Framework for Progress on African-American Studies

It’s finals week, and students are working hard to finish up their projects and study for exams. Still, on Monday about 100 very engaged students made the effort to express their strong concern about the current state of the African-American Studies program. They made the excellent point that a strong program is important for the health of the university. I have also heard from faculty and alumni, as have a number of trustees, the deans and the provost.

There are long-term issues and short-term ones. In the short-term, Academic Affairs has already been working on replacements for two wonderful professors in Af-Am who are leaving (one to Yale, the other to Harvard, alas). These replacements will be visitors who will ensure that we have classes staffed for the coming year. I have also talked with Academic Affairs about two hires on a more permanent basis. We will accelerate the plans to search for a tenure-track (or tenured) professor in African-American studies in global context whose research is in the social sciences. That search will get underway as soon as possible. After filling this first position, we will begin a second search for another social science scholar whose work in Af-Am complements that of the first hire.

While these searches are underway, the provost, deans and I will be talking with faculty across the curriculum whose teaching and research is relevant to African-American studies from a variety of post-national and diasporic perspectives. We have real strength in these areas, and we should tap into it more fully. Indeed, I will be talking with Wesleyan professors who have had shared responsibilities in the past and inviting some to devote their efforts full-time to AFAM in coming years. We will also ensure that the Center for African American Studies can play an important role in bringing some of the most interesting scholars to campus from a variety of fields. This will inform our search process as well as bring powerful intellectual benefit to campus.

We have a challenging but also rewarding endeavor before us, and we will count on the help of key leaders in this area like Professors Lois Brown and Ashraf Rushdy to help us in maintaining a strong curriculum, mentoring students in the program, and conducting successful searches.

Together, we can build a program that will be defined by inspired teaching, advanced research and compelling creative practice.