Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Miseducation of a Negro Male Assistant Professor

By Emmett Lee Gill, Jr., PhD, MSW

 When I thought about pursuing my terminal degree I really dedicated little thought to all the components of a J-O-B in academia.  I pondered the research I would have to do, but the teaching and service components were truly afterthoughts.  I assumed these elements would naturally come with the territory  – you know they would be integrated into my game plan.  In particular, I thought the teaching would be less challenging because I know my research methods and behavioral theory, I wanted students to learn, and I would avoid grade inflation.  I was a miseducated Negro male assistant professor.  I characterize myself as miseducated during my first two years because teaching in higher education has assumed a business model, and it has been adventurous to navigate to say the least. The consumer (i.e., the student) must be satisfied with their grade. Intellectual stimulation, new competencies, and the rigors of writing and creative thinking are of little value.  Yet, I knew this because not long ago I sat on the other side of the speaking lantern. 

My miseducation emanates from my miscalculation of the intersection between consumer satisfaction and the professors’ race.  As I approach my third year review and I reflect on my years at a research one institution, I have wondered privately and publicly whether I would have experienced some of the issues I have if I were a White sports scholar activist.  During my short sojourn I have had more students than I care to mention… threaten to challenge grades, speak to colleagues about my/our classes, actually challenge their grades, tell mistruths about our verbal interactions, or flat out curse me out. One student stared me down and then slammed the door so hard that my 6’1”, 180 lbs. frame starting shaking so bad I had to call a 30-minute break.  When I shared this with my incredibly supportive Dean he asked if it was racism and I said no because it was coming from blacks and whites. Sexism? Racism? Ageism? I am not sure, but like Duke Lacrosse something is going on. It’s enough to make you think twice whether to maintain your values and not give grades or make it easy on everyone.   

Students who trash me on www.ratemyprofessor.com often write that I am arrogant and to a certain degree it is true.  Arrogance (i.e., confidence and consistency) is a trait I’ve had to learn.  I am in a small minority in a competitive profession that requires precise writing, frequent oratories, quick responses to questions when there are very few “right” answers, and the self-motivation to succeed with very little supervision. I am an introvert so if I do not wake up each morning with a little confidence I would be eaten alive – in class, faculty/committee meetings, presentations, and parenting (lol).  Arrogant a little, but how self-absorbed is a Negro male assistant professor who… delays his papers so students can finish assignments from other classes, wears jeans and caps to class, teaches theory using television programming, provides work for students in need, and holds some classes over meals… be? There are also those who give me good ratings on www.ratemyprofessor.comand I appreciate it when my “kids” show me love. Muchas gracias!

When I entered the NBA of education I truly believed that I was prepared to quickly become an all-star. I cannot say I never thought about race, but my first two years teaching in the league have not been injury free. My miseducation has caused me to suffer some sprains, bruises, and maybe a concussion or two.  Thankfully I have many supportive colleagues and satisfied consumers on my team.  Moreover, I love this game… and with the grace of God and a little more schooling… I can help other miseducated Negro male assistant professors.

Emmett Gill is an assistant professor at Rutgers, The State University, School of Social Work. 

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An HBCU Learns the Benefits of Appreciating its Alumni

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

According to Diverse’s May 1 feature “A Fundraising Blueprint” and most recently Tuesday’s Chronicle of Higher Education daily update, Howard University raised $275 million in a five-year fundraising campaign. Howard’s success surpassed the institution’s expectations and solidified its role as a leader in Black college fundraising. Interestingly, Howard University trustees originally set the goal for $100 million, but the institution’s president, Dr. H. Patrick Swygert, pushed for a larger goal. Throughout history, Black college trustees have underestimated the potential of these institutions, and Swygert should be commended for pushing his university’s leadership to “think big” and not settle for a smaller figure. If you ask for less, you receive less!

Much of the success of Howard’s campaign was the result of increased and systematic cultivation of its alumni. When Howard began its fundraising campaign, the institution’s alumni giving rate was a mere 4 percent, which is slightly below the average for HBCUs; however, today it is boasting a 17 percent rate, which is above the national average for all colleges and universities regardless of racial make-up. During its campaign, Howard’s administration realized how important it is to keep alumni informed of the successes and accomplishments of the institution and, more importantly, the students. In the words of Swygert, “People give to students, they give to ideas, they give to memory.” Swygert’s words are vitally important. For too long, many Black colleges have not kept track of their alumni, have not asked them to give, have not kept them informed of the successes and needs of their alma mater, and have not provided proper stewardship following alumni contributions. The case of Howard University’s success with alumni offers a shining example of how much Black college alumni are willing to support their institution when asked and when appreciated.

One of the best ways to cultivate alumni support is to begin the process when alumni are students. Many institutions across the country are spending time and resources educating their students about the importance of giving back because they see an enormous return on investment when these students graduate. Colleges and universities are instilling in young people the idea that supporting one’s alma mater is an obligation — it’s something that you do because those who went before you gave and that giving contributed to your success. In order to increase alumni giving at HBCUs, it is essential that students learn about giving back the moment they walk on to campus.

Black college fundraisers should study Howard University’s accomplishment, especially in terms of the institution’s success with alumni giving. There are many examples of success in the area of Black college fundraising, including (but not limited to) Claflin University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University and Prairie View A&M University — building on and learning from these successes is essential as Black colleges move forward in the 21st Century.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

I Know From Whence I Speak: Black Studies and the HBCU

By Dr. Pamela Reed

The 20th anniversary of the doctorate in African-American studies in the American academy is, undoubtedly, cause for jubilant celebration. W. E. B. Du Bois must surely be smiling down from his perch amongst the African ancestors. Yet, as we hail this monumental milestone, at the same time, we can no longer overlook the tragic and shameful absence of degree programs, doctoral or otherwise, in Africology — or Black studies, African-American studies, African Diaspora studies, Pan African studies, Africana studies or whatever name is favored at individual institutions — within the offerings of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s).

I say this because, while we focus on the African-American studies doctorate during this, its twentieth year at Temple University, my alma mater, let us not forget that few HBCU’s offer even a bachelor’s degree in Black studies. As a faculty member at an HBCU, I have a bird’s eye view of this problem. And while the reasons are numerous, I believe the primary one is a fundamental lack of cultural esteem, which, by extension, leads to a perceived limited career trajectory for the African-American studies major — both within the various HBCU cabinets, and the prospective student population (and the parents who fund them).

That is, from my experience, I believe there is the lingering notion in the minds of HBCU administrators that, while African-American studies is indeed important, it is not economically feasible to generate degree programs in this discipline. In other words, it will not “pay off,” they reason — for the institutions or for the students.

They wonder, as did my family and friends when I announced my intention to pursue the Ph.D. in African-American studies, “What does one do with such a degree?” “You won’t be able to find a job,” they warned. Of course, I explained to them my intention to teach and to write, but they still questioned my sanity, as I pivoted from my first area of specialization, mass communications.

In other words, they thought I had lost my mind! Indeed, many of them still believe this. It doesn’t matter how much I explain to them the vital importance of critical analysis of the African-American experience. This is the same mindset that I am confronted with each semester from many students in my African-American literature class, which is required for English and mass communication majors in my department. They are often openly hostile about having to take the course in the first place. So when we proceed to discussions of the African Oral Tradition or early African-American autobiographies, or “slave narratives” as they are commonly called in the literary world, they tell me that we just need to “move on” and stop “harping on the past.” I tell them, until I am blue in the face, that history informs literature, and the present; but far too many of them are just not interested. Of course, there are usually a few who are truly engaged, but not nearly enough.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it comes down to a question of values. But,of course, values are learned. The bottom line is that African-Americans, by and large, have not been taught to value our historical experience — or ourselves. This is directly attributable to the lack of African-American history taught in our public school systems, and the dearth of African history taught in world history classes, outside of Black History Month. Not to mention the negative portrayals of Blacks which permeate the television and radio airwaves, films and … well, everything.

Having said all this, I must also acknowledge the validity of the concerns regarding the professional limitations of the African-American studies discipline in a society — and an academy — that is historically hostile to all that is African-descended. To be sure, there are the exceptions, like my esteemed, iconic professor and dissertation director at Temple, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, or Drs. Maulana Karenga of California State University, Long Beach; or Ama Mazama, also of Temple, or Henry Louis Gates of Harvard University, or Princeton University’s Cornel West, or Manning Marable of Columbia University, or Clenora Hudson-Weems of the University of Missouri-Columbia, and other high-profile scholars in the field. But they are the exceptions … and in the interest of complete accuracy, it must be noted that their doctorates are not in Black studies. Of course, I offer this not as a critique, but just to keep the record clear.

The dirty little secret is this: Even in African-American studies departments, programs and centers around the country, when searches are conducted for new hires, the search committees often tend to bypass African-American studies majors, and favor history majors when they want specialists in African or African-American history, or they look for English or comparative literature majors when they seek Africana literature experts, etc. Incredibly enough, the African-American studies Ph.D., as quiet as it’s kept, is often considered the second class citizen of academia.

So then, the core dilemma confronting scholars in the field is one of value. Mind you, this problem is not limited to the HBCU, but it is a societal one. This is, at least in this scholar’s mind, a bottom-up crisis, as opposed to a trickle-down one. That is to say, we have to do a better job of readying our people for the serious and sustained study of African-American culture, the glory and the gore. That way, when HBCU’s finally rise to the necessary task of routinely offering degree programs in African-American studies, they will have no trouble finding sufficient numbers of majors.

Moreover, and finally, we must work to ensure that the African-American studies undergraduate major will be just as attractive to potential employers, graduate schools, law schools, etc., as the history or American studies major (or others of the liberal arts). Until such time, African-American studies will remain absent from the HBCU menu. As it were, we have to make sure that “if we build them, they will come.”

Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.

A Post-Racial America?

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

                 In a June 13, 2008 Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal, Ward Connerly proclaimed that “Obama is no ‘Post Racial’ Candidate. Connerly’s conclusion is based on the fact that Obama acknowledges the continuing significance of race in an ostensibly ‘post racial’ America. More importantly Obama does not support Connerly’s attempts to outlaw Affirmative Action. Thus, in Connerly’s mind; he is “one of the same tired voices who peddle arguments about institutional racism.” Connerly’s article exposes his own internalized racial inferiority as well as his fidelity to white privilege. He writes, “As millions of whites cast their votes for him in predominantly white states, I held out hope that, perhaps, he was a truly transformative leader.”

Connerly’s subtext is clear. Whites voted for Obama. In exchange for their votes, the expectation is that Obama must deny the continuing significance of race (at least in Connerly’s mind). Although not white, Connerly, it seems, has appointed himself to speak for millions of whites. Hence, he is arguing that since whites have voted for a black candidate, then race no longer matters. Since Obama is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, racism has simply disappeared. Obama is victorious, thus racism has disappeared. 

Mr. Connerly’s argument fails for at least three reasons. First, Obama cannot be a post racial “candidate” since America is still a racialized society. Second, the undeniably historic nomination of Obama does not singularly eliminate racism in one fell swoop. Lastly, employing the post-racial moniker is nothing more than an attempt to sloganeer, rather than address the continuing significance of race.

                Connerly writes, “As many readers will know, I am intimately involved in the effort to enact race-neutral initiatives around the country.” Ever the racial apologist, Connerly is attempting to end Affirmative Action in states by voter referenda because he feels that whites are increasingly the victim of discrimination and must be protected. But, why would there need to be race neutral legislation in a ‘post-racial’ America? “Post” suggests “after,” doesn’t it? So, doesn’t the need for this legislation at all suggest that America is still a society that is marked by race?

Connerly’s logic fails. The question is not whether we live in a “postracial” America, but how race affects us all as Americans. Race is contested space and Connerly’s efforts further contest the contours of that space.  Under Connerly’s logic, Obama would be “postracial” only if he accepts the Connerly definition. Neutrality, according to Connerly, does not require one to resort to a detached, objective analysis of race (if such is even possible); rather, it requires submitting to Connerly’s definition, lest one be marked as “racial.”

                Connerly and others like him are advancing the argument that Obama’s election as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States is unequivocal evidence that racism in America has ended. Under this premise, whites in predominantly white states have voted for Obama and are thus cleansing themselves of centuries-old racial demons and achieving racial salvation. As important as Obama’s ascent is to the vexing question of race, it would be a mistake to assume it is the end of racism in America. Just as it was a mistake to assume that “major combat operations in Iraq had ended” when President Bush donned a flight suit and so declared.

Admittedly, Obama’s rise suggests progress on the issue of race; however, it does not suggest the end of racism in America. For those of us who experience racism in the academy, in retail stores, on trains, on planes and other public places, we cannot simply now respond to those perpetuators of racism with “Hey, we have a black Presidential nominee, didn’t you get the memo?”

                America is the land of spin over substance and ‘post racial’ is the latest slogan to find its way into popular culture and the cultural lexicon. While the term escapes precise definition, it suggests that racism has occurred in the past, and that enlightened whites have eschewed racism as “so yesterday.” It also suggests that blacks who raise the continuing significance of race in a ‘post-racial’ America risk being relegated to the political margins as modern day race-baiters. There is a difference between issuing declarative statements proclaiming America ‘post racial’ and the reality that racism still plays a part in American life. The ‘post racial moniker’ is designed to give comfort to those who have black friends, for whom race “does not matter” and those who believe that “merit” is the great equalizer. As seductive as post-racialism is, it cannot exist in a society where the color of one’s skin still matters. “Post-racial” is another in a series of politically correct terms in which Americans avoid acknowledging the difficult issues, but instead choose to ignore them. 

                Finally, Connerly for all his ruminations about the need for a ‘post-racial’ America is trapped by the racial thinking that he is supposedly attempting to eradicate.  Me thinks the gentleman protests too much.

 

 

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).

 

Ph.d.’s in African American Studies at HBCUs: A Response to Where are They?

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

This week Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ran a story entitled “Black Colleges Still Lacking Ph.D. African American Studies Program.”  The article rightly told the story of the development and expansion of doctoral programs in African American studies at historically White institutions and chastised Black colleges for having no programs — none at all.

According to a must-read book by Delores Aldridge and Carlene Young entitled Out of the Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies, the first courses that truly addressed the African American experience can be traced back to W. E. B. Du Bois’s teaching students at Atlanta University (now part of Clark-Atlanta University) in the early 1900s.  Although courses, like those  Du Bois taught, spread to some other Black colleges, the momentum never caught on.  According to Aldridge and Young, to date, no Black college has “required institution-wide a course with the black experience as its exclusive or primary focus” (p. 299).  Without this commitment, it seems unlikely that Black colleges would consider establishing a Ph.D. program in African American studies.

Of course, there are other reasons that make it difficult for Black colleges to create an African American studies Ph.D.  First, many leaders of HBCUs argue that all of the classes at an HBCU are taught with an Afrocentric perspective given that the focus of the institution overall is dedicated to the racial uplift of African Americans.  Critics of HBCUs would argue that Black college curricula is not Afrocentric and relies too heavily on Western perspectives.  Still other critics would argue that many HBCUs are often too conservative and unwilling to take risks with their curricula.

Second, very few HBCUs have doctoral programs.  In fact, out of 103 HBCUs, only 23 offer doctoral degrees.  Most Black colleges are just that — colleges and are focused on undergraduate education.  As such, it would make sense that there would be few doctoral programs in African American studies — but none is hard to justify!

Third, and this is perhaps the most convincing argument on the part of Black college leaders, doctoral programs are expensive to run.  They are especially expensive because most elite institutions (where the majority of African American studies doctoral programs are housed) can offer large fellowship packages to students — packages with which HBCUs cannot compete. 

Regardless of these reasons, Black colleges should aim to establish doctoral programs in African American studies.  They should lead the nation in providing a doctoral experience that focuses on the African Diaspora.  And, more importantly, they should produce future scholars and faculty members who will shape and challenge the minds of African American students.  In the words of Alan Colon, “HBCUs have the obligation to help change assumptions that have prevailed about the sanctity of Western civilization and the conventional ideologies that emanate from it” (p. 304, Out of the Revolution).

 

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).

No First Amendment Right to Call for Obama’s Assassination

By Dr. Christopher J. Metzler

 

The 2008 Presidential election is testing how America deals with the enduring question of racism. With Barack Obama as the presumptive Democratic nominee, America is beginning to confront its racial pedigree. The results speak for themselves. One such test occurred recently when performance artist, Yazmany Arboleda, put race, penis envy and sexism on Front Street. The artist prepared for public showing an art exhibit in a vacant storefront on West 40th Street in Midtown Manhattan with the title, “The Assassination of Hillary Clinton/The Assassination of Barack Obama.”

The exhibit was shut down by law enforcement before it could go live. Arboleda protested, claiming that the exhibit was to be about “character assassination” of Obama and Clinton in the media. Arboleda also claimed “free speech.” The items in the Assassination exhibit included: hangman’s nooses, a picture of Obama and his daughters with the caption “nappy headed hoes,” masks of Obama with the title, “You too can be the next Negro President of the United States, a photograph of a large penis entitled, “once you go Barack…” and “Just Passing.” No such references were made to Clinton or her family in the collection. Despite representations to the contrary by the artist, this exhibit was intended to stoke racial animus, and did not raise a free speech issue and is further evidence that America is far from ‘Post Racial.”

There is no discernable connection between character assassination and nooses. When black men were being hung from trees it was not intended to assassinate their character. It was intended to assassinate them. Thus, it is beyond the pale to suggest that an exhibit ostensibly focused on character assassination would feature nooses. Are we to believe that the nooses are a metaphor for a sharp-tongued media who would engage in a “high-tech lynching of Obama?” To the contrary. The artist is using the nooses to advocate that Obama be hung by one. There is no other explanation.

The “Nappy Headed Hoe” card has already been played and there was nothing philosophical or metaphoric about it. Its meaning is clear: Black females, no matter their ages, are to be defined both by their hair styles and their propensity for unbridled and indiscriminate sex. Are we to believe that Don Imus and all those who use that moniker were doing so to engage in character assassination or to mark black women by gender, race and promiscuity? Moreover, if as the artist suggests, this exhibit is about the character assassination of Obama in the media, what does his daughters have to do with this?

The phallic symbol, its exaggerated size and the reference to going “Barack” all rely on the oft-held notion that black men are ruled by their penises, define masculinity by the size of their penises and that Obama is just another penis-centric black man. In fact, the artist it seems is paying homage to the pervasive stereotype from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of A Nation, Toni Morrison’s Sula and Richard Wright’s Native Son that black men are to be judged not by the size of their character, but by the size of their penises. The artist is sending a message to white men, that this election is not about substance; it is not about policy. It is not about the war in Iraq, high gas prices, economic devastation, and America’s image in the rest of the world. It is about penis envy.

The free speech argument cannot simply be evoked because the First Amendment allows us all to speak truth to power. The First Amendment states in relevant part, “Congress shall make no law …. prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Thus, any restrictions on speech must be examined carefully. In this case, is the artist right when he says that he has the right to exhibit this collection, no matter how vile or offensive people find it? Is the first amendment absolute? Under what circumstances can the government restrict speech? By shutting down the exhibit, is the government enacting a “content- based” restriction since it does not like the topic of the speech.

A complete legal analysis of free speech is beyond the scope of this post. It is well settled that free speech is not absolute and that there can be restrictions on speech. In Chaplinsky v. State of New Hampshire, the Supreme Court of the United States held that “Certain welldefined and narrowly limited” categories of speech fall outside the bounds of constitutional protection. Thus, “the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous,” and (in this case) insulting or ‘fighting’ words neither contributed to the expression of ideas nor possessed any ‘social value’ in the search for truth.” Moreover, in Brandenburg v. Ohio the Court held that government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action.

In this case, given the history of racism in America, the history of the assassination of black men by lynching and the presence of race-based hate groups in America, some of whom have openly called for Obama’s assassination, there is no question that this exhibit is likely to incite imminent lawless action. While the artist has the right to express racial views, he does not have the right to incite violence and expect that the First Amendment would give him cover. This exhibit is ripe for the restrictions envisaged by Chaplinsky and Brandenburg.

Dr. Christopher J. Metzler, Esquire, is Associate Dean at Georgetown‘s School of Continuing Studies and the author of The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (Aberdeen University Press, 2008).

New Books Related To Black Colleges

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

Recently, there have been several new books published related to historically Black colleges and universities.  I suggest that you check them out.  They include:

Joy is a dynamic professor at the University of Washington, Seattle.  She is also the author of Black Power on Campus: The University of Illinois, 1965-1975.  Joy’s work is thorough and her writing will entice you to want to know more about the history of African Americans in higher education.

Michael Bieze is the Chair of the Art Department at the Marist School in Atlanta, Georgia.  His work on Booker T. Washington, the leader of Tuskegee Institute, is innovative and brave.

Writing with two of his students, Charles Willie includes both an historical and current examination of Black colleges in his newest book.  For a classic on Black colleges, see Charles Willie and Ronald Edmonds’ Black Colleges in America: Challenge, Development, Survival.