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The Faculty Council voted yesterday to approve a new Ph.D program in African-American Studies.
The 18-member body's approval paves the way for a full Faculty vote on the program in February, with the first students potentially matriculating in the fall of 2001.
"This is just wonderful news," said Henry Louis Gates Jr., chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies and DuBois professor of the humanities.
The program will invite four to five students to Cambridge for a course of study lasting five to six years. Candidates for the degree will take classes in the Department of Afro-American Studies and in other departments such as history, economics and music.
The Department of Afro-American Studies has been without a Ph.D program since its creation in 1969. Similar interdisciplinary Ph.D programs to the one newly-created at Harvard exist at Yale and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The Harvard Afro-American Studies department has gained national prominence over the last decade since Gates assumed the chair in 1991 and assembled a "dream team" of the field's most well-reputed scholars. If approved, the ability to grant Ph.D's would mark another long-sought victory for the department.
"We have always planned that when we had the faculty in place and the undergraduate program settled we would move towards a graduate program," said K. Anthony Appiah, professor of Afro-American Studies and Philosophy. "We've had a fair amount of demand."
Appiah explained that as the number of programs in African-American studies has grown across the nation, a gap has been left in qualified teachers to fill their faculties.
"In terms of the field, we're now recognized to be a very strong department," Appiah said. "There are more than 200 African-American studies departments across the country that need people to teach in them, and we hope to help fill that need."
If the Faculty votes to give the program the go-ahead, the Visual and Environmental Sciences department will become the only department in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences not to offer a Ph.D program.
The Faculty Council declined to endorse a similar proposal over a year ago, asking that the department spend more time in discussions with other departments about Afro-American Studies Department's interdisciplinary nature.
Under the current proposal for the degree program, professors from the Economics, Sociology and Music departments would have official joint oversight for the program with members of the Afro-American Studies department.
According to the proposal reviewed by the Faculty Council, the Afro-American Studies department will be expanding over the next several years. The department has offered a number of new tenured positions in recent months, and its faculty seeks to maintain that growth.
The department will also be looking for outside donors to fund a financial aid program for degree candidates. Gates has already been in contact with foundations in search of donations.
"Any new programs draw on the same pool of available resources unless new money has arrived," Appiah said. "Unless you increase the size of the pot, you have a situation. We very much want to raise our own funds to support students."
Assuming that the program is approved in February, the department's 30th anniversary celebrations will make an excellent opportunity to support its launch.
"It's nice that it coincides that way and we'll be very happy to tell the returning alumni that we are in a position to have a very strong graduate program," Appiah said. " I think clearly we'll want to use that as an opportunity not only to celebrate the distance we've come, but also the things we're planning to do."
In other news, the Faculty Council voted yesterday to approve a new Masters degree in the Music department. The program in performance practice will be open to two advanced musicians interested in pursuing careers in teaching or performing.
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