The Next Step: A Ph.D. Program

Zaheer R. Ali '94 wants to return to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in Afro-American stuides.

But the University's 27-year-old Department of Afro-American Studies does not have a graduate program.

"I have been [waiting]," says Ali, who concentrated in Afro-American Studies as an undergraduate. "A potential program at Harvard would probably be the strongest program and have the best resources for my interests."

Ali is not alone in his interest in a graduate program at Harvard. Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr., the department's chair, estimates, "We have received 1,000 inquiries from people begging to get Ph.D."

The creation of a graduate program has been an integral part of Gates' master plan for restructuring the department since he came to Harvard six years ago.


But he and his colleagues had bigger obstacles to overcome first. Before Gates arrived, the department had one professor.

"It would not have been wise to try to mount a graduate program without enough faculty," Gates says.

Today, the department has 15 faculty members, as well as visiting scholars including Spike Lee and Jamaica Kincaid.

Gates and other in the department believe the time is right to begin to formulate a formal proposal for a graduate program, which could be in place by 1999.

"We're ready," Gates says.

Interdisciplinary Approach

Professor of Afro-American Stuides and of Philosophy K. Anthony Appiah and Professor of Afro-American Studies Evelyn B. Higginbotham have formed a committee to work on a formal proposal for a graduate program.

"I've been drafting some stuff based on discussions I've had with people in the department," says Appiah, who developed a master's program at Yale before coming to Harvard.

At the core of the graduate program in Afro-American Studies will be some kind of interdisciplinary training, similar to the History of American Civilization program that already exists.

"The basic thought is that people have at the core a disciplinary training of some sort," Appiah says.

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