Yale Afro-Am Studies Declines
Growing Competition in Field Draws Profs to Other Schools
Because of the loss of many of its top faculty in the last few years, the status of Yale's once pre-eminent Afro-American Studies program is on the decline, scholars in the field have said.
Growing interest in the field has prompted increased competition for professors in the discipline at universities across the country. Many of these schools have autonomous Afro-American departments that are more easily able to hire faculty than Yale's program.
The Yale program is not an official department, and is only able to grant tenure to faculty members through joint appointments with other academic departments.
"There were times when an individual came up for tenure and the two sponsoring departments would not agree," said Henry L. Gates, a literary scholar who left the Yale program in 1985 for Cornell's Africana Studies and Research Center. Gates is one of three Afro-American Studies professors who have left Yale since 1985.
"The right for a department to charter its own course is very important, and until Yale changes, I don't think it will be able to realize its full potential," Gates said.
"I would say that Yale had the best program in the early 80's when I first got there," said Anthony Appiah, a philosophy professor who left Yale for Cornell shortly after Gates. "By the time I left, however, it didn't have the same exciting, interdisciplinary atmosphere it [once] had.
Edmund Gordon, the chair of Yale's Afro-American Studies program, said that administrators at Yale are considering the possibility of granting his program departmental status.
Gordon said that although his program has been weakened by the recent departures, he does not think the problem is serious.
"It's certainly true that we've suffered some losses, but I don't think that speaks to any decrease in the long-range program," said Gordon. "The thing I would worry about is if the university were dragging its feet in the matter. But they're not, and we're making a strong effort to get people to replace the professors we lost."
Gordon added that Yale has become a target for "faculty raids" by other universities because of its strong reputation in the field.
Robert Harris, director of Africana Studies and Research at Cornell, said he felt programs at such colleges as the University of Wisconsin and UCLA were challenging the Yale program's status as one of the best in the country.
"I think Yale is losing its preeminence in the field," said Harris. "When you have individuals of that stature leaving, it's hard to recover."
Other universities have not been immune to the effects of growing competition for professors in Afro-American Studies.
"Competition and the more complex market in which one is playing have made appointments in general harder to make," said DuBois Professor of History and Afro-American Studies Nathan Huggins.
Appiah said that the recent growth of the field is caused by several factors.
"One is that the field has come of age--it's exciting and draws good people. A second reason is the widespread awareness among college administrators of demographic problems in recruiting minority students, and the hope that black studies will be a way to increase their numbers. Along with that, colleges are also looking to increase minority faculty recruitment," Appiah said.