Black Studies Revisited
Bunzel, John H., Grossman, Anita Susan, The Public Interest
Nearly 30 years after their inception in the campus disorders of the 1960s, black-studies programs continue to be a subject of controversy - at least in those departments that promote Afrocentrism. To be sure, black studies means different things on different campuses. Gerald Early, director of the African and African-American Studies program at Washington University, has described the goal of black studies and higher education generally as,
not therapy for the sick, nor fair play for the historically abused and misinterpreted, not power for the 'subversives' to oust the white men and give blacks an alternate world, but rather the quest for truth and understanding, undertaken ... by passionate believers in liberty, in the right of the individual conscience, in the need for the coming together of groups, and in responsibility for the society in which we work.
Yet the reality of black studies at other schools is quite different, and the separatist ideology they espouse is closer to that enunciated by such spokesmen as Asa Hilliard at Georgia State University, Maulana Karenga at California State University at Long Beach, Molefi Asante at Temple University, Leonard Jeffries at City College of New York, or Anthony Martin at Wellesley.
A case in point is the Black Studies Department at San Francisco State University. It is one that we know well.(1) During the 1968-1969 academic year, the campus was convulsed by a student strike, the violence of which made national headlines. The new black-studies program that arose at San Francisco State in 1969 proclaimed a radical political agenda whose overall strategy, in the words of a Black Student Union publication at the time, "was to unite all of the revolutionary forces of all the College ... [and serve] as a base from which to move like a mighty storm on all the other departments to revolutionize them."
Some teachers at San Francisco State adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward the new experiment. In their 1971 book, Unfinished Rebellions, three prominent faculty members and administrators, DeVere Pentony, Robert Smith, and Richard Axen, wrote, "It does not seem fair to attempt to evaluate the programs definitely before we have really had a chance to see what is being done in them over a period of time." We felt that after a quarter of a century, the time had come to evaluate black studies at San Francisco State. Had it fulfilled the promises made at the time of its founding? Had it evolved into an authentic discipline with standards of scholarship comparable to those in the rest of the university?
Not much was known about the Black Studies Department or its teachings. One way to find out was to attend the classes themselves - specifically, some 38 taught by 19 Black Studies faculty members. Visits, conducted between 1991 and 1993, were mainly at the beginning of a semester when students typically "shop around" before enrolling officially. While some of these early class sessions were concerned with the distribution of syllabi, roll taking, and other preliminaries, most instructors lectured at the first or second meeting, thereby providing some sense of the courses' scope and purpose. Wherever possible, syllabi were also obtained and the assigned readings examined.
The class reports below are abridged versions of material planned for a longer work on black studies at San Francisco State. Although necessarily brief and selective, they give an accurate sense of the ideas promoted by the department and the academic quality of the instruction provided. For the most part, we have allowed the faculty to speak for themselves, with minimal commentary. The instructors whose classes were selected range from part-time lecturers to tenured professors, but all of them had been teaching at San Francisco State for several years and had helped to shape the course content of the program.
The psychology of black studies
Laura Head received her Ph. …