Recently, the Black Studies Department has lost a number of professors. Because of this and a departmental review, many have shown concern regarding the department’s future and current financial state.
That said, we at The New Paltz Oracle would like to dispel all rumors that there have been any funding cuts to the Black Studies Department. In an interview with President Donald Christian, he expressed full support for the department and stressed that it is an important and developing fixture of our campus. He returned to his Sept. 10 email to the campus as evidence of this fact.
Despite this, a combination of plans to alter the curriculum and a sudden lack of staff has caused many to question the administration’s support of the Black Studies Department, both financially and as an academic priority.
According to Christian, none of the professors who left the department were fired – two retired, one moved away and one switched departments. Because they all left within such close proximity and administration has yet to fill the staff vacancies, the Black Studies Department is currently short-staffed.
A recent departmental review, a requirement for every academic department conducted by professors from outside institutions, concluded that some restructuring of the Black Studies curriculum is needed.
“The reviewers who came in from outside made the clear recommendation that the faculty in the department needed to look very carefully at being sure the curriculum is aligned with some of the current developments in Black Studies and Africana Studies, and is reflecting that current scholarship,” Christian said in an interview with The Oracle. “Until the curriculum is determined, we’re hesitant to hire a full array of faculty.”
Overall, concerns have taken form in both organized demonstrations on campus and online as a letter from Black Studies Department alumni to Christian and Interim Provost Stella Deen.
This letter expressed the expectations of Black Studies alumni for the future of the department. It also encouraged other students, past and present, to sign a statement of support for the department.
On Thursday, Nov. 12, around 200 students gathered in the Student Union Concourse to stand in solidarity with students affected by racial discrimination at the University of Missouri. At the demonstration, some students shared concerns that the administration does not value the Black Studies Department.
With a department that is lacking both a full staff and a concrete curriculum, it is completely understandable that many are concerned about the department’s future. But by learning of the inner-workings of plans the administration has to revitalize and improve the department, it is clear that the Black Studies Department is here to stay.
In a meeting between The Oracle and Christian, the president expressed full intent to hire new professors to replace those who have left. However, hiring a tenure track professor is not a short process, he said, and it requires a lot of attention and planning.
“You can’t do a national search for a tenure-track faculty member and have the assurance of hiring the best faculty in a short period of time – it’s going to take continuing conversation to make our students understand that,” Christian said.
It is our hope that the administration will become more transparent to the campus community in regards to this convoluted topic. This transparency is important in order to create a more candid relationship between students and administration for the sake of mutual understanding for future issues. By keeping the campus community updated on steps taken to reorganize and hire more staff for the department, progress will be much easier to follow, and in turn, will not leave so many questions unanswered.
Additionally, those who are concerned for the department are responsible for seeking out the truth and not making false assumptions.
To clear up some confusion and address the concerns of those involved with the department, we suggest that administration hosts an open forum to address and discuss these matters; much like the “Let’s Talk About It” discussions from a few years ago. This type of forum will only help improve both the trust between students and administration, as well as the transparency as administration takes the steps necessary to move the Black Studies Department forward.
Coverage from The Oracle will be continued once more information becomes available.
Editorials represent the views of the majority of the editorial board. Columns, op-eds and letters, excluding editorials, are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The New Paltz Oracle, its staff members, the campus and university or the Town or Village of New Paltz.