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Af-Am Begins Hiring Talks

Black student groups express desire to help in search for new professors

By William C. Marra, Crimson Staff Writer

Only a week after learning of the imminent loss of two of its star professors, Harvard’s African and African American Studies Department has already begun efforts to rebuild its diminished faculty.

The department’s new recruitment efforts may be coupled with a joint attempt by black student groups and University President Lawrence H. Summers to recruit more minority faculty to the College, according to Black Students Association President Lawrence E. Adjah Jr. ’06.

The initiatives come on the heels of last week’s announcement that Lawrence D. Bobo, the Tishman and Diker professor of sociology and of Af-Am studies, and Marcyliena Morgan, an Af-Am associate professor, will leave Harvard at the end of the fall semester to take up tenured positions at Stanford University. Bobo and Morgan, who are married, decided to leave after an ad hoc committee chaired by Summers denied Morgan tenure this past summer.

W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities and Af-Am Department Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr., said yesterday that discussions about hiring new faculty began formally this week.

“We had the first meeting at a faculty dinner [Monday night] … to discuss the appointments we would like to make,” said Gates, who noted that both Bobo and Morgan attended the dinner.

Gates said that the department will not immediately target professors in the fields of sociology and of hip hop culture, vacated by Bobo and Morgan.

“We decided that we’re not willing to search in those areas this year because we want to give Bobo and Morgan an opportunity to return,” he said.

In addition to the department’s faculty search, students are pursuing their own efforts to lure more minority faculty to all of Harvard’s departments.

Adjah said he met with Summers on September 21 to discuss the possibility of granting students a role in identifying qualified minorities candidates for positions both in the Af-Am department and the rest of the College.

“We did both agree that some steps need to be taken to get students more involved in the process,” said Adjah, who planned to meet with Summers before the news of Bobo and Morgan’s departure became public.

Gates said he is open to student contribution through the channels that have traditionally been open to students, noting that it is “standard practice” for concentrators and graduate students to interrogate candidates.

But he added that though student input is welcome, the department has no problem recruiting top faculty on its own.

“We are deeply touched by the concern exemplified by the students and we will be certain to invite them to job talks to be given by prospective professorial candidates throughout the year,” he said. “[But] our problem is not recruiting. Our problem is retaining,” Gates said, alluding to the departures of Bobo, Morgan and, two years ago, Cornel R. West ’74 and K. Anthony Appiah.

Summers’ decision to deny Morgan tenure and her subsequent departure has caused a stir among some faculty members.

“I’m perplexed as to why this happened, why Harvard couldn’t keep them,” said Sociology Department Chair Mary C. Waters last week.

Professor of Government and of Af-Am Studies Michael C. Dawson said last week that “there is a perception outside the University that Harvard is not as welcoming to African American studies as it was in the past.”

Former Black Men’s Forum President Brandon M. Terry ’05, who did not attend the meeting with Summers, said while he does not question Summers’ support of the program, the President’s office could do more to fan those doubts.

“If [the President] didn’t have some commitment [to the department], there wouldn’t be more people being hired, more classes being offered” by the department, he said. “They’re not doing a good job at the President’s office of controlling perceptions.”

“If other people start getting denied tenure, it’s going to become harder and harder every time to explain,” he said.

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

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