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Af-Am Stars Heading to Stanford

Four major depatures from department in three years prompt concern

By William C. Marra, Crimson Staff Writer

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.”

A QUESTION OF MOTIVE

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.

But “she was turned down by President Summers,” who has the final say in matters of tenure, Waters said.

At the same time, according to Waters, Bobo and Morgan had been in talks with Stanford throughout the 2003-2004 academic year and had been given the job offer they would eventually accept this past Spring.

When Harvard’s counter-offer came late last Summer and did not include tenure for Morgan, who began her Harvard professorship last year, the couple decided to leave.

A tenured professor who requested anonymity said that efforts were made to retain Bobo and that in particular “[FAS] Dean [William C.] Kirby was doing his best to try to keep Professor Bobo.” But Stanford’s offer, coupled with Summers’ veto of tenure for Morgan, ensured Bobo’s and Morgan’s departure by the end of this fall term.

Summers declined to comment for this story through a spokesperson.

W.E.B. DuBois Professor of the Humanities and Af-Am Department Chair Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr., said that he was disappointed that Morgan was not granted tenure and that she and Bobo will be leaving Harvard.

“We are obviously disappointed with the result [of Morgan’s tenure process],” he said.“This is a devastating loss both for the Department of African and African American Studies and for Harvard University.”

BUREAUCRACY MATTERS

Yet Gates said that his relationship with Summers remains strong.

“We have a wonderfully warm, direct and honest relationship,” Gates said. “While we do not always agree, I believe that we respect each other’s opinions.”

But other professors, both in the sociology and Af-Am departments, expressed disappointment with the manner in which Bobo’s and Morgan’s situation was handled.

“I’m upset that Professor Bobo is leaving and I’m perplexed as to why this happened, why Harvard couldn’t keep them,” Waters said. “It would be nice to get some answers.”

“It’s not that it’s not an attractive idea to go to Stanford,” she continued. “There’s a really good center for the study of race, there’s a really good sociology department. But my sense is that if Harvard had made an equal offer than Stanford that we could’ve kept them,” she said.

Dawson also expressed regret that Morgan was not granted tenure and that Bobo and Morgan are departing Cambridge.

“I obviously think that we are going to miss Morgan’s work, and Bobo’s work,” he said.

“Morgan’s record already has shown her scholarship will be sorely missed,” he said. He pointed out that Morgan, a leader in the field of African American culture and language and the founder and director of the Hip Hop Archive at Harvard’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute, was formerly awarded tenure at UCLA, and now has been awarded tenure at “Stanford, an institution as fine as Harvard.”

Dawson also said that this affair will undermine the Af-Am department’s ability to retain faculty members and bring in new ones. He said it will be difficult to recruit new professors because “there is a perception outside the University that Harvard is not as welcoming to African American studies as it was in the past.”

Dawson’s words echo issues raised during the West-Summers dispute of 2002.

In Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, published this year, West recalls the clash and accuses Summers of not showing enough regard for the Af-Am department. He writes of rumors he heard that Summers “had reputedly made remarks about putting the famous Afro-American Studies Department in its place” and “had held meetings with department heads and deliberately skipped over the Afro-American Studies head, Professor Gates.”

West also writes that “Summers revealed that he has a great unease about academics engaging the larger culture and society—especially the youths of hip-hop culture and democratic movements of dissent and resistance.”

When asked in a recent Crimson interview about West’s characterization of their exchange, Summers said, “The past is the past. Everybody has their own recollections.” He declined to comment further.

A DEPARTMENT IN DECLINE?

When pressed on his own future within the Af-Am department, Dawson, who is on leave this year, said he was “talking to people to see what the future of the department is.”

But Gates said he has “every intention of being a permanent part of the Harvard faculty,” and that he will lead the department in a new round of recruiting that will continue to draw top professors.

“You can’t literally replace people like Bobo and Morgan,” but other capable professors will be found to “fill in” the necessary holes, he said, adding that “[Harvard] Afro-Am retains its number one status” despite the losses.

But sociology department chair Waters stressed her disappointment that Bobo is departing.

“The sociology department is very upset about this. This is a major loss for us. Professor Bobo is a superstar.…He’s just wonderful in every single way,” she said. “He’s totally irreplaceable. He’s a unique person who we were so fortunate to have, and we are very, very upset at the loss. Very.”

Bobo and Morgan will teach the Fall courses they are listed as offering in the 2004-2005 FAS Courses of Instruction, but they will not offer the combined five spring term courses for which they are slated, including Bobo’s African and African American Studies 97b, “Topics in African American History and Society: Mass Incarceration and the Future of Black America,” a tutorial required of all concentrators. Gates said the tutorial would be assigned to another professor.

—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at wmarra@fas.harvard.edu.

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