movement that gave birth to the discipline. In the second stage, Black studies became an academic profession, and now in the third stage the discipline is using information technology to become a knowledge network in terms of collaboration, production and globalization.

One of the third stage’s mechanisms is AFRO-AM, the largest listserve for Black studies, which Alkalimat edits.

“People are finding each other on this list,” Alkalimat says. “In other words, a topic would come up that is relatively obscure and 10 or 15 people who are interested in that topic, but didn’t know each other, begin sharing information leading to collaboration. So it is in that sense that I am saying that this is the knowledge network stage; that is the stage in which we can use information technology to really transform the field.”

Ultimately, Alkalimat says he is trying to share the report with as many Black studies scholars as possible.

“What we want to do is create a tradition of knowledge on the discipline that’s based on empirical research and not just ideology,” he says. “The basis on which people of differing ideologies can unite is upon empirical research.”

–Ibram Rogers


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