Cornell Provost Blasted for Plan to Move Africana Center: Controversial Plan to Embed Center in College of Arts and Sciences Rankles Students, Faculty

By Miranda, Maria Eugenia | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 14, 2011 | Go to article overview

Cornell Provost Blasted for Plan to Move Africana Center: Controversial Plan to Embed Center in College of Arts and Sciences Rankles Students, Faculty


Miranda, Maria Eugenia, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Barely a year after celebrating the 40th anniversary of the trailblazing Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell University, the center's faculty, students and staff are fighting to keep the center in its current form--as an independent entity.

A fiery debate has been brewing on the upstate New York campus ever since provost W. Kent Fuchs announced last December that the center would no longer be autonomous but under the direction of the College of Arts and Sciences as of July 1, 2011. The resulting outcry has become so fierce that Fuchs is now considering reneging on his decision.

"I've made a decision, but I'm now taking input from everybody," he says. "As I told the director of the Center: If there is ample evidence that the Center would be stronger by continuing to report to me instead of being part of a college, and that it's best for the university, I'd be happy to change my mind."

Alyssa Clutterbuck, a graduate student in the Africana Center and a member of the Save Africana Campaign, says students felt blindsided by the move.

"To just assume you know what's best because you're in a position of power --we find that to be very paternalistic," she says.

Faculty in the Center also expressed outrage that Fuchs made the decision without reaching out to them.

"You feel totally marginalized, totally devalued because nobody cares about talking to you," says faculty member Dr. Carole Boyce Davies.

Fuchs says faculty members were part of a self-study of the program that led to his decision, and he maintains that Center Director Robert L. Harris was involved in discussions. Davies, however, says the move did not follow proper procedure. She says the faculty senate was "scandalized" by Fuchs' decision, and responded by putting forth a motion for the provost to adhere to protocol.

"They were shocked that there was no discussion at all with us," says Davies, adding that universities often hold meetings to ensure faculty buy-in before making significant administrative decisions.

Still, Fuchs is defending the way he handled the move and his decision. The Cornell Institute for Public Administration, for example, formerly reported to him just as the Africana Center does, but he moved it under the College of Human Ecology to provide it with better administrative support. …

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