Statement from Provost Kent Fuchs:
Following a thoughtful assessment of the capacity of the Office of the Provost to oversee individual academic programs, I have decided to move the Africana Studies and Research Center, which currently reports to me, into the College of Arts and Sciences, effective July 1, 2011. As with similar changes I have made regarding other programs that previously reported directly to my office, my goal in making this change is to provide the robust level of academic support that significant programs, such as Africana Studies, have a right to expect.
Most significantly, this move will allow for the establishment of a Ph.D. program that will strongly increase the national prominence of Africana Studies and bolster Cornell’s ability to attract superb faculty and students. Africana Studies undergraduates already are Arts and Sciences students: the College admits and advises them, offers their curriculum through the College of Arts and Sciences courses of study, and awards their undergraduate degree.
Arts and Sciences is the natural home for Africana Studies because of its broad overlap of interests, especially in the social sciences and the humanities. This action is consistent with other top universities — including Harvard and Yale — that have adopted a model where the Africana Studies program is an integral part of the liberal arts college.
In its new academic home, Africana Studies will retain its faculty, staff and North Campus facility, and receive the critical academic and administrative support that a college is best able to provide, including a plan to increase the number of its faculty, for which I have committed the necessary resources.
Statement Of Africana Faculty in Response to the Provost’s Unilateral Decision to Reorganize the Africana Studies and Research Center
The faculty of the Africana Studies and Research Center (ASRC) at Cornell University is surprised and appalled by Provost Kent Fuchs’ unilateral decision announced today, December 1, 2010, to dramatically change the Africana Center’s structure. There was no consultation with the faculty prior to this decision.
His approach in explaining his decision to the faculty was patronizing, autocratic, and non- negotiable. He announced the decision as a fait accompli. It was not based on any empirical research or on any of the prior program reviews of the Africana Center. He essentially decided to change the structure which will gravely undermine ASRC in the future. He indicated that the had consulted with other units and individuals but had not given the faculty of Africana the same courtesy and opportunity to deliberate on the specific details of his plan. The Provost acknowledged that this major shift was not due to the current major economic or budgetary situations. He promised support for a Ph.D. program linked to the administrative structure of the College of Arts and Sciences. There was already agreement from the external review of the Africana Center in 2006 to proceed with the establishment of a doctoral program without reference to the College of Arts and Sciences.
The faculty of ASRC finds the Provost’s decision unacceptable. We are concerned about a change of such major proportions taking place at this time. We asked him for time to respond, to digest his decision, to offer a process of discussion and mutual exchange but this offer was refused at every request. We also have not seen any concrete written proposals of how this change would work.
This lack of transparency bodes ill for decision making within the university. That the Provost would approach such a grave issue in this manner and that he was unwilling to engage in a process of discussion over time with the faculty that could produce a mutually agreeable plan and time table for implementation is ominous.
Prof. Robert L. Harris, Jr. has tendered his resignation as Director of the Africana Center based on the agreement at the time of his appointment that he would report directly to the Provost, as has been the administrative arrangement since the inception of the Africana Center. Moreover, he had expressed his strong objection to the Provost about this change and the process by which it was made. The faculty stands in support of the director’s opposition to this type of treatment and the principled position he has taken in this matter.
The Africana Studies and Research Center has a history of functioning and operating with budgetary prudence and stability, integrity and success as an academic unit for more than 40 years. Africana has been a leader in the field and such a decision has implications for the larger field in general. There are historical reasons why the Africana Center was established as an inter-college unit reporting to the Provost. Those historical reasons have not changed substantially.
These ideas are not new and have not proven effective for other departments across the country that have looked to the Africana Center at Cornell as a model. This change in administrative structure will weaken the integrity of the Africana Center. The Provost indicated that he would provide greater financial support for the Africana Center, but that he would have to try to find it. The Africana Studies faculty had hoped for more concrete discussion of the Provost’s decision and his promises, but he has rushed to judgment and has run roughshod over the faculty. We reiterate our objection at being treated in this blatantly disrespectful and patronizing manner.
Statement in Support of Africana’s Autonomy
Alyssa Clutterbuck grad
Tia Hicks ’11
Forty-one years after the Africana Studies and Research Center was founded, the department’s autonomy has been taken away. On Wednesday, December 1, we were met with shock, horror, sadness and profound disappointment at what appears to be an institutional lynching of our program, center, history, and political ideals. Without notice or consideration for the stressful time in the semester, students in Africana Studies were called to a meeting with just two days’ notice, and informed that Africana will no longer report to the Provost’s office and will be subsumed under the College of Arts and Sciences.
We were also informed that these plans have been in the works for months but were sprung on the students at the very end of the semester. This decision was made entirely by the Provost. It is unilateral, patronizing, and autocratic. It was done with absolutely no discussion with students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Africana Studies or with communities of color in Ithaca.
We believe that this is taking Africana Studies down a path to destruction.
This decision prompted our current Director to resign from his post on principle. We fully support his decision as well as the statements made on behalf of the faculty.
Africana’s autonomy is historic. The fight for this autonomy was the result of student protest against overt racial hostility on campus culminating in the Willard Straight Hall Takeover. The precipitating event: a burning cross placed on Wari House, the Black women’s co-op on North Campus. We must not forget that the founding of Africana Studies in 1969 was also met with hostility. The founding director Dr. James Turner, upon arriving to campus, required police escorts because of threats to his life and family. We must not forget that within a year after its founding, the Africana Center was set aflame by arsonists, an act that terrorized black students and their allies on campus.
In more recent decades, when similar proposals to take away Africana’s autonomy were proposed, students and faculty mobilized to make it abundantly clear that this was not in the interest of students nor the discipline at large.
This autocratic decision by the Provost, which has been met with unanimous opposition in the department, can only produce an environment of hostility and tension within the broader community. No good can come of this decision imposed in such a manner. This callous action totally disregards the countless black students who came before us and demanded that this campus community create and maintain spaces for black students and students of color to feel comfortable, supported, and nurtured.
We urge that this decision be reversed and that the students, faculty, staff, alumni and communities of color in Ithaca be fully integrated in the process of making Africana thrive.