DuBois Professor of the Humanities Henry Louis Gates, Jr. thought he was returning to his alma mater, Yale, for an evening ceremony in honor of his scholarship. He brought his wife, his two daughters and his father.
But remarks by Yale President Richard Levin at that Feb. 4 dinner led to the resignation of the chair of Yale's Afro-American studies program and a public debate about Yale's commitment to the field.
During his introductions, Levin lauded Gates's role in shepherding Harvard's Afro-American studies department.
"You were mentioned by the late Charlie Davis, master of [Yale's] Calhoun College and the driving force behind the creation of Afro-American studies at Yale," Levin said. "We have watched with interest and admiration, and a little jealously, as you have followed in your mentor's footsteps--building an extraordinary program in Afro-American studies at Harvard."
Just days later, Professor of American Studies Hazel Carby, who heads Yale's Afro-American studies faculty, sent a two-page letter to Levin announcing her resignation from the post.
"No one would deny that praise is due the achievements of Professor Gates and his colleagues at Harvard," she wrote. "But please do not let such recognition and honor be awarded at the expense of African American Studies at Yale."
"To be jealous of their department is to invite a comparison that can only be interpreted to mean that we do not reach a standard of which you can be proud," she added.
Founded in 1969, Yale's Afro-American studies program has grown in size and in scope. But it has never been granted the status of a full department--on par with that of Harvard's or Princeton's. This, Yale professors say, would translate into more money, more staff and more respect.
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