Administration Addresses Concerns Over Future of Black Studies

Photo by David Khorassani.

The Black Studies department is lacking in staff due to the leave of several professors as of late. Two retired, one moved away and one switched departments, according to President Donald Christian. The close proximity of these professors leaving caused suspicion from the student body and alumni. Fears that the Black Studies department was not receiving the attention it needed from the administration to keep it functioning and solid began circulating across the community.

After an overwhelming amount of misunderstandings in regards to the future of the Black Studies department, Christian received a petition asking for a commitment to ensure that students “have access to a strong and supportive academic program in Black Studies as well as more faculty and students of color.” In response to this, Christian sent out an email to the student body from the Office of the President.

“I am in strong solidarity with the broad goals of the student petition, even though students may not agree with the path we are following to achieve those goals,” Christian said in the email. “Along with listening to our students’ concerns, part of the purpose of our meeting was to help students understand steps that the college has been taking to help the Black Studies Department re-build, and the reasoning behind those steps based on years of academic hiring experience and expertise.”

Christian additionally outlined the key points of the matter that students and faculty should be aware of. This included reassurance that vacant faculty positions by retirement or resignation will be filled. Searches are underway for tenure-line positions, as well as visiting faculty positions which are individuals who are hired for a specific term — these professors are not on the tenure track. Christian also reiterated in the email that the faculty, not administrators or students, have primary responsibility for defining the curriculum.

According to Christian, the college’s affirmative action policies require that a full-blown search is conducted with the aid of a search committee. There is clearly laid-out criteria for the position and the vacancy of the position is advertised to ensure a diverse pool of applicants.

“President Christian, Interim Provost Deen and I have iterated in several venues and formats our commitment to Black Studies,” Laura Barrett, dean of liberal arts and sciences said.

“Department Chair Major Coleman, faculty and chairs from other department, and I have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort to rebuild the department.”

According to Barrett, the department has recently hired a visiting assistant professor who will officially join the department in January. Barrett said that the process of filling a tenure-track line for next fall has been initiated.

The amount of notice given varies in regards to a professor leaving his or her position, however, contractually, employees are required to give 30 days notice according to Barrett.

“There are numerous factors involved in replacing departing faculty. It’s not at all unusual for faculty to be replaced by full-time temporary faculty while a search is conducted,” Barrett said. “In this case, extenuating factors included responding to a program review and the impossibility of replacing most of the faculty lines at the same time.”