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26 Department and Program Administration

Nathaniel Norment, Jr., Temple University

Most surveys and reports conducted within African American Studies over the past twenty years recommend the department as the most stable academic structure in terms of permanency and autonomy.

The roles and responsibilities of chairs/program administra­tors at Temple and elsewhere encompass a broad range of manage­ment and leadership functions. It is the chair who influences the climate of the department by virtue of leadership. An African American Studies department chair must have skills in key areas such as man­ag­ing a budget, dealing with myriad personnel issues, and developing a comprehensive assessment plan/self-study, as well as recruiting and evaluating faculty members. Empowered to imple­ment academic policy, communicate, facilitate, and administer the phil­osophy, goals, mission, and/or objectives of the discipline and of the (re­spec­tive) de­partment, the chair serves as liaison be­tween the un­i­ver­sity, extra-academic communities, faculty, and staff.

At Temple University, the roles and responsibilities of chairs of departments have changed dramatically in the past three years, due to a number of factors: increased enrollment, competition for students, the increased reliance on part-time faculty as a result of shrinkage in full-time tenured faculty, increased expectations for productivity and external funding, teaching and service and faculty workload. Thus, at Temple, departments have become the “most crit­ical organizational units” and departmental chairs con­sid­er­ed among the “most important academic leaders” in the uni­ver­sity. The current academic culture demands that chairs/pro­gram ad­­min­istrators and departments consistently refashion, de­vel­op, uti­­lize, and/or implement techniques to fulfill the roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of effectively managing the academic unit. Some of these include:

  • Maintain open line of communication/open door policy with fac­ulty, students, and adminis­tra­tion. Constant interface (trans­par­ency) be­tween the chair, fac­ul­ty, administrative staff, and students in the de­part­ment is necessary for open, hon­est, and critical di­a­logue, and exchange of ideas.
  • To meet increased enrollment and/or compensate for dras­tic re­duc­­tion in full-time tenured faculty, request ad­di­tion­al full-time tenured faculty appointments or recruit competent part-time facul­ty (i.e., doctoral candidates, rec­og­nized experts, practitioners, etc.). In order to main­tain the aca­demic integrity of the disci­pline under the department model, a minimum of ten to fifteen full-time tenured faculty are needed to teach un­der­gradu­ate and graduate curricula.
  • Maintain active teaching load of two courses — one core/in­tro­duc­tory undergraduate and one graduate (in conferred area of expertise) — per academic semester. Pro­vides the oppor­tu­ni­ty for chair/program ad­min­istrator to teach stu­dents in the foun­dational courses of un­der­graduate and graduate curric­u­la.
  • Develop standardized undergraduate major/mi­nor core curric­ula. Establishes benchmarks for the goals/ob­jec­tives of the discipline.
  • Develop core (course) competencies. Establishes bench­marks for content of knowledge base, critical analy­sis, effective oral/ writ­ten com­mu­nication, etc., for each course, and compe­tencies critical analysis.
  • Establish and maintain working partnership with school districts to assist in the development of African American Studies cur­ric­u­la, syllabi, in­structor/teacher training, co-sponsoring of events, etc.

African American Studies and Pedagogy

African American Studies as a teaching profession refers to the techniques by which specific/distinct bodies of knowledge are ap­plied to areas of academic research and instruction within the dis­ci­­pline as well as areas of public policy in African American com­mu­ni­ties.

Teaching absorbs by far the largest part of the energies of Af­ri­can American Studies: approximately three-fourths of those holding the PhD in African American Studies teach in university or college programs. Those who teach African Ame­rican Studies must incorporate a pedagogy that transmits the principal ideals of African-centered, culturally relevant knowl­edge. There is no greater task for those of us who teach within the discipline.

African American Studies must have a basic commitment of service to African American Studies students through intellectual preparation and teaching competence of the highest order. It must be steeped in the historical, cultural, intellectual, and socio-po­lit­i­cal experiences of people of African descent and value based inso­far as the integrity of the learning process must be respected and teachers must possess self-respect and acknowledge that there are variegated cultural and communal responsibilities for all.

African Centered Pedagogical Strategy/ies

The African worldview introduces students to different the­o­ries, schools of thought, and methodologies within African Ame­ri­can Studies; it provides opportunities for students to engage in sys­te­matic and rigorous examination, interpretation, and applica­tion of African American Studies. It constructs an intellectual pa­ra­digm to develop an African-centered knowledge base, curricula, as­ses­sment plans, and pedagogy. Teaching African American Studies requires the utilization of African/African-based values, tra­ditions, and rit­u­als to develop African-centered models to advance the process of ed­ucation and liberation. Knowledge of and adherence to the African worldview first establishes Africans’ contributions to hu­man­kind and provides students with a strong foundation for un­der­stand­ing and appreciating the past, critically interrogating the pres­ent, and longitudinally planning for the future.

African-centered pedagogy and African-centered education en­able students in African American Studies to experience the world with African and African American beliefs and values as the center. Not only should instructional and curricular approaches present different paradigms in students’ worldview, but they should seek to facilitate a “reorientation” of values and behaviors as well. Moreover, African-centered pedagogy in African American Studies must function as the change agent in an applied discipline that leads to positive and lasting cultural, political, and social change in African American communities. This can occur in a number of ways: (1) ensure undergraduate and graduate core/in­tro­duc­tory courses serve as anchor/gateway to the disci­pline; (2) use specific course(s) to develop student re­search and teaching skills commensurate with departmental phil­os­ophy, curricula, syllabi, etc.; (3) sponsor Undergraduate/Gradu­ate Re­search Forums; and (4) expand curricula through the ad­di­tion of Special Top­ics/Seminar courses to provide students the op­portunity to engage critical issues/topics (e.g., hip-hop music and culture; African American gay, lesbian, and bisexual ex­per­i­en­ces; African Ameri­can women’s studies; etc.) not traditionally dealt with in African Ame­rican Studies.

Applied African American Studies

African American cultural and historical knowledge, tech­niques, and perspectives must be applied to the range of courses taught in the discipline. Now more than ever, African American Stud­ies researchers and scholars must become actively involved in community and social organizations as well as develop, implement, and evaluate solution-oriented programs that seek to si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly both address and improve the socio-cultural, political, and ec­o­nom­ic life conditions in African American communities.

In the tradition of Du Bois’s seminal Atlanta University Studies, con­temporary African American Studies scholars need to work in an applied context along the areas of health, education, family, re­lationships, the criminal justice system, and the like. African American linguists, for example, must evaluate the effects of Black English Vernacular and dialect differences on classroom learning. Ethnographers need to study actual schoolroom behavior in an attempt to improve the educational system for African American children. Simply put, we need complete comprehensive investiga­tions of all areas that affect African American communities.

The development of strong research networks requires that all the participants have substantial knowledge of (major) areas of inquiry in African American Studies and related disciplines. By making use of long-distance communication, we can assign dif­fer­ent tasks needed to solve a problem to different groups in dif­fer­ent parts of the nation/world. Existing PhD programs at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of California-Berk­e­ley, Harvard, and Yale Universities should establish consortia with HBCUs (e.g., Temple University with Lincoln Uni­­­ver­si­ty, Morgan State, Howard University, Morehouse, Spel­man, and Clark Atlanta University). With the aid of rapidly ad­vanc­ing tech­nol­o­gies, networks of researchers could easily develop and establish extensive cooperative, joint projects among different departments, universities, agencies, and the like; the more knowl­edge about African American Studies disseminated and researched, the greater the impact of improving African American commun­i­ties.

In recent years, many African American Studies graduates have chosen to utilize their specialized training in a variety of non­ac­a­dem­ic careers by working in federal, state, and local government, international agencies, healthcare centers, nonprofit associations, research and scientific institutes, and program offices. At present, there is no discernible limit for African American Studies gradu­ates with bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees targeting the non­aca­dem­ic realm for employment. One area that is ideally targeted for the aims and objectives of applied African American Studies is the realm of public policy.

African American Studies and Public Policy

It is readily apparent that African American Studies has not ful­fil­led an important mission of the discipline’s initiation, and in­deed, policies generated by the education, welfare and crime bills/drug laws have been formulated and enacted without our in­put. African American Studies researchers and scholars, then, need to build on extant relationships and develop new liaisons in con­cert with local, regional, and national professional organiza­tions as well as civ­ic, religious, and political groups, with the goal of develop­ing and implementing specific policies in African American com­mu­ni­­ties.

In this sense, an African American Studies practitioner is si­mul­ta­neously a theorist, a reformer, and an agent of/for change. Her/his job is not only to provide studies in cultural heritage and “consciencization,” but to apply the research, scholarship, and ac­tiv­i­ty in an attempt to significantly improve the lives of the Black masses. An African American Studies scholar must be well trained in a mul­ti­tude of subjects, but her/his interests in these areas must be fur­ther distinguished by his or her total commitment to the bet­ter­ment of African American communities.


As we move forward in the twenty-first century, as an academic dis­cipline, African American Studies must continue to examine and expand its theories, methodologies, and epistemologies to impact the academic terrain; ideally, it must appeal to all facets of the intellectual community. At this juncture, we need to seriously consider and evaluate the role(s) African American Studies has traditionally occupied: (1) Politically, has it sought to strengthen and influence the activities and policies of African American leadership in the service of African American communities? (2) In­tel­lectually, has it created an arena and elevated the level of dis­course so that the historical and contemporary life experiences of people of African descent are viewed as significant, instructive, and unique? (3) Socially, has it provided a space in which students are mentored, recognized, and supported in their efforts to realize their full academic and individual potential? (4) Culturally, has it presented people of African descent with ways of viewing the world and living out African-based ideas, beliefs, values, and mores?


Department and Program Administration Copyright © 2018 by marilyn m. thomas-houston. All Rights Reserved.

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