Though Gates’ leave of absence does not come as a surprise—the scholar announced in December that he was planning a sabbatical—it will take him away from Cambridge in the midst of his department’s major rebuilding efforts.
Two of Afro-American Studies’ star professors, Former Fletcher University Professor Cornel R. West ’74 and former Carswell Professor of Philosophy K. Anthony Appiah, both left Harvard for Princeton University last year—with West’s move coming in the aftermath of a highly publicized disagreement with University President Lawrence H. Summers.
Gates also considered an offer from Princeton, but turned down the opportunity to jum[ ship this Dec., citing a desire to “remain behind to maintain stability as the department attempts to rebuild.”
The chair has worked hard since then to shore up his department’s faculty.
Building on last year’s appointments of Michael C. Dawson in government and Afro-American studies and Evelynn Hammonds in Afro-American studies and history of science, Gates has set a goal of adding five new professors to the department’s ranks.
One such appointment has already been made, said Tishman and Diker Professor of Sociology and of Afro-American Studies Lawrence D. Bobo, who will serve as acting chair in Gates’ absence according to information posted on the registrar’s website last night.
Anthropology scholar Marla Fredericks will fill a junior faculty position within the department next year, Bobo said.
Considerable work remains, however, according to Gates’ colleagues.
“Some of the hires haven’t been going as well as expected, partly because some of the senior people we’ve been trying to get are settled where they are,” said Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies Glenda R. Carpio. “But we’re committed to rebuilding. It’s framed as a chance to do something wonderful, rather than as a consolation.”
Gates’ department is also currently poised for a broadening of focus.
Pending a vote of the full Faculty at its next meeting, the department will change its name to the Department of African and African-American Studies. And next fall it will likely add an undergraduate concentration track in African Studies to its offerings. This transformation, Gates says, has long been on his agenda and is an integral part of his rebuilding efforts.
Bobo said Gates would continue to be involved with the department during his leave.
“I would hope that we don’t end up consuming too much of his time on leave, but I have no doubt he’ll be involved,” Bobo said.
According to Carpio, both Gates’ assistant and his office will remain at his disposal in the department.
“The major changes, any hires or departures, he would definitely be involved with,” Carpio said. “There are a lot of ways in which he’ll be physically gone but part and parcel of the department, as always.”