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?