February 24, 2011

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Provost Kent Fuchs’ Dec. 1 announcement to restructure the Africana Center came as a shock to the faculty, students and alumni, who learned of the decision within hours of each other that same day.  Although this was the first time they were learning that a major restructuring was going to take place, Provost Fuchs made it clear that his unilateral decision was not up for discussion. President Skorton and Provost Fuchs claim this is a move that will ultimately improve the Africana Center, but the deceptive method by which the decision was made suggests otherwise.

The fact of the matter is the decision to restructure the Africana Studies and Research Center was made without the due process Cornell University prides itself on. It is difficult for many to comprehend that Provost Fuchs would announce a structural change of this magnitude without consulting the primary stakeholders of the Africana Center — its students, faculty, and staff — or any experts in the field. The failure of the Provost to live up to the basic standards of open dialogue expected from an institution of higher learning is outrageous. These actions are against Cornell’s own admission in the Report on Organization and Procedures of the University Faculty that “University leadership functions best when it is derived from the consent of the governed …”

The failure to treat the Africana faculty as partners in determining the Center’s future is even more disconcerting given President Skorton’s claim in an interview with the The Sun that this decision has been in discussion for “at least five years.” If this is true then why did the lead-up to the announcement involve both secrecy and the element of surprise?

The timing of the announcement, furthermore, goes against Cornell’s Strategic Plan to “promote the health and well-being of students (undergraduate, graduate, and professional) as a foundation for academic success.” During the Dec. 1 meeting with Africana students, Provost Fuchs stated that he had considered announcing his decision in the Spring of 2010. Why then, did he wait until one of the most stressful times of the following semester when students were finishing classes, preparing for exams, writing papers, applying for jobs and preparing to leave campus for Winter Break? To announce this decision at this time was grossly negligent to the welfare of students and, we believe, a calculated attempt to neutralize student reactions.

Faculty, students, alumni, parents, and national organizations devoted to Africana Studies believe the move to the College of Arts and Sciences is detrimental to the pedagogical goals, research, and continued success of the Africana Center. Africana was established as an independent academic unit to ensure its protection and place as an intellectual niche addressing the specific needs of Black students and Ithaca’s Black Community. This was also to offer an opportunity for the Cornell community to benefit from a research center that contained resources and scholars committed to the inquiry of African and African-descended people.

In order to understand the dangers of the move to the College of Arts and Sciences, one need only look to other institutions where Africana/African American Studies programs are subsumed under these colleges. The Provost referenced the Ph.D. program in African American Studies at Yale in a Dec. 1 letter to the Cornell Black Alumni as an exemplary program. However, in this program students receive a “joint doctoral degree” and cannot independently receive a Ph.D. in African American Studies. If Cornell follows this model, students will not be able to receive a graduate degree in Africana Studies without pairing it with an additional program. For the Provost to cite Yale in defense of his decision, yet insist that he has no intention to demote the Africana Center, is simply contradictory.

The Provost has not released a specifically allocated budget for Africana that would be guaranteed now and in the future. At the Dec. 1 meeting with students, for instance, when asked where the money would come from to fulfill his intention to “grow” Africana Studies, the Provost said he was going to have to “find” the money.

In The Sun on Dec. 2, Fuchs stated: “I’m convinced that 20 years from now, Africana faculty, students, alumni and staff will look back and say, ‘This is the best thing that ever happened to us.’” We reject this paternalistic opinion and approach to decision-making at Cornell. For an administrator who deliberately left experts in Africana Studies out of the discussion to make such a statement is not only condescending, but casts a bleak and uncertain future for Africana Studies at Cornell.

Candace Katungi grad, Awuor Oport grad and Alyssa Clutterbuck grad represent The Save Africana Center Action Committee. They may be contacted at acc268@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.

Original Author: Alyssa Clutterbuck