April 4, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Misrepresenting the facts

Print More

To the Editor:Re: “Skorton Defends Decisions on Africana, Bridge Barriers,” News, March 31

As members of the Save the Africana Center Action Committee, we reject President Skorton’s claim that “there was no surprise that this was a consideration for the administration” in regards to the unilateral and autocratic decision to demote the Africana Studies and Research Center into a unit within the College of Arts and Sciences. We maintain that the process was deceptive and secretive. Let’s get the facts straight. Firstly, there was no open consultation of the full faculty of the Africana Studies and Research Center. They were told, in a blatant use of raw power by Provost Fuchs, a mere four hours before the Provost met with Africana Studies students. Secondly, the Dean of Faculty and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences were made aware of the decision prior to the announcement but were sworn to secrecy. Thirdly, no experts in the field of Black Studies were even consulted about this move. Contrary to President Skorton’s claim that there is not some particular plan to sneak decisions by, the above facts prove otherwise. The manner in which this top-down decision was made has created a hostile environment that has attacked the integrity of the discipline of Black/Africana Studies and placed considerable stress on students and faculty in support of the Center. With all this in mind, why would we trust the President and the Provost to have our best interests at heart? They haven’t even presented us with any documentation or a clear plan of what is to happen once the move takes effect.  It is clear that neither President Skorton nor Provost Fuchs has a clue about the field of Black Studies and they both fail to understand the Africana Center’s status within the discipline as a foremost pioneer. President Skorton continuously refers to the administrative structure of the Africana Studies and Research Center as “anomalous,” but fails to understand that this structure was instituted from the outset of the Center in 1969. The Africana Studies and Research Center is a flagship in its field and its structure is what brings it prominence nationally and internationally. Its status as a Center, rather than a department, cuts across college lines, makes courses more accessible to students throughout the University and, more critically, gives authority to the Director to recommend faculty appointments without them having to also be members of an academic department. It was purposefully arranged to report directly to the administration rather than through the dean of an existing college so that the Center’s continued existence on campus would be assured and that its specific pedagogy would be protected. The decision by the Provost, which the President of this University fully supports, is a blatant attack to the discipline of Africana Studies nationwide. This trend is indicative of a larger movement toward the corporatization of institutions of higher education across the United States. Employing rhetoric of “austerity” in these tough financial times (although The Sun reported in October 2010 that investments were up nearly 13 percent and stood at $4.4 billion as of last June), University administrators have been making decisions without the involvement of stakeholders. It seems to be little coincidence that Ethnic Studies programs and centers such as the ASRC and American Indian Program are feeling a disproportionate burden. Similar struggles continue within the University of California system, the University of South Florida and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, to name a few.  In another ironic turn of events, this past January the Carnegie Foundation awarded Cornell the honor of being named an “Institution of Community Engagement.” We believe it is time to hold University administrators accountable to this esteemed distinction.  As representatives of the Save the Africana Center Action Committee, we will continue to organize and resist until a full reversal is achieved.Tia Hicks ’11, Alyssa Clutterbuck grad, Courtney Knapp grad, Candace Katungi grad, Ann Wilde grad, Kristin Herbeck ’11, Jesse Delia grad, Awuor Oport grad and Gregory Rothman, Ithaca community member