Af-Am Stars Heading to Stanford

Four major depatures from department in three years prompt concern

Two years after losing two top professors to Princeton, Harvard’s African and African-American Studies Department lost another duo of high-profile professors to Stanford on Friday—and University President Lawrence H. Summers is once again at the center of the controversy.

The departure of Lawrence D. Bobo, the Tishman and Diker professor of sociology and of African and African American Studies and his wife Marcyliena Morgan, an untenured associate professor of African and African American Studies, hits a department still recovering from the 2002 loss of Cornel R. West ’74 and K. Anthony Appiah to Princeton following West’s very public spat with Summers.

Bobo and Morgan announced to the Af-Am and sociology departments via e-mail last Friday that they have accepted tenured job offers from Stanford University and will leave Cambridge for the Golden State upon completion of the Fall semester.

Their departure follows Summers’ denial of tenure to Morgan this past summer despite the fact that, according to one professor who spoke on condition of anonymity, no Af-Am faculty member voted against granting her the award.

The current controversy comes two years after Summers, in his first year as president, engaged in a bitter public dispute with West that garnered national attention and ended with West’s leaving Harvard for Princeton. Since then, the Af-Am Department has seen the ranks of both its faculty and students thinned, as Appiah joined West at Princeton and the number of Af-Am concentrators steadily declined from 31 students in the 1999-2000 academic year to 11 last year.


The current controversy has raised fears that the departure of West and Appiah in 2002 was only the beginning of a long decline for the once unparalleled department.

“A number of us [Af-Am faculty members] are evaluating our long-term relationship with Harvard and are questioning the future of the department,” said Professor of Government and of African and African-American Studies Michael C. Dawson, who co-taught African and African American Studies 10, “Introduction to African and African American Studies” last year and is currently on leave. “It’s always a possibility [that professors may leave] when you have outstanding people who are going to be attracted to other institutions.”


Bobo and Morgan did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, and in an e-mail to the Crimson Bobo did not mention the denial of tenure to Morgan as an impetus for their departure.

“I feel the call home to California,” Bobo, a California native, wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson. “The opportunities, the issues, the resources, and the people that will be most important to the next stage of my life as a researcher and teacher are at Stanford University.”

Bobo, who served as acting chair of the Af-Am department last year and is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, will join Stanford as a professor of sociology and director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CCSRE). Morgan will become a tenured associate professor of communication. Both will teach classes in Stanford’s African and American Studies program, which awards degrees but does not have a sitting faculty of its own.

But professors in the Af-Am and sociology departments said the couple’s departure turned more on what Harvard did not offer the couple than what Stanford and the state of California did.

Professor of Anthropology and of African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory said that “one could infer by common sense” why Bobo and Morgan left.

“It would present a difficulty for any couple for one of them to have a job that he or she deserves and the other to not have a job that he or she deserves,” he said.

Sociology Department Chair Mary C. Waters, whom Bobo described in the e-mail as a “dear friend,” said Morgan had been under review for tenure and that this summer her case came before the final step of the long and exhaustive tenure process—an ad hoc committee chaired by Summers.

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