August 29, 2011

Arts and Sciences Dean Appoints Administrators to Head Africana

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Clarification appended

Two administrators from outside the Africana Studies and Research Center will oversee the department after the College of Arts and Sciences failed to find a professor “both willing to serve and acceptable to a substantial majority of the Africana faculty,” Dean Peter Lepage announced Monday.Robert Harris Jr., former director of Africana, resigned this July in protest after the University decided to transfer the center to the College of Arts and Sciences, a move that unleashed sustained and passionate opposition from faculty and students throughout last year.Africana will be the only department in the college supervised by an administrator who has not held a teaching position in the field, Lepage said. Two senior associate deans, Prof. Elizabeth Adkins Regan, psychology and biology, and Prof. David Harris, sociology — who until recently worked for President Barack Obama’s administration — were chosen to oversee the center. Lepage added that finding leadership for Africana was especially important given the immediate plans to significantly expand Africana faculty. Africana currently has eight faculty members, and the college hopes to add three to five more — a “transformative number” — he said.“This is about building up Africana; it genuinely is,” Lepage said.While saying he needed more time to learn the full context of the decision, Zach Murray ’11, former co-president of Black Students United and a student in Africana, said Lepage was neglecting the fact that many faculty, following Harris’ lead, refuse to assume leadership roles in an administrative restructuring they opposed.“He flat out ignored that these faculty are protesting,” Murray said.He added that he was unaware of “any precedent for the administration taking over a department.”“I thought academics governed academic departments, not administrators … you wouldn’t have in the history or econ. department a central administrator coming in and becoming director,” he said.Furthermore, Murray said that the decision confirms many of the protesters’ fears that the transfer would lead to a loss of autonomy for Africana. “[Lepage] brought in deans to implement all these changes, but to me that goes to the problem that Africana faculty were bringing up: that the College of Arts and Sciences would bring administrators who are not within the Africana Center,” Murray said. Several Africana faculty did not respond to requests for comment Monday night. Lepage insisted that, although the arrangement was unusual, the college had no choice but to appoint an administrator outside the center. “It was very clear from that polling [of faculty] that there was no consensus about who should lead the appointment,” Lepage said. “We tried, but we couldn’t find someone who wanted to do it and had sufficiently broad support.”Still, Lepage said he was optimistic about the future of the center under its new supervisors.“Offering the leadership of Elizabeth and David reflects the college’s commitment to providing Africana with its best opportunity to thrive,” he said.

Clarification: This article originally stated that Africana will be the only department headed by someone with “little experience” in the field. Unlike administrators in other departments, the new deans have not held teaching appointments in the area of study they will be directing. However, as Dean Peter Lepage’s office pointed out on Tuesday, they do have administrative and research experience related to Africana.

Original Author: Jeff Stein