Black Studies in Whiteface: Shortage of Black African-American Studies Professors Fails to Keep Pace with Demand

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Black Studies In Whiteface: Shortage of Black African-American Studies. Professors Fails to Keep Pace with Demand

The philosophical hurdle of convincing Mississippi education officials to require an Afro-American history exposure for all state university education degree candidates is minor compared to the next hurdle -- achieving that mandate.

"We don't have the faculty and people to teach Afro-American history. It's just difficult to find qualified teachers," says Dr. Fanny Love, an education professor at the University of Mississippi (UM), of the six-hour Afro-American history requirements installed into the general education core curriculum for the state's education degree candidates.

Like many in the education professoriate, Love is upbeat that both K-12 and postsecondary curricula throughout the nation are being broadened to include more instruction about people of color. At the same time, she and other educators worry, the scarcity of Blacks to teach African-American studies makes it tough to meet the mandate.

"If it is difficult to find teachers qualified to teach something, it's going to be difficult to keep offering it," says Love, a UM curriculum specialist.

National Shortage

Mississippi is not an anomaly. The statistical dimensions of the Black studies scholar shortage are just coming into nationwide focus. "Unfortunately, we are just not graduating many African Americans with Ph.D.s," says Mead Walker, director of Afro-American studies at Lemoyne-Owens College (TN), of the number of Black studies scholars available to teach currently.

For example, of the scores of departments of Black studies around the country, only traditionally white Temple University currently offers a doctorate in African-American studies.

Right now, although Blacks occupy all but one of the 130 would-be master's and doctoral candidate slots, if they received immediate staff appointments, the academy would not solve the shortage today.

The school has produced 35 African-American studies doctorates since the program was launched in 1988, according to Molefe Asante, chairman of Temple's African-American Studies department.

The likelihood of whites teaching topics in African-American affairs grows annualy as the production of Black Ph.D.'s lags behind the rate of expansion of Blacks in higher education, according to American Council on Education (ACE) and National Academy of Science (NAS) data.

The size of the pool of Black baccalaureate degree awarded rose from 60,673 in 1981 to 77,872 in 1993, according to ACE figures. Meanwhile, the production of Black PhDs remains at a steady level, from 1,047 doctorates awarded in 1982 to 1,106 awarded in 1993, according to NAS statistics.

A shortage of Black scholars means that whites now teaching Afro-American topics at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels may become a common sight, according to Black educators such as Rose Duhon-Sells.

Although Black studies doctoral programs are in the works at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Ohio State University, the pipeline is not going to fill up with African-American scholars fast enough to ensure that Blacks will dominate the African-American studies teaching ranks, says William Little, president of the National Council of Black Studies.

"We just don't have a program large enough to meet the demand for the product," he says.

Whites Play Key Role

The number of Blacks who teach African-American studies is difficult to pin down because they are drawn from a broad range of disciplines. The shortage of teachers is linked to a projected 50-percent decline in the number of Blacks receiving terminal degrees in history, sociology and other social sciences, according to Selase Williams, dean of liberal arts at California State University-Dominquez Hills.

Meanwhile, white instructors, once the dominant influence over Black studies programs, are in plentiful supply with doctorates in English or social sciences that are buttressed with academic backgrounds and published articles -- constituting a sub-specialty in African-American history or literature. …

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