March 13, 2011

As Trustees Meet, Students Protest Africana’s Move

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Correction appended

Students and alumni voiced concern about the proposed transfer of the Africana Studies and Research Center into the College of Arts and Sciences during a Board of Trustees meeting on Friday.

The transfer will shift the administrative oversight of the Africana Center from the Provost’s office to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences’ portfolio by July 1.

At the meeting, four representatives from the Campaign to Save Africana spoke with trustee members about reconsidering the administrative move.

“We don’t feel that enough consultation was had … We feel that to have been alerted during the last week of classes, only hours after faculty learned for the first time, is not at all public engagement,” Candace Katungi grad said, referring to Provost Kent Fuchs’ Dec. 1 announcement.

In response to the representatives’ remarks, President David Skorton explained that the move was due to administrative budget cuts.

“All of the academically-oriented programs in the Provost’s office are being moved out of the Provost’s office as part of our desire to shrink top administration in the University,” Skorton said.

He said, however, he would substantially increase resources for the Africana program.

“[I will not] give the Dean of Arts and Sciences latitude to reduce these additional funds,” Skorton said.

Outside of Statler, where the meeting took place, students held posters, chanted and distributed pamphlets in support of the Campaign to Save Africana.

“We want to show the trustees that people still care about this … We want to regain momentum for the issue,” said Tia Hicks ’11, one of the organizers of the protest.

Unlike the Dec. 3 protest,  organizers wanted Friday’s protest to serve as more of a learning experience, Hicks said. At the meeting, representatives from the campaign distributed educational material on their campaign to members of the board of trustees.

At the rally, Jesse Delia grad discussed a larger threat to ethnic programs.

“It’s an illusion that ethnic studies programs are not being targeted,” Delia said. “Programs that are on the edge already are being pushed to the margins or exterminated.”

After the rally outside of Statler, protesters moved to Willard Straight Hall, where Africana professors spoke in opposition to the proposal to fold Africana into the College of Arts and Sciences.

Prof. James Turner, Africana studies — one of the founders of Africana —  spoke critically about the way the administration delivered the decision and Skorton’s comments since.

“If the general references to more resources were sincere, the administration would not have felt the need to make an announcement in such a dishonorable manner based on secrecy without prior consultation or open discussion with faculty and students,” he said.

Referring to the 1969 Willard Straight Takeover, Turner, a signatory to the founding document with then-President James Perkins, said the administrative move violated “the very foundation” of the University’s agreement to establish Africana.

Turner said the proposed move was “top-down and racially antagonistic.”

Prof. N’Dri Assié-Lumumba,  Africana studies, echoed Turner’s sentiments. She referred to the proposed move of the American Indian Program and the removal of Ken Glover from the Ujamaa program house as examples of a pattern of unilateral administrative decisions concerning minority groups.

“How many rallies are necessary?” she asked.

Assié-Lumumba said the Africana faculty has not prepared for the administrative move.

“At this point, we don’t envision that unilateral decision to be implemented, but we’re open to discuss” Assié-Lumumba said. “Our position is that [Fuchs] needs to rescind that and start over.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that during a Board of Trustees meeting, Candace Katungi grad said, “We don’t feel that enough consultation was sought … Four hours before the end of classes is not public engagement,” referring to a Dec. 1 announcement about the Africana Center. In fact, Katungi said, “We don’t feel that enough consultation was had … We feel that to have been alerted during the last week of classes, only hours after faculty learned for the first time, is not at all public engagement.”

Original Author: Max Schindler