The Continuing Saga of Africana Studies at Cornell University

This summer Kent Fuchs, provost at Cornell University, issued a statement affirming a decision he made last December that the leaders of the Africana Studies and Research Center would report to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, rather than directly to the office of the provost. Robert L. Harris Jr., professor of history at Cornell, resigned as director of the center in protest of Fuchs’ decision.

In a recent statement, Peter Lepage, the Howard Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that in the search for someone to replace Dr. Harris he was unable to find “a faculty member who was willing to serve and was acceptable to a substantial majority of the Africana faculty, and we believe faculty enthusiasm is critical to long-term leadership.” A member of the faculty at Cornell told JBHE that a slim majority of the Africana studies faculty proposed a new director but that choice was apparently not acceptable to the dean.

David R. Harris

Now Dean Lepage, has named two senior associate deans of the College of Arts and Sciences as co-directors of the center for at least the 2011-12 academic year. Elizabeth Adkins Reagan, a professor of psychology, and David R. Harris, a professor of sociology, will direct the center in addition to their other roles.

Dean Lepage stated that he is looking to hire three to five additional faculty members in Africana studies. He also affirmed his commitment to establishing a Ph.D. program in the field. Dr. Lepage said, “Once we have made substantial progress in hiring and curriculum development, we will begin the process of identifying future departmental leadership.”

A group of alumni of the center issued a statement calling the actions taken as “regressive and colonial in nature.” The statement said that the current leadership was placing “the Africana Center under an externally appointed administrative regime.”

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