The Black Commentator: An independent weekly internet magazine dedicated to the movement for economic justice, social justice and peace - Providing commentary, analysis and investigations on issues affecting African Americans and the African world.
Dec 9, 2010 - Issue 405

Petition To Save Africana Studies At Cornell
By Leslie M. Alexander, PhD
Scot Brown, PhD



In 1969, in response to student and community demands, the Africana Studies and Research Center (AS&RC) was established at Cornell University. Now, over 40 years later, Provost Kent Fuchs has recently announced that the Africana Studies and Research Center will no longer exist as a Center, but will be reduced to department status and subsumed under the structure of the College of Arts and Sciences. Provost Fuchs made this unilateral decision without discussion or consultation with the Africana faculty, and faculty members have issued a statement in opposition to this dictatorial action. The current Director of the Africana Center, Professor Robert L. Harris, Jr., has resigned in protest. Africana alumni and students are also opposing this action, and are now asking for your help and assistance.

Below is a petition drafted by Cornell University and AS&RC alumni, please read it and demonstrate your support by adding your signature and circulating this widely. You do not need to be a graduate of Cornell University in order to sign the petition. You can access and sign the petition at the following website:

As supporters of the Africana Studies and Research Center (AS&RC) at Cornell University, we stand resolute in our solidarity with the Africana Studies faculty in opposition to Provost Kent Fuchs' brazen and appalling attempts to undermine the Africana Center with a hasty and unilateral decision to reposition this institution relegating it to the status of a "unit" within the College of Arts and Sciences. We are particularly troubled by the news that this action was taken without consultation with the Africana Studies faculty or an extensive internal or external review that would normally accompany a change of this magnitude. We believe there is simply no justification for such an undemocratic decision; this action reflects a deep disrespect and contempt for the Africana Center and its faculty, students, and staff. The fact that Africana faculty have demonstrated their opposition, and the fact that the Center's Director, Professor Robert L. Harris, Jr., has resigned in protest, should serve as testimony to this ill-advised course of action.

We contend that the quality and effectiveness of the AS&RC as a center of knowledge and the principle force for faculty diversity is rooted in a distinctive relationship to the university, beyond the jurisdiction of the College of Arts and Sciences. The Africana Studies and Research Center was founded as a Center for specific intellectual and pedagogical reasons. Those reasons remain as relevant today as they were more than 40 years ago when the Center was first established. Furthermore, we regard the Provost's contention that his decision is motivated by a desire to increase the Center's faculty and resources toward the establishment of a Ph.D. Program, as hollow and counterintuitive. Those of us who are well-versed in university systems and structures understand that this organizational shift is deeply tied to issues of power, control and financial resources. We understand that although the Africana Center is not fully autonomous, there are significant consequences that will arise from being reduced to department status ("a unit") within the College of Arts and Sciences. In particular, allocation of resources and faculty lines, as well as tenure decisions and other important matters will be subjected to a different process, one that is not likely to benefit Africana Studies in the long-run. Moreover, despite the claims of university administrators, we know that it is not necessary to change Africana's status in order to establish a Ph.D. program. Following the external review in 2006, there was widespread agreement to create a doctoral program in Africana Studies with no discussion of a relationship to the College of Arts and Sciences. It was clear then as it is now that resources and faculty lines are the main requirements for the establishment of a Ph.D. program, and there is no reason to deny those resources to Africana as a "Center". We stand firm in our opposition to this assault on the status and institutional integrity of the AS&RC, and we strongly urge Provost Fuchs to reverse course and avoid what will surely be detrimental to the quality of educational life and public image of Cornell University.

Leslie M. Alexander, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The Ohio State University

Scot Brown, Ph.D., Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles