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Af-Am Seeks To Lure 2 Ex-Profs

If approved, hip-hop expert Morgan and husband Bobo may return from Stanford

The Department of African and African American Studies voted unanimously yesterday to push forward with the tenure case of hip hop scholar Marcyliena Morgan, whose last bid for tenure at Harvard two years ago was blocked by then-President Lawrence H. Summers.

If Morgan and her husband, sociologist Lawrence D. Bobo, accept Harvard’s entreaties, the move will allow the Af-Am Department to regain some of the star power that it lost during Summers’ five-year term. Bobo previously was the Tishman and Diker professor of sociology and Af-Am studies at Harvard, and Af-Am faculty members say that he is welcome to return to Cambridge in a tenured role.

In September 2004, just months after Summers turned down Morgan’s tenure case, she and Bobo announced their joint departure for the West Coast, where job offers awaited them at Stanford.

Morgan became the executive director of Stanford’s Hiphop Archive and an associate professor of communication. At Stanford, an associate professorship is a tenured position.

Bobo assumed Stanford’s Martin Luther King Jr. Centennial Professorship and became director of the school’s Af-Am program as well as its Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

While Morgan’s case has yet to be approved by administrative higher-ups at Harvard, “we wouldn’t have voted to put it ahead if we didn’t think it’s a strong case,” said Ingrid Monson, who holds the Quincy Jones Professorship of African-American Music here.

Morgan, who is currently on medical leave, could not be reached for comment. Neither could Bobo, who is in Boston this week.

Although the vote at yesterday’s Af-Am departmental meeting was an official stamp of approval for Morgan, the department has never stopped pursuing her and her husband since they left.

“We have said, always, that we wanted them to come back,” Af-Am Department Chair Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham said. “We don’t even know if they want to come back.”

“My understanding is that if they are both offered a position, they are most likely to return,” said James Sidanius, professor of psychology and of Af-Am studies, and a personal friend of the couple. “It would be terrific if they could both join us. They’re both very good scholars,” he added.

Stanford’s associate director of Af-Am studies, Vera I. Grant, said that news of Bobo’s departure would be “disappointing.”

“We’re happy to have Professor Bobo and he has been extremely supportive to this particular program, and all of the energy, projects, and ideas that he’s contributed here seem to indicate that it’s a long-term commitment,” Grant said.

Bobo and Morgan were two in a series of departures from Harvard’s Af-Am department after religious studies scholar Cornel R. West ’74 left for Princeton following a much-publicized dispute with Summers in 2002. The department’s longtime chair, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., built a “Dream Team” of Af-Am scholars in the decade and a half since he joined the faculty, but many of the all-stars bolted during the Summers era.

Harvard’s failed attempt to bring West back this October sparked speculation that the team might reassemble now that Summers has left Mass. Hall.

But Higginbotham, who took over the department chairmanship from Gates this fall, said that the case of Bobo and Morgan is “a unique situation.”

The bid to bring back Bobo and Morgan comes after a host of high-profile hires by the department in the past year, which especially strengthened its African studies side.

Michael C. Dawson, who was a professor of government and Af-Am studies, left for the University of Chicago three months after the duo’s departure, telling The Crimson that “Professors Bobo and Morgan leaving was a substantial influence on my decision to leave Harvard.”

After learning last night that Bobo and Morgan might return to Cambridge, Dawson said, “It seems the environment has changed again.”

However, he’ll be staying put. “I’m at Chicago for the duration,” Dawson said.

—Staff writer Lulu Zhou can be reached at luluzhou@fas.harvard.edu.