President Obama has nominated Dr. Dana A. Williams, chair of the Department of English at Howard University, to serve as a member of the National Council on the Humanities.
Williams, an expert in contemporary African-American literature, is also the past president of the College Language Association — an organization founded in 1937 by a group of Black scholars, educators, and college teachers of English and foreign languages.
The author of numerous books and articles, Williams has been a visible presence at Howard for more than two decades, first as a doctoral student and later as a tenured faculty member. She has been chair of the Department of English since 2009.
“Dana Williams is a master teacher, a scholar of the first rank and a master administrator,” said Dr. Greg Carr, associate professor and chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard. “This nomination announcement is a testament to her transformational intellectual and administrative work in the highest valences of both Black academia and the overall American academy relative to the humanities.”
Carr said that Williams’ work at Howard has made important connections between the humanities and the African intellectual traditions from classical Africa to the present.
“She brought that focus to her term as leader of the College Language Association, injecting it with a renewed focus on teaching and publishing in the best of our intellectual traditions,” said Carr. “Dana Williams, who was trained at a public HBCU and leads the humanities at the nation’s premier private HBCU, is the perfect representative for connecting heretofore unassembled streams across the American humanities landscape.”
Williams’ nomination still has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
This is not the first time that Obama has tapped Howard University faculty to either serve in his administration or on independent federal agencies that award grants. In 2013, Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, an associate professor of counseling psychology at Howard, was selected to serve as deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He was later promoted to director following the death of Dr. George Cooper and stepped down earlier this year to return to teaching at Howard and serving as president and CEO of The Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network.
The National Council on the Humanities is an advisory board to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the federal agency that awards grants. The 26 members of the council make recommendations on grant applications and advise the chairman. The members each serve a six-year term.
If Williams is confirmed, she will join several other prominent scholars, including Dr. Gerald L. Early, director of the Center for Humanities and the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis.
At Howard, Dr. James J. Davis, associate dean for the humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that Williams’ nomination to the council is significant.
“It is an honor that one of our faculty/administrators is recognized in such a meaningful manner. It speaks to Dr. Williams’ relentless and tremendous efforts to keep the importance of the humanities in the major dialogues about education and curriculum reform,” said Davis.
“On another level, her nomination is momentous because it will secure representation from an HBCU. Dr. Williams is especially qualified to advise on issues related to African-American literature and culture and to the humanities at large,” he added, pointing out that her nomination coincides with the opening activities of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.