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31 Question Eight Discussion

The Role of Chief Administrators in Sustaining Black Studies

Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): One of the things as we’ve been talking throughout, as I’ve listened, one of the chal­lenges certainly is how does one communicate with the upper-lev­el ad­min­is­tration? How do you communicate with them and sort of get your thoughts across? And as we were thinking about these dif­fer­ent sessions, it seemed important to at least ask the question about the role that chief administrators can play in sustaining Black Studies.

Ronald W. Bailey (Northeastern University): I think the role of the chief administrator is to listen carefully, to learn as much as pos­sible about the history and content, and debates within the dif­ferent disciplines and their purview, and to be supportive in push­ing each of the fields to move forward in and of themselves, but also in relationship to other disciplines. I think one of my main con­cerns is that chief administrators don’t often take the time to learn about what’s going on in the disciplines that they administer. They just don’t do it. So they don’t come to a field like Black Stud­ies trying to understand what we’re about, what we’ve been about his­torically and what they can learn from what we’ve been about. When I served as provost, I always saw my role as kind of keeping a stretched rubber band between where we were as an institution and where I thought we could go. There was some ten­sion between my role as chief administrator and the various aca­dem­ic units.

I have three sets of questions that I would ask that chief ad­min­istrators pay attention to. One is what is the mission of Black Studies within the changing mission and context of higher ed­u­ca­tion? And, how do we make sure that both higher education and Black Studies are on the same page in tackling the key ques­tions that each face and must be addressed if each is to realize its full mission and learn from what Black Studies has learned over the forty years? I would say that involves mission and vision as well as an issue of service. The second question is what should we be teach­ing and how should the interdisciplinary mandate be real­ized, and how do we know if what we are teaching is being well-taught and is being well learned? The third point focuses on research: what are the key questions for our ongoing research and how do we ensure that Black Studies is informed and energized, or even provoked by both the qualitative and quantitative re­search on the Black ex­per­i­ence taking place in the various disci­plines, and that our students are being trained and mentored to synthesize what this work offers along with what is offered by Black Studies?

Let me just make some points about each one of those. In terms of teaching, the notion of silos has come up and I want to just remind people again of the 1980 report of the National Coun­cil of Black Studies that talked about interdisciplinary studies as being comprised of historical studies, social and behavioral, as well as cultural studies. I want to just paint that as a target so as we think about interdisciplinary narratives, we can critique that. I don’t see how social policy can’t be integrated into that. I think sci­ence and technology, the STEM fields, can be integrated into that, and so I think the applied aspect of Black Studies can be done there as well.

I want to also mention this Paradigm of Unity that I men­tioned yesterday from the work of the Peoples College. One of the rea­sons it is called Paradigm of Unity is that when this was de­vel­oped, there was a lot of struggle inside Black Studies. There was a lot of disciplinary struggle as people came to the table from all kinds of fields trying to do this enterprise, and there was a lot of political ideological struggle. What we realized is that people were talking past each other. So the idea of this paradigm was to put on the table as a space where a thousand ideas could contend. You’re a Marx­ist, what do you say about rural life? You’re a nationalist, what do you say about some box on this paradigm? And we could sum­marize and be more additive in the way we handle our dis­cus­sions.

We need to be more rigorous in terms of assessing, with re­search and with evidence, approaches to teaching and learning. I would just refer you to volumes from the National Research Coun­cil on how people learn, the brain, mind experience in school, or how students learn history and mathematics, and so on. There is a big body of research that is out there in terms of how students learn. I think that we need to have the evidence, so if we’re talk­ing about the impact of Black Studies on self-esteem and aca­dem­ic achieve­ment, I think there is some work out there that would help us. If we’re talking about the impact of Black Studies on the kids from Wauwatosa, or in other words the anti-racist agenda, you know, we teach this stuff but I’m not sure we understand fully what the impact of our teaching is. We need to grab that body of evi­dence in that regard.

Bailey continues by stating the Paradigm of Unity can be used as a tool for as­sessing research needs. “What are the silences … the big de­bates?” He suggests that leveraging technology, projects that in­clude the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields were important for Black Studies and a means for acquiring significant amounts of funding for the field.

… This notion of professional master’s, our master’s at North­eastern is going to give students a core in the field, a core set of courses, and then encourage them to do specialties in health dis­par­ities, or multimedia production, or public history, and so on. Again, what Black Studies has been doing under the academic ex­cel­lence and social responsibility rubric has now been taken up by, if you look at “The Responsive PhD,” one of the arguments is that PhD production has to be responsive to the needs of society. I also want to mention, in terms of a best practice, when we had the Illi­nois Council of Black Studies, one of the most important things we did was to, every year, go to Springfield, the state cap­i­tal, and the first day we had a meeting with the chief aca­dem­ic of­fi­cer for the state of Illinois to educate him about the needs of Black Studies in the state and to get him on board in terms of what our agenda was. So when we talk about the politics of Black Stud­ies and, to par­a­phrase Laszlo, who gets what, where, when, and how, we need to try to organize in our states to do a better job at this.

And last, I’ll just mention the importance [of helping] the ad­min­istrators understand the social responsibility, the social justice mission of Black Studies. I think that the importance of what was mentioned yesterday in terms of the land grant mission — I mean higher education has always played a critical role with regards to the society, always town-gown, but it’s not been our gown. It’s not been our town that’s been necessarily serviced. We need to use that historic understanding of higher education’s mission to make sure that Black Studies has a space and the resources to make a con­tri­bu­tion, not only to bettering the lives of Black people but bettering the lives of everyone in society, both in this country and around the world.

Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): … One of the things that I had to say here is equally relevant to thinking about the program level and other academic administrative levels with which we articulate, and I think we have been reasonably successful in at least be­gin­ning to come to terms with, [which is] the vast social change that has been tak­ing place as we have created this field over the last thirty years. It has really been tremendous, and one of the dif­fi­cul­ties we have, I think, at the program level is translating our un­der­stand­ing of what is going on socially into curriculum. We haven’t paid nearly as much attention, I think, to what has been hap­pen­ing with uni­ver­si­ties over the last twenty to twenty-five years, and when you’re in the mid­dle of it, sometimes the change looks very, very incremental and it pretty much looks like business as usual. But when you step back and consider, there are really some very, very fundamental changes tak­ing place in American colleges and uni­ver­sities na­tion­al­ly. It’s cer­tainly, absolutely crystal clear at the flagship in­sti­tu­tions, the big publics, like the big ten, the land grant colleges like Wisconsin and UCLA, all of those AAU insti­tu­tions. It seems to me that this chang­ing internal context really does bear watching.

Now, I’m just going to mention a few things that I think are important from the perspective of our aspirations and ambitions. The first of these is that there is a growing orientation nationwide to regard education as an individual good and not a social good. That is really important not only in terms of what we’re teaching, but it is impacting who we’re teaching. And we can see that within the University of California really dramatically, where there were probably three times as many African American students when I came to UCLA in 1973 as there are today, following Proposition 209 and also some actions by the Regents that took place a year or two before 209. The law school at UCLA probably had probably the high­est per­centage of African Americans of any school or division on our cam­pus. Within two years the entering class had dropped to one or two individuals, and there may have been a year when we had none. This is quite a dramatic kind of change.

It also is manifest in the growing debt of young people, and where­as the flagships in the past have really stood for access, as they continue to raise the bill, the ticket on education, although peo­ple will deny that it is affecting access, saying we provide finan­cial aid, it is affecting access. It ultimately may send more people back through the community college route before they get to a four-year institution, and that’s something we need to be think­ing about in terms of future articulations. I think the chang­ing fi­nan­­cial structure of public higher education is also a factor that is im­­pinging on us in ways that we have not fully appre­hend­ed, and we haven’t examined this. The label that is being applied to this phe­nom­e­non for the major publics over the last ten years has been so-called privatization. Now that is an interesting label, be­cause in my estimation I think it reflects both realities as well as more hidden aspirations.

… For research-intensive universities, the Big Ten, most of the flagships, the so-called public service role is being viewed much more narrowly than formerly. We are increasingly expected to be the handmaiden of industry and corporations, the engine that drives the economy, and of course this is tilting a balance be­tween what historically we have thought of as the two cultures. So the sci­en­ces and engineering are taking on much more im­por­tance, and the social sciences and humanities where we rest are getting de­emphasized. The fate of African American Studies in this con­text is increasingly tied to various kinds of performance in­di­cators and workload measures that typically create quite a distance be­tween the ambitions that we have, the mission that we feel we have, and the resources that are available to us to achieve that mis­sion. These are worrisome things; they reflect not so much dis­po­sitions of individuals as really something transformative that’s happening.

Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): … My paper of course conceptualizes administration as essentially an in­tel­lectual project and I conceive the role of the Africana chairs and directors as being, above all, an intellectual leader, although I rec­ognize their role as managers, coordinators, and facilitators of cer­tain processes. This leadership begins, from where I stand, by first of all conceptualizing the discipline in the most expansive ways. That is to say defining it with such conceptual elasticity that it be­comes a world-encompassing project even though it is rooted in the African American historical experience and current life, and that it reaches out and is inclusive of all African people as a world Af­rican community.

It’s in this context that I begin by putting forth the idea of the ancient Egyptian concept called serudj, which means to con­stantly repair and transform the world and ourselves and to direct it toward maximum human flourishing and freedom. And so the current and insistent question of the sustainment of Africana and Black Studies in the twenty-first century points inevitably to the un­avoid­able task of constant reaffirmation and renewal in and of the disci­pline. … It is then a question of our ongoing development and en­hancement of our capacity to recover, discover, and re­con­struct the rich and ancient resources of our culture, speak our own spe­cial culture truths to the world, and make our own unique con­tribution to the historic and ongoing human quest to un­der­stand the world and ourselves in it, and to change each in the in­ter­est of human free­dom, global justice, and good in and for the world.

So what I want to do is talk about this position from an intel­lectual activist tradition, a tradition that begins in ancient Egypt, and which libraries and schools have called houses of life. And so the concept of serudj links knowledge and social engagement, and variously means an ongoing obligation and effort to repair what is damaged, to replenish what is depleted, to strengthen what is weak­en­ed, to set right what is wrong, to make flourish that which is fra­gile and undeveloped, and to make it more beautiful and bene­ficial than it was. I think that discipline leadership is a leadership of self-reflection as well as development, and what we have to do is cer­tainly question ourselves.

Black Studies came into being relentlessly questioning society and the university as its academic servant, and it can only proceed and continuously develop by constantly questioning itself in equal­ly rigorous and relevant ways. Chairs and directors … must not be simply agents of the administration as instructed in the cam­pus handbook, but capable representatives and committed ad­vo­cates of the discipline, its faculty, students, staff, and its mission, which reaches out to its local and world community. I think it’s im­portant for chairs also to hire people with a terminal degree in Black Studies. This is important for several reasons. First, it re­af­firms the importance of direct and deep-rooted ground­ing in the field itself. It also produces and reproduces a critical mass of schol­ars for com­mu­nity, continuity, and continuum. It also ensures pro­duction of a discipline-specific body of literature and meth­od­ol­o­gies, and con­ceptual generation. It also creates an on­going dis­ci­pline-specific conversation and narrative that reflects the evo­lu­tion and growth of the discipline, and it creates a con­text and ground for both self-de­termination and mutual respect as a dis­ci­pline within the acad­emy itself. Without your own disci­pline, you’re just a collection of classes. You don’t have the same status or respect in the academy. I think there’s a diversity of interests and emphasis in our early di­rections and discord, but Black Stud­ies, as Stewart has said, de­vel­oped into a coherent intel­lectual en­terprise as expressed, I believe, in a triple mission. That is: culture-grounded, academic excellence, and social engage­ment. … I think the integrity of the discipline re­quires that the core data and methodology we use to teach Africana Studies ac­tu­al­ly are root­ed in and rise out of the actual culture of African people, con­ti­nental and diasporan, ancient and modern, re­gard­less of sup­ple­mentary and secondary sources of our knowledge and prac­tice. … The central ground of concern and en­gage­ment is the world Af­ri­can community. However, our focus on the world African com­mu­ni­ty will compel us to deal with the world as a whole as it im­pacts our lives. Our task then is to not only un­der­stand the world and our­selves in it, but to change each in the interest of human free­dom, justice, and good in the world. This requires, in the best of our ancient intellectual activist traditions, that we en­act our own best understanding of the world to teach our students to re­af­firm and renew our discipline, reconstruct the acad­emy, com­mu­ni­ty, and society, and dare even to make a signif­i­cant con­tri­bution to the Fanonian project of a new history of hu­man­kind.

Molefi Kete Asante (Temple University): I have a comment, and I guess my comment is that we’re a generation, most of us here, of ground-breakers in this field. One of the aims, it seems to me, is for us to replace ourselves, but not replace ourselves with people who have been trained in the same way we have been trained. Most of us probably have been trained in the social sciences or hu­manities, but if we are going to establish and institutionalize the field of Black Studies, it is essential that in this process we commit discipline suicide from those traditional fields, in the sense that we can then grow this new discipline by hiring individuals into our de­partments who have terminal degrees in Black Studies and to allow the de­part­ments of history, political science, sociology, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, to continue to do what they did for us. In other words, we should not assume that history or political science or Eng­lish some­how will stop admitting and producing graduate stu­dents who are African American. They should continue to do that. They should continue to hire people. But for us, we should be the last generation of people in Black Studies who do not have ter­mi­nal degrees in the field. I think if we make that kind of com­mit­ment, then we have a collection of individuals who are in the dis­ci­pline, who love the dis­ci­pline, are trained in the discipline, and we have a new arch­i­tec­ture of conceptual realities that need to exist in the com­mu­nity.

Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): I want to go back to this con­cept of privatization, because it seems to me that we are really under that cloud, and I’m wondering, first, to what extent people think we have to fight to protect and expand the notion of the pub­lic? And then secondly, and perhaps in con­trast to that, is the ques­tion of are there models in other parts of the university that we should take up in order to link with an en­tre­pre­neurial impulse in the African American community. If you think of engineering, one of the ways that they have been able to main­tain their position is in partnering and becoming an incu­ba­tor for new technology and spinning off entrepreneurial enter­prises. In fact, in some places they have even constructed dorms with special rooms where the students learn how to make presen­ta­tions to venture capital. So there is a whole direction in that way. So I just want to raise the ques­tion, are there any best practices or guide­lines for connecting with that impulse in our community in order for us to survive?

Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): I don’t myself know of any best prac­tices in that area, but I think it is an interesting area to think about harnessing as it were. I think we’re in for another stage of improvisation. Because when the university becomes so bottom-line-oriented, it is essentially transformative. Not just for African Ame­rican Studies, but for, I believe, humanities, social sciences, and professional schools. The sense of permanence of a discipline that we have, we need to entertain the idea of impermanence as well. The boundaries are shifting. Fifteen years ago, I was stunned when our university came out with a plan to disestablish three schools, not three departments, three schools. I still recall that every time I hear people say, “You think African American Studies is safe?”

Kimberle Crenshaw (UCLA): So I want to make an allied point, and I want to thank Claudia for giving voice to some concerns that I have about the lessons that I think should be learned from a post-affirmative action institution. Claudia mentioned that the law school had the most progressive, expansive affirmative action pro­gram in the country. We admitted up to 40 percent of our class out of traditionally excluded groups. One would think that an in­sti­tu­tion that’s done that for twenty years would have had a com­mit­ment to figuring out how to sustain that commitment in the after­math of the decline of affirmative action. Nothing could be fur­ther from the truth.

Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): In fact, they reinterpreted the con­sti­tu­tion.

Kimberle Crenshaw (UCLA): They did. So one of the things I want to put on the table for us to consider is using what happened in California, just as a worst-case scenario, what are the best prac­tices that we can begin to put into place now? I think we need an emergency preparedness plan. Some part of that involves try­ing to figure out whether there are other models around cam­pus, but the other thing to remember is if we don’t have stu­dents, it doesn’t matter whether we can find those other models.

What happened with us, and frankly the reason we developed a CRS program, is that we had one of the most integrated faculties in the country, but we had no students. So the one little piece that we could do was we could admit 5 percent of the class into a pro­gram. So we created a program so we could actually have some im­pact on admissions. Our distance learning technology, when we had two Black students in the entering class, we said we can’t teach with two Black students. So we linked up with Columbia, where there were some more Black students, and taught a class that way. These are ways of using these strategies and anticipating what is go­ing to happen.

We don’t know, from institution to institution, what would be the effect on admissions, if in all of our institutions we could no long­er use race. People were shocked to find out that you couldn’t admit 20 percent of the Black students that used to be admitted. We’ve got one Black woman in our first-year class right now. We’ve got fewer Black students in our first-year class than we had in 1968. So everyone needs to look at admissions now. Get on those ad­mis­sions committees, build relationships with politicians, so if this ever comes down the pipe for you, you already have some rela­tion­ships that you can use as an emergency contingency plan.

Maulana Karenga (California State University, Long Beach): I just wanted to respond to what Abdul said, and I think that what Claud­ia said is very important about the shift from stress on social good to individual good, because a lot of the students have that, and we have to answer that. That’s why cultural grounding is so important, because if you teach the culture and history, the values, the vi­sion, of our coming into being, both as a people and as a dis­ci­pline, you then can in fact begin to change that and begin to chal­lenge the values that they have. But if you talk outside the dis­cipline, if you borrow a language from other disciplines and you spend more time analyzing text rather than life, then what hap­pens is that you undermine your own status. The second thing is the whole idea of the activist intellectual tradition. That we ac­tual­ly have to go back and return to the source. We have to re­build the movement, and we have to, in doing this, not only do ser­vice and policy, but also practice. We have to lend our minds and skills to rebuilding structures that defend us and that develop us as a community. Without that you don’t involve the people ex­cept at an intellectual and distant level. You’ve got to go back to the community, like Na­than Hare said, take the campus to the com­munity and bring the com­munity to the campus.

Warren C. Whatley (University of Michigan) and Edmund T. Gordon (University of Texas, Austin): Sorry, but I’m flipping back to the changing university environment thing and emergency preparedness …

Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA): Just a quick comment. An ob­ser­va­tion: the 10 percent plan was what governed education at In­di­ana when I was coming through, this was going back to the late 50s. Now, how is it that we allowed admissions to become at-large? It’s just like elections at-large, right? You will not get Black rep­re­sen­ta­tion. But we now have admissions at-large. And we need to think about it because it is, for us, affecting who we are teaching.

Tsuruta reintroduces the idea of supporting the professional or­ganizations as a means of sustaining the discipline and en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to become members of those organizations. She fur­ther suggests that de­part­mental administrators should insist that the professional or­ga­nizations and journals of the field are criteria for Black Studies, but a part of the uni­ver­sity-wide tenure process.

In response to innovative ways of integrating Black Stud­ies into the uni­­versity, Bailey suggests that the business school model of bus­i­ness plan competitions and collaborative projects with applied fields should be con­sid­ered.

Ronald W. Bailey (Northeastern University): … A group of stu­dents get together and design a corporation and sometimes they can actually come away with capital to invest in that cor­po­ra­tion. I think that’s useful, because we could do that with our stu­dents in African American Studies. I tend to have students at the end of the semester work on group projects, so we could have stu­dents ac­tual­ly develop plans for interventions in terms of com­munity needs. … I think that’s very helpful in terms of this applied notion of Black Studies. I have students look at health dis­pa­rities issues, and so on, and what would be an intervention that [they] would propose? I think it’s also useful if we think about that with Afro-Studies in relationship to the business school. We could get students in the bus­iness school to come in and design some community-based economic enterprise. Our students in en­gi­neer­ing at Northeastern actually designed a bridge, and built a bridge to address the needs in terms of access to parts of the com­mu­nity. There are a lot of philanthropies now and investors that want to do social projects.

Irma McClaurin (Ford Foundation): [Panelists’ presenta­tions] were provocative. We’ve got a changing landscape in higher education. We also have ideas about how one can sort of innovate in terms of the position of Black Studies within the academy. And then sort of a different model in terms of thinking about what is an ad­min­is­trator. Is it really just sort of a functional kind of task of do­ing cer­tain kinds of things, or does it involve the sort of in­tel­lec­tual agenda as well?


Question Eight Discussion Copyright © 2018 by marilyn m. thomas-houston. All Rights Reserved.

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