April 1, 2013

After 38 Years, Former Director of Africana Retires

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After 38-years at the University, Prof. Robert L. Harris Jr., the former director of the Africana Studies and Research Center, will retire at the end of this academic year, after 38-years at the University.

During his terms as director of the Africana Studies and Research Center –– once from 1986-1991 and again from 2010-2012 –– Harris helped the center create a National Resource Center, a program run by the Department of Education that provides funds to universities, in African studies.

As part of the NRC, the center established a certificate program in African studies that would be available to all Cornell undergraduates, recruited faculty and allowed for more collaborative study within the University, according to Harris.

“The Africana Center has always combined work in African and Caribbean studies, but with the NRC status in African Studies, we were able to play a larger role in coordinating work being done in African studies across the campus,” he said.

Harris also resigned as director of the Africana Center in protest of the Center’s being folded into the College of Arts and Sciences in December 2010. He later rescinded his resignation.

“I felt a sense of disappointment at the way the move into the College of Arts and Sciences took place without a discussion or consultation with the faculty of the Africana Center,” he said.

As director, Harris was also responsible for securing grants from major national foundations to support Africana studies at Cornell.

“The grants were used to broaden the academic and teaching capacity of the Africana Center,” Harris said. “We were able to bring in visiting scholars from Africa and from the Caribbean to strengthen the components of African Studies that we were interested in, and we were also able to broaden and deepen African language instruction.

“The Center has received support from the University in moving towards a Ph.D. degree program. In 1972, before my arrival, this was the first Africana Studies Center in the country to offer a Master’s Degree, and now this will be the first in the state of New York to have a Ph.D. program,” he said.

Harris says said his three primary objectives as former director of the center –– strengthening the African studies department, expanding African language programs  and increasing the number of Africana studies faculty –– helped enhance the center’s role as a model for other institutions.

“One of the reasons I came to Cornell was because of the Africana Studies and Research Center, and I came at a time when many individuals did not see much of a future for black studies,” Harris said. “Now, the Africana Center has become a model for black studies across the country, and it has had a profound influence nationally and internationally.”

An author of more than 50 published works, Harris’ research broke ground in the study of the cultural and socio-economic developmetn of African-Americans in the United States and the role of discrimination in African-American history.

Throughout his tenure, Harris’ academic accomplishments and his contributions to Africana studies at the University earned him numerous accolades, including the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony in 2000, the Carter G. Woodson Scholar’s Medallion for Distinguished Research, Writing, and Activism in 2003 and the Cook Award for Commitment to Women’s Issues at Cornell in 2008, he said.

Before serving as director of the Africana Center, Harris was the vice provost for diversity and faculty development from 2000 to 2008, according to a University press release.

In honor of Prof. Harris’ contributions to the Africana Center and his academic achievements, a conference titled “Historiography and African-American Intellectual History” will be held at the Africana Center Friday and Saturday.

Original Author: Lauren Avery