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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Minding the Campus: Cornell

Yesterday I posted on the Manhattan Institute's online magazine, Minding the Campus, which "is dedicated to the revival of intellectual pluralism and the best traditions of liberal education." The post was in response to the outrage that ensued after an announcement that the African Studies program is being moved to the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell. Here is the text of the post, but I strongly encourage you to check out the MtC website!

"The final meeting of the Cornell Student Assembly last evening sparked a considerable amount of outrage over the announcement that the program for Africana Studies would be absorbed by the College of Arts & Sciences.
Currently, the Africana program enjoys a lot of autonomy by being formally detached from the school of Arts & Sciences. For instance, Africana Studies is the only program on campus that hires faculty without reporting to a dean. It is technically separate from any other undergraduate college at Cornell, supervised by Provost Fuchs. Though their students apply through the college of Arts & Sciences and receive their degree from Cornell.
The administration cited greater opportunities for growth of the Africana center, such as the introduction of a Ph.D. program, but in their statement they claim that, "There was already agreement [established] in 2006 to proceed with [...] a doctoral program without reference to the College of Arts and Sciences."
The Cornell Insider, a blog of the Cornell Review newspaper, reported today that there were protests outside of the main administrative building regarding the move. "Roughly fifty students and faculty were on hand in front of Day Hall Friday afternoon [...] Energetic speakers took turns on the megaphone, calling for students to take action. These speakers included both students and professors in the Africana Center. While the speakers' anger was directed at the alleged rashness and lack of communication associated with the move rather than the move itself, the protest signs indicated a staunch opposition to the move."
An email has been circulating around Cornell from the Africana students. There has been a laundry list of gripes, but here are some egregious ones:
"The Africana Center was established as an inter-college unit reporting to the Provost out of a logic that protected it from being subsumed under other administrative structures. The direct line to the Provost was essential for allowing its independence and self-determination."
Provost Fuchs' action will undo all the work that went into creating one of the most respected Africana Studies departments nationally and internationally."
"Africana will now be open as a free for all for those who know little about the field."
"There was no meeting with students prior to the Provost's announcement."
"The decision added additional stresses to students since it was dropped on them in the last week of school."
The move for Africana Studies will ultimately benefit the program. They will be part of the college, gaining faculty and a Ph.D. graduate course of study. Furthermore, the reaction of the students has been absurd and worthy of little sympathy. Since when have administrators had to meet with students to make decisions?
Of course, the program has been controversial ever since it was founded in 1969, the same year that armed African-American students took over a building on campus. The first Director of the program is quoted as having said, "I do not believe white critics can be allowed to have any influence over the program." Most recently, the Black Students United's Sunday evening 'Unity Hour,' which strives to promote "lively and educational discussions," featured Eddie Conway, an ex-Black Panther "Minister of Defense" to keynote their evening chat. Conway had to call in, though, because he is currently imprisoned in Jessup Correctional Institution for the 1970 murder of a police officer in cold blood. As the Cornell Review reported, Conway identified himself as a 'political prisoner' and the crowd treated him as such. Most of us students would have never come up with the title 'political prisoner' to designate a cop-killer. This is a reminder that more is at stake here than an administrative reshuffling of departments."

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  1. Firsties!

    The entire concept of identity politics, or indeed courses of its study is anathema to libertarians and conservatives.

  2. "Africana will now be open as a free for all for those who know little about the field."

    This means White kids who might want to find out what "The Black Experience" means to them. By keeping them out, it allows Blacks to continue to claim that Whites can't understand.....

    Isn't "letting people in who know little about the field" one of the purposes of education?

  3. Why are they protesting FOR separate but equal??

  4. Could the campus malcontents whine any louder if Cornell had simply abolished all its Grievance Studies programs? Performing this latest Sir Humphrey-esque administrative shuffling maneuver only energized the full-time professional protesters among the half-time student slacker population. Genuine reform of that utterly anti-academic department is now stalled for another 41 years.

  5. As a graduate of the American Studies program from the University at Buffalo, I saw what comes of consolidating what Micha refers to as 'Grievance Studies'. when an instructor of African Studies retires, they are not replaced, because the Womans Studies program just hired a new adjunct, and the Caribbean studies program must share staff with the Spanish Language program. I attended UB because of the ability to look at a cross cultural exchange, but year after year, funding was squeezed out, because it fell under the college of Arts and Science.

  6. Once I had the opportunity to join a grievance-mongering group, but after a bit of thought I declined. The group's stance was Marxist-Leninist. I've lived to see that everything the group advocated has come a cropper. Nevertheless, the group did purpose to study African history for self-knowledge and self-esteem.

    From my college experience, these little programs are bastions of black privilege in a sea of whiteness; in them, everyone knows the in jokes for everyone has had some kind of experience with The Other and can chime in with the amen chorus. Michelle my belle would say that classes in these disciplines provide the attendees with a comfort zone that they might not want to get out of.

    Additionally, especially in the case of Africana Studies, the classes provide another basis for racial anger. The whole notion of black queens and kings, fostered by some and indicated by the wearing of kente cloth, is a child of Africana Studies. It says: look at what we were once upon a time, and it's the reflection of where we are now that causes the anger.

    That does not mean that some of these areas of studies are irrelevant. It merely means that they should become serious disciplines focused on solid research instead of being oriented towards building the self-esteem of students (there's nothing to make a person feel good like hearing about Timbuktu, Mali, and Songhai or reading the Mwindo Epic). Futhermore, the professorships should be open to all racial groups, as long as the individuals have the requisite academic background.

    The exclusion of whites, Asians, and others from Africana and Caribbean Studies is essentially racist and ahistorical.