Tenure for 4 Profs in Harvard's African and African-American Studies Department

Historians in the News

Lawrence H. Summers, who began his presidency by tangling publicly with black studies scholar Cornel R. West ’74, is set to end his five-year term by approving tenure appointments for at least four Faculty members in the African and African-American Studies Department.

West was among the first of six professors from that department who left Harvard during the Summers years.

But now, with the Summers presidency nearing a close, the department is on the verge of making up those losses.

In addition to the four professors from top institutions who have already accepted full professorships here this year, two more are mulling offers to join Harvard.

“Ironically Larry’s presidency starts with his combat with Cornel West and it might end with him recruiting more black people in a shorter period of time than any president in history,” said outgoing Af-Am chair Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. “I think that [Dean of the Faculty William C.] Kirby and Summers will be remembered in part for their support for this initiative.”

These tenure offers made by Gates, who is currently on sick leave, produced a string of acceptances in the last year.

“Even under [former University President Neil L.] Rudenstine, we didn’t hire five black people in two months,” Gates said.

A new recruit to the Government department will also likely offer classes under Af-Am.

The professors specialize in a range of fields from music to literature, and from religion to social conflict.


Trading sunny weather at University of California, Los Angeles for a windswept route to William James Hall, James Sidanius began his job as professor of psychology and African American studies this semester. He specializes in inter-group conflict and social dominance theory.

Also hailing from the Golden State Jacob K. Olupona will have a joint appointment in the Af-Am department and Harvard Divinity School.

“It’s an exciting time to study religion as it relates to Africa,” said Olupona, professor at University of California, Davis, who specializes in African religion. “Across the whole world, religion has become so central to society, to values, and it’s important for Africa to be engaged in the conversation.”

“I’m excited about coming back home,” said Olupona, who received his Ph.D from Boston University.

And the turmoil at Harvard surrounding the Summers’ resignation won’t dim Olupona’s homecoming.

“The institution is greater than the individual,” said Olupona. “The president will come and go, the institution will stay forever, and as individuals, we will make our contributions and go.”

He said he will contribute by sensitizing and attracting students to African studies.
Read entire article at Harvard Crimson

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