Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Spelman College
While there is a considerable amount of scholarship on all aspects of Black Studies, including the status of the field, relatively little is available on the subject of funding. There is no question that the institutionalization of Black Studies in the academy can be linked in significant ways to funding by the Ford Foundation, which began in 1969 (five grants went to HBCUs and five to majority institutions). In fact, between the earliest round of grants through the late 1990s, the Foundation “donated over twenty million dollars to both graduate and undergraduate programs and to departments of African American studies.” So, it is safe to say that Ford has been critical to the success of the field as it relates to financial support.
Among the many challenges facing Black Studies at this juncture of its history, the issue of funding looms large. This would include funding for both undergraduate and graduate programs, especially at under-resourced colleges and universities, particularly HBCUs; specialized Black Studies journals, both disciplinary and interdisciplinary; conferences; research; endowed and visiting professorships; organizations (such as the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History); and research centers/institutes and libraries.
A number of issues emerge when considering funding issues for Black Studies: (1) How might foundations determine priorities for continued funding? (2) What would constitute cutting-edge research in the field and how might these efforts be supported? (3) Should well-established programs be privileged? (4) What is the feasibility of substantial funding at wealthy majority universities? (5) In what ways should HBCUs be supported? An overarching issue is the impact of technology on the development of the field and the funding implications for these new developments.
With respect to the particular issue of funding alternatives for sustaining Black Studies over the long haul, there are no easy solutions, especially if the Ford Foundation substantially decreases its support. Rather than speculate about what such alternatives might be, I would suggest the following. Sustained discussions need to occur with respect to barriers that prevent continued financial support of a range of Black Studies initiatives/projects. An examination needs to be undertaken with respect to the history of foundation support for Black Studies (other than Ford) since its inception in the early ’70s. Which foundations among that group are likely to continue such funding and what new foundations can be identified? What have been some effective strategies over time for attracting foundation funding and what lessons have we learned with respect to both successes and failures? In the present climate of hostility to affirmative action and other race-based initiatives, what arguments can be mounted for the urgency of funding Black Studies in the academy?
As we ponder the future of Black Studies, it would be instructive to engage in dialogue about what our most urgent funding priorities might be at the present time and over the next five to ten years. It would also be instructive to conduct a survey of the present level of funding that the over four hundred Black Studies programs are now receiving and the extent to which their funding is generated outside the college or university. Are the resources that the most well-funded programs receive used effectively and if so, for what purposes? Since doctoral programs are increasing, what are the funding implications of this new trend? What might we learn from an examination of funding sources for other interdisciplinary programs, such as Women’s Studies and other Area Studies? Are there effective collaborations that could be forged in light of scarce resources, especially at less affluent institutions? Is the future of Black Studies tied to the availability of external funding by foundations? What is the likelihood that Black Studies can attract substantial funding from individuals? What has been the history of wealthy individuals contributing to Black Studies? What strategies might be crafted to attract funding from such individuals, including within African American communities? Are there counterparts among Black communities to wealthy feminists who support women’s studies projects, including publications such as Ms. Magazine? Do disasters such as Katrina or the HIV/AIDS pandemic make it more difficult to attract funding for academic programs? How does one respond to the argument that funding for direct services to embattled Black communities might be a better use of scarce resources?
While solutions to the importance of funding for Black Studies remain somewhat elusive, it is important to engage in discussions with practitioners and foundation officials, as well as corporate executives, about how the important field of Black Studies can not only survive but thrive.
- See Delores P. Aldridge and Carlene Young, eds., Out of the Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies (Oxford: Lexington Books, 2000), which includes a timeline, important demographic data, and bibliographic material. ↵
- Aldridge and Young, Out of the Revolution. ↵
- Aldridge and Young, Out of the Revolution. ↵