Columbia Professor Latest High-Profile Defection

Article excerpt

Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley heads West as the University of Southern California makes push to hire senior-level scholars

NEW YORK

Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley, one of the country's most prominent Black intellectuals, is leaving Columbia University to join the University of Southern California as a joint professor of history and American studies and ethnicity.

In an age when universities are aggressively courting high-profile Black professors, sometimes offering them lucrative salaries and other perks, Kelley's departure is just the latest in a string of recent high-profile job moves.

Kelley's departure from Columbia was the result of USC's Senior Faculty Hiring Initiative, a drive to bring 100 leading senior-level scholars to the university. But he says his treatment at Columbia made the decision easy. Frustrated by not being able to secure a permanent home in the university's history department, Kelley was more than receptive when USC came calling.

"The reality is that the history department at Columbia didn't want me," he says, despite the national recognition he received for his books, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression and the collection of essays in Race Rebels: Culture, Politics and the Black Working Class.

"Here I am at an Ivy-League institution, and the senior faculty didn't think my work was sufficiently historical," says Kelley, who was appointed to Columbia's anthropology department and the Institute for Research in African American Studies. Kelley came to Columbia in 2003 after Dr. Manning Marable, one of Columbia's highest profile professors, lured him away from New York University.

In accepting the position at USC, Kelley is giving up his endowed chair at Columbia. "At this point in my life, my own happiness and psychic peace is much more important than an endowed chair," he says.

Kelley is the latest big name faculty member to be lured away from an AfricanAmerican studies program. Several Black faculty, including Drs. Cornel West, K. Anthony Appiah, Marcyliena Morgan and her husband, sociologist Lawrence Bobo, all left Harvard University within the past five years. West and Appiah went to Princeton University, while Morgan and Bobo headed to Stanford University. Dr. Michael C. Dawson, a political scientist who left the University of Chicago for Harvard in 2002, chose to return to Chicago three years later.

At USC, Kelley will teach in both the history and American studies departments, which place a major emphasis on the study of race and ethnicity. He says that, unlike other colleges, USC has made a commitment to ethnic studies and has pumped resources into hiring some of the nation's most talented faculty. …