Funding Alternatives to Assist Sustaining Black Studies
Janice Petrovich (Ford Foundation): This session is about funding to help strengthen programs, and funding is an important part of it. Our two speakers will touch upon some of the issues around funding and their thoughts about what might be strengths that would help strengthen and institutionalize the programs on Black Studies and Africana programs. We’re gonna start with Kevin Gaines from University of Michigan.
Kevin Gaines (University of Michigan): Thank you for inviting me to this meeting. It’s an honor to be here. It’s been a really great discussion and I regret that I can’t stay for the whole discussion.
The funding piece is part of a lot of the larger issues that we’ve been talking about all morning. I want to begin with some of the take-away of my piece. I think Black Studies will not command the respect that’s due from university administrators, faculty, and from African people until its programs attract significant philanthropic contributions.
We talked about the image problems of Black Studies and their significance, and there’s a paradox at the heart of that. We’ve established that Black Studies has been hugely influential in its impact on the academy and on the disciplines. But it remains embattled for all the reasons that we’ve been talking about.
But there’s another image problem that we’ve alluded to today, but we don’t tend to talk about, and that is the image problem among many African Americans. Among Black college students and their families, even among some prominent civil rights leaders, there’s a misunderstanding about Black Studies; Black Studies is not seen as a worthy enterprise.
A lot of the position papers are basically informed by people’s local situation, and my paper is no different. I’m responding to the situation at Michigan: perception problems among many Black students about our center, which as you know, is a large center, one of the successful Black Studies programs they try best not to talk about in the Chronicle. But nevertheless, there’s a misunderstanding, perception problems or outright ignorance about our center. So I think this is something we need to talk about.
I think a lot of this has to do with the difficulty within the political environment, that we’re dealing with conservatism with attacks on affirmative action in getting the message about Black Studies out; getting the information about the contributions out about Black Studies. I think that we need to reconsider how we talk about Black Studies and how we can get that message out.
One of the things I said in my paper to be provocative is that we need to go beyond the scholarship versus activism debate, which I think some of you have alluded to in the press. I think that debate only reaffirms dominant negative images of Black Studies: negative appraisals. And I think that [that debate is] what’s happening here today—we’ve already heard great examples of that. We need to articulate in more concrete ways what activism means and we have to articulate it in ways that are specific to the needs of, not just Black communities, people of African descent, but the local situation of the needs of Black students on college campuses, whether they’re white majority campuses or historically Black colleges.
I think the challenge for funding … I’m focusing on trying to get college-educated African Americans, college-bound African Americans, more involved and engaged with Black Studies. And I think really the challenge has to do with getting the information about the important, significant contributions that Black Studies has made out there. We’ve been engaged in that kind of conversation.
I think this can be done by stressing what is unique about Black Studies, but also by pointing out the similarities of Black Studies with other academic programs and the ways Black Studies also overlaps with the mission of higher education. And that is, training students in critical skills, writing skills, that [will] make them competitive and ensure that they have the range of options for their future careers.
Just to return to the point about what’s unique about Black Studies programs, I’ll give one example—study abroad programs to Africa and the Caribbean. This is something that I think is a very important aspect of undergraduate education and something that Black Studies programs are uniquely situated to provide.
Everything I’m saying is based on local experience, and I think that a lot of what’s been said around the table is as well. I have, as director of the center, had the opportunity to talk to groups of alumni, some of the folks who are actually responsible for the founding of the center through their activism.
I can tell you that African American alumni of U. of M. really don’t care that we have a large center with lots of faculty. They really want to know how CAAS can meet their needs and expectations as they see them, and that is how can we facilitate access to higher education to University of Michigan for African American youth; how can we prepare Black students and train them and make up for the lack of preparation that they have received to date? How can CAAS address the serious problems facing African Americans in Detroit? I think we need to be ever more specific about the local issues that each program has to confront in order to make a case, to make a compelling argument for the relevance of these programs.
I’ll say this as the last thing, I really think there needs to be a new language, new ways of specifying the value and the contribution and significance of Black Studies for several constituencies, and I think we have to be open to those more concrete specifications of what we’re about if we’re going to make a compelling case to African Americans who are potential donors for Black Studies. I think we need new language, new formulations. I think some of the discussion about the need to have Black Studies connect with public policy issues—and there are a number of issues we could list: I listed a few, I could have listed more—I think we need to think in those terms.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman College): I’m really happy to be here. I have to really thank the Ford Foundation. Without the Ford Foundation there would be no women’s research or resource center at Spelman, having been funded since 1983, and therefore no autonomous Black feminist base at a historical Black women’s college.
I, like Kevin, concentrated my comments on external funding because that’s what the question seemed to suggest to me; alternative funding for Black Studies. But I think we could have an internal conversation, but I think it’s very difficult to have that generically.
There were two issues in my head. One was the issue of funding Black Studies programs. And the broader issue which I tried to address was funding the broad range of things that we would think about as Black Studies: not just undergraduate and graduate programs; but also journals, conferences, symposia, faculty development workshops, research, endowed and visiting professorships, organizations, institutes, libraries, archives, and fellowships. That’s a whole broader discussion of what to me it would [mean] to talk about funding Black Studies.
The second thing I want to say is that there is insufficient data on the funding picture of Black Studies programs at the present time. I think we need to have some actual data. I think there is differential funding. I think prestigious, highly visible Black Studies programs are doing pretty well in terms of funding. There are Black Studies programs in other kinds of places that people pay no attention to. One of the questions I want to ask, and I’ve got mostly questions—are the resources at the most well-funded programs you see used effectively and if so, for what purpose? I don’t think it’s always a matter that we are underfunded. We know which programs those are.
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): I don’t know that that’s true. We know what the image is of who’s actually getting the money.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman College): We do know that there are well-resourced Black Studies programs vis-à-vis other ones. So what I’m suggesting is that we need data and we can get it. We might want to be asking, what do you do with that money? Since doctoral programs are increasing as one of the funding implications of this new trend, what can we learn? I know Black Studies folk don’t like to look at what everybody else is doing.
James Turner (Cornell University): Some Black Studies folk.
Beverly Guy-Sheftall (Spelman College): Many Black Studies programs will say we are autonomous, but what can we learn from what other interdisciplinary programs might have done from a perspective of attracting funds? In other words, I don’t assume that the answers to all of our issues are in this room or among those of us that do this work. And I think there are lessons that we can learn about how to get money from individual persons within certain communities, and we might be able to learn from some other folks about how to do that.
This is a really big question. What is the likelihood that Black Studies is able to attract substantial funds from wealthy Black individuals? I think it’s a question that we need to sit around and talk about. I think this may be more complicated given disasters such as Katrina, HIV/AIDS, all kinds of on-the-ground direct services that Black people think they need. So when you go to them [and] ask them for some money to endow a professorship, they might say to you, as they say to us, “I’m gonna give some money but it’s gonna be for Katrina victims in New Orleans.” How do we respond to the desire of Black people to contribute to Black communities, but think of that only in terms of helping individuals who are homeless, as opposed to thinking about Black Studies programs as a legitimate resource.
I’m thinking of someone, for example, like Denzel Washington, who was at Dilliard last week; very committed to helping students at Dilliard who have been impacted by Katrina. How can we attract people like Denzel to think about putting his enormous resources also in Black Studies programs? Can we continue to rely on white philanthropists? How can we attract Black philanthropy to Black Studies programs? And if anybody can figure out how to attract the enormous wealth that young Black males have because of the hip-hop industry, enormous resources; can Black Studies figure that one out? Is there something we know about ourselves that would enable us to get some of those resources? Those are some of the kinds of questions I have on the table.
Tsuruta points out that care should be taken not to stereotype Black Studies. She reasons that while it is important to hear problems with support at institutions, it is not the case across the board, and provides the example that the Black Studies Department at SFSU receives help from the development office in their fund-raising/grant-writing efforts.
Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (UCLA: I just wanted to associate myself with some of the remarks that Beverly just made. Because I do think we have a lot to learn. I think that others have much to teach us, as we have much to teach others. And I wanted to relate some of her comments to my own experience. After I directed African American Studies at UCLA for thirteen years, I went into another position and several years after that, I was back in African American Studies; except that African American Studies was reporting to me rather than my directing it. Also with African American studies reporting to me was Asian American Studies, Chicano-Latino Studies, and American Indian Studies.
As I have been able to observe these units very closely now over a period of almost twenty years, it’s clear to me that some of these units have implemented the Black Studies model better than African American Studies. I think in particular about the whole community service dimension, which Asian American studies has been absolutely brilliant with: they have also been very brilliant with tapping into private money of individuals in the last three years; three new chairs in Asian American Studies; the American Indian Studies community has been very good at tapping into the casino money. There are some lessons in all of this.
Asian American Studies has also been really good at being both very ideological and — it seems contradictory — also a very big tent. So there are probably about forty-five different faculty members who are associated with that unit. They come from all different kinds of persuasions; but they are completely solidarity on issues that affect Asian American Studies. They can be relied upon. And these groups together really do make a difference in terms of the past and the future of African American Studies at the UCLA campus; the combined force.
Terry explains that from their department’s inception outside funding to keep the program running was not under consideration. Based on the population percentage of students of taxpayers who wanted an African American Studies program, UMass administrators convinced legislators that a portion of those taxes be dedicated to the institutionalization of their department and admittance into “the academy on equal standing with other departments.”
Esther M. A. Terry (University of Massachusetts, Amherst): … And we started thinking that was our sole concern, that we had some demonstration from the folks that sat in those seats of authority and who could divide up money and take money from taxpayers in Massachusetts, and not direct at least a portion of that in some measurable way to the education of students that look like the taxpayers … .
Daryl Michael Scott (Howard University): … I got an email the other day from a young scholar who’s in Colombia, Latin America. He’s doing empirical research and is literally risking life and limb trying to demonstrate the African ethnic origins of the captive population in Columbia. He’s been held by the state of Colombia; he’s been interrogated by rebels. And the email said to me: “Dr. Scott, can you get me out of here and can you help me fund the last six months of my dissertation because I’ve never received funding from Howard.” I can replicate those stories and I know other people can, too.
I have been on dissertation committees where people do non-empirical research, where they read five books and write the sixth one, using cutting-edge theory; sometimes they’re good. But I’ve known that my students at Howard are building the foundation for the field in the tradition that Abdul was talking about; and they don’t stand a ghost of a chance to get funding. To the extent that our students at Howard have funding, it comes from a set of accounts left by former Howard professors; that’s our philanthropy. And we dole it out. And there are many more people at the door.
So I’m not saying that the people who win in the game, and I have won in the big game, believe me, and I think you do know it is what’s happening in graduate education if you can receive a Ford. And yet the money is not enough. I know you do a lot and it’s not enough. And perhaps … there’s a Mellon program where sometimes [the money is given out] institutionally as opposed to a national competition. It’s locally administered.
Is there a possibility of loosening this thing up or adding more funds there so that PhD programs where they produce scholars in the field may have a chance to have their students funded? Sometimes they begin with low GRE scores and end up with classic studies at the back end; and with $100,000 of personal debt for having done it. They’re walking away with $100,000 of personal debt.
Murmurs of agreement from the participants indicate assent to the gravity of Dr. Scott’s comment.
Nathaniel Norment Jr. (Temple University): In spite of not having funding, Temple has graduated 140 PhDs. And like the brother said here, they have debt. Of those 140, I would say, 40, at the most, have received funding; but they are coming there to get a PhD in the discipline. And I wonder if we had had Ford money, could it be used to validate us in those programs, be they Princeton, Harvard, Yale, whatever. Again, back at Ford, whatever you heard about or read about our obituaries at Temple, we’ve not been mourning it.
It’s not tooting horns here, but everybody talks about these personal things. I think we have been on the cutting edge of everything you discussed at this table today, in terms of I got beat up for many things that we’ve done; in terms of hip-hop; Black gay and lesbian courses; courses we’ve done online; we’ve revised our undergraduate and graduate curriculum to do the public policy piece. And internally, we’ve tripled our enrollment, haven’t gotten another penny in our budget.
But I’m hearing, if we have a few pennies from Ford, we’ve been validated; and we would not have had the stigma of whatever Dr. Asante represents. He represents, because I think, if we had the money, you probably would have validated us in spite of Dr. Asante. This is real if you’re looking to fund a program; look at our program. We’ve done things with the women. If you are interested in looking at programs that define the discipline, look at us. We don’t need a million dollars. We need just a few pennies to help support the students and help us do some additionals; that’s all.
Carole Boyce Davies (Florida International University): Picking back up on Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s comment about funding from other agencies and perhaps the following panel may want to pick that up; because it seems to me there’s a role for some of the professional organizations to target Black wealth to see if they can be educated about the need to give; they get reciprocal benefits. I say this because routinely, and somebody mentioned this earlier, the Latino business community gives to Latins on our campus all the time for all kinds of things like kids going back to [study] Latin America; the Jewish units do the same thing for people going to Israel and so on.
I think the model that Skip developed about targeting Black wealth is one that may be replicated, but not for just Harvard. Because I think the logic of giving to named schools so that your name is attached to Harvard, or whatever, seems to drive some of that, and there may be a need to broaden it so that there can be an understanding of how that works.
I had a question for Abdul about whether in his study if there is a line, I haven’t had a chance to study it as yet, about what funding institutions do give to their programs? I was at Binghamton for fifteen years and routinely they would have something like $4,000 to spend. I was told recently it had increased to $7,000. I thought that was scandalous when I was there, because it meant you had to go around campus begging every time you wanted to do something; and they did quite a bit. But there’s a model in which people operate with a kind of volunteer service from Women’s Studies, Black Studies and so on, and think you don’t need any more unless you go begging and asking. I think there has to be a way in which you can make a case if you can demonstrate which institutions give what to their various programs.
Abdul Alkalimat (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign): I, too, have a Ford memoir to share. Fabio Rojas’s dissertation was on the development of African American Studies as a discipline at the University of Chicago, and is now going to be published as a book by John Hopkins Press. In that, he has a paragraph that talks about when we were setting up the Institute of the Black World. A program officer named Armacy wrote a letter to Vincent Harding warning him that Ford might not be interested in funding if that person who was involved in the Harkness Hall incident and who was an unrestrained radical was allowed to remain. This is in writing from a Ford program officer. So this isn’t like there haven’t been many discussions that apply to this meeting that we’re having today.
In any case, it seems to me, becoming professional beggars is something that happened after the Black Power movement jumped off. So rather than think about what we can do, [what] we have to think about is who we could beg from. And that became the norm in community organization. The way you organized in the community is you set up a training program so people can learn how to write grants. And everybody wants a grant writer. At the same time, out the other side of our mouth, we’re saying the oppressor will not fund liberation.
Now it seems to me that if you study philanthropy, any calls to get relative new money to somehow become benevolent toward the community is whistling Dixie; and you know what that means for us: it doesn’t mean freedom and it doesn’t mean it’s gonna work. First-generation people don’t give money; they don’t even give money to their children; so why would they be giving money to us?
Go to talk to Meharry; you want to talk about some real fund-raising and the difficulty they have of raising money from their alumni. I think we have to go back to what has always been our struggle, and it’s in the public sphere, not the private sphere. I’m talking about what we’ve been doing the past hundred-plus years; we’re sleeping through our WPA. And we know how important that was in terms of the kinds of things we’re talking about. That’s the slave narratives. It’s work-study.
Everything we do is on work-study money, first-generation college students. The data you’re all looking at was pulled down off the web and the websites were coded by first-generation college students who were being paid on work-study.
The subtext for this discussion today is that higher education is stratified. So what is poor in one place is untold wealth in another place. …
The past four years people have gotten money to come in and speak, don’t have to spend the night, and get more money than our entire budget. So that’s the reality of the world we live in. It’s one thing to say, “Ford give us money, please”; on the other hand it’s what can we do for ourselves under the conditions that we can demand the money because it comes from the public sector like our taxes.
Work-study is something that every campus here … you can have a whole core of students … and incidentally, the legislation is written so it’s graduate students as well. And you can work in the campus or in the community. So all your community projects can be funded with work-study money. So we’ve got things that we can put our hands on right now.
If you’re at Michigan or at UCLA, the potential funding stream for Washington, New York, or wherever might be comparable to the general research status of your university. Because that’s how grants are looked at in terms of the funding screen. But if you can come from other sectors, like for example community colleges, in terms of where Black Studies and where Black students are concentrating, the likelihood of research dollars going to places is almost zero for a lot of reasons. Also, other schools like UC campuses are one thing; CSU campuses are another [indicating the stratification within the California higher educational systems]. So we’ve got all kinds of stratification in higher education that we have to deal with, and no appeals are gonna change that reality. So I think we need to get real about stuff that’s in hand that we can use.
Edmund T. Gordon (University of Texas, Austin): I want to pick up on what you were saying with two related comments regarding our situation at the University of Texas. Our funding comes almost exclusively from an amount of money that the legislature is forced to give to African American Studies and Mexican American Studies by the Black Caucus and the Mexican American Caucus of the legislature. That speaks directly to what you’re saying in terms of us playing a role and opening a space for our kinds of scholarship and advocacy. On the other hand, it is extremely perilous. [The budget] was given under the regime of Anne Richards and we’re now under the regime of Perry, who is Bush’s younger brother.
I am continually concerned that we’re going to make enough noise so that those Republicans have a look at the bottom line, because every two years they come in and revote that in, and if they were to look at the budget again I’m sure there would be a big black “X” on that matter; it is a very perilous situation to be in, for state schools in particular, and I’m sure you are aware of it. It’s the politics of our funding, and it’s very real.
We do not have a lot of funding for graduate students, fellowships, or anything on the subject. We are in direct competition with the Yales and the Harvards and the Dukes for fellowships. And yet those folks were just in competition with each other for a young woman from Spelman who just received a $100,000 package from Harvard. How can we compete with that? We cannot. And I’m sure when she gets to Harvard, the first thing they’ll have her do is apply for NSF, SRC, SSRC and to Ford for funding and she’ll probably get it. And then Harvard can probably roll that money over. Meanwhile, we’re in a situation in which we could not afford to bring that student in to begin with, and our students who are with us are competing with those students for the little bit of money that is out there for Africana Studies.