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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Endangered Africana Studies Program


In the summer of 2015, the Africana Studies Program, which has been unfunded until then, was promised funding. This was a hollow promise. Funds were simply reallocated from other departments affiliated with the Africana Studies Program. Because the Program has been used in the college’s self-promotion as a symbol of diversity and thus provided tangible benefits, this method of funding shows the exploitive attitude of the President and Dean of Faculty towards Africana Studies, and also reflected the general lack of institutional support for interdisciplinary departments and to faculty of color. A faculty member demanded equity and transparency in the funding process.

Up until the summer of 2015, Africana Studies Program has been listed in the College catalog as a program that has existed for more than fifteen years, but in reality has not been operational for over ten of those fifteen years, since it lacked a director and a curriculum in those years. No information regarding the Africana Studies Program’s budget was known and therefore not used to inform any current budgetary allowance.

During the summer of 2015, the Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion and the Director of Africana Studies were assured by the Dean of Faculty that money would be reallocated to fund Africana Studies but were never told exactly how that money would arrive.

In the fall of 2015, the Dean of Faculty sent out an email requesting a permanent re-allocation of funds from departments offering courses housed under the program instead of funding the program directly. The email from the Dean of Faculty asked departments in which faculty are affiliated with the Africana Studies program toreallocate—permanently, ideally—$200 of their operating budget to provide Africana Studies’ operating budget,” rather than providing the program its own budget - like every other program on campus has. No other program or department at the College has been funded through this kind of “diversity tax.” This plan reveals how the College perceived the Africana Studies program as, to quote one faculty member, “a charitable enterprise and the pet project of… invested colleagues” even as it continued to use Africana Studies to advertise its own diversity credentials.
This funding scheme was exposed only when chairs of some of the “donating” departments expressed concern about such a procedure. Even though a committee had completed an audit that would have made information about the procedure and results of college-wide funding readily available by fall 2015, the administration claims that the results of this audit have yet to be revealed due to a desire to allow the faculty to focus its energies on current efforts for curricular revision.
This lack of institutional support reflects a pattern of bias and exploitation in the name of the same “diversity” from which the College profits, basically through uncompensated and even disparaged labor….. All at the same time that the college sells its credentials of “full participation” and “inclusion” to gain new clients.

Faculty members requested three simple solutions:
“(a) the need for institutional support of interdisciplinary programs;
“(b) the need for institutional support of faculty of color, and;
“(c) the need for institutional support of Africana Studies.”

Concerned faculty further insisted that a meeting with administrators only take place “only when the Dean of Faculty office is willing and able to:
“(1) provide transparency for how all academic programs are funded;
“(2) come up with a plan for practicing full participation in terms of department and program equity; and
“(3) present a radically new plan for recognizing and compensating and decreasing identity-based labor that does not simply subsume this under the category of ‘service.’”
Instead of meeting these demands for structural change, the President bought temporary silence by offering $4000 from the President's office for two years so that she could ignore the demand for structural conditions for equity. Best to plug a hole and hope the problem goes away rather than to invest in long term education, right? One would think that Africana Studies could have been championed and made a centerpiece of the new curriculum which touts full participation, but instead after decades of civil rights upon decades of segregation and slavery, the administration decided that we know all we need to know about Africana Studies. Now, unsurprisingly, the director of that program is leaving the College to go to another small liberal arts college where they have allocated resources to build a program. What a great idea.

1 comment:

  1. Where else would the money come from? The college operates on a budget. There is no Africana Studies department - instead it is an interdisciplinary major that draws courses from a variety of departments (you can find this info on the college website: Therefore, it makes sense that its budget would be drawn from the budgets for departments it has classes in. But even if you wanted to give the department its own budget, the money has to come from somewhere. So the options are reallocating existing money or generating a new source (something this college, as well as almost every college in the US, struggles with). Without federal or state funding (remember this is a private college), the options come to tuition or gifts, and as gifts are not a reliable source, new money can only reliably be generated from tuition increases.
    So, if having the budget generated from the real departments that support Africana Studies is not a viable option, what do you propose? Cutting sciences? Cutting athletics? Raising tuition? I do not know the right answer. Would creating a new Africana studies department solve the problem? But then what department gets cut? I do not want to undermine the importance of Africana studies, but in my opinion the solution of funding the major by reallocating funding from existing departments is not some wishy washy attempt to please minorities by a tyrannical administration, but rather a seemingly well thought out proposition.