After Spat with Summers, Af-Am ‘Dream Team’ Profs Return to Harvard

Marcyliena Morgan, a scholar of global hip-hop culture who was denied tenure under former University President Lawrence H. Summers, will be returning to Harvard in January with her husband, Lawrence D. Bobo, a prominent sociologist of race.

The couple left Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department in 2005 for Stanford, where they have both held tenure-level positions. At Harvard, Bobo was a full professor, while Morgan held an untenured associate professorship.

“Since the day they left, it has been my dream to get them back,” said Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., the former chair of the African and African American Studies Department and the Fletcher University Professor.

The pair’s departure was a serious blow to a department that lost several scholars during Summers’ tenure, including star professor Cornel West, who left for Princeton after Summers suggested in a much-publicized confrontation that he should spend less time developing rap CDs and more time on traditional scholarship.

Af-Am Chair Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham said that the change of leadership in the University was one factor that made Morgan and Bobo’s return possible.

University President Drew G. Faust contacted the couple in person to urge them to return to Harvard, Gates said, and Higginbotham said that Af-Am faculty wooed the pair this summer over dinners in Cambridge and Martha’s Vineyard.

The pair’s Harvard colleagues made “a full-court press, to let them know how much they were appreciated, how much they were loved,” said James Sidanius, a longtime friend of the couple and professor of Af-Am and of psychology.

Bobo has had a standing offer to return to Harvard since his departure. Morgan was offered a tenured professorship at Harvard this May after her case was approved by Derek C. Bok, then the University’s interim president.

When Morgan was originally denied tenure, Summers agreed that her case should be reviewed again in two years, according to Higginbotham. Then-Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby was instrumental in arranging that agreement, she said.

The work Morgan has done at Stanford, most notably her forthcoming book on underground hip-hop culture in Los Angeles, “The Real Hip Hop,” added force to Morgan’s tenure bid, Higginbotham said.

Upon returning to the Af-Am Department, Morgan will hold a tenured professorship, while Bobo, who will also hold a joint appointment in sociology, will become the Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences, a new professorship that Gates said was created for Bobo. Morgan and Bobo were not immediately available for comment.

“This is a great day for us,” Higginbotham said. “We’ve built the ‘dream team’ in a very significant way.”

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached lbeckett@fas.harvard.edu.