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15 Sustaining Black Studies

Funding Challenges

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.[1] 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.”[2] 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,[3] 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Aldridge and Young, Out of the Revolution.
  3. Aldridge and Young, Out of the Revolution.


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