How Southern California Colleges Are Transforming African-American Studies Programs

By Gazzar, Brenda | Pasadena Star-News, March 10, 2014 | Go to article overview

How Southern California Colleges Are Transforming African-American Studies Programs


Gazzar, Brenda, Pasadena Star-News


Significant changes are underway for established African- American Studies programs across the Southland.

After four decades of having an inter-departmental Afro-American Studies program, UCLA's Academic Senate is in the final stages of review for the program's transformation into a full-fledged African American Studies Department.

Cal State Northridge will be changing the name of its department from Pan-African Studies to Africana Studies starting next fall for the first time in 46 years. And at Cal State Long Beach, the Africana Studies Department has been fighting to prevent a demotion to a program due to a lack of tenured faculty.

UCLA's Afro-American Studies program is the oldest ethnic studies program on campus but is the only one that is not departmentalized, said Robin D.G. Kelley, interim chair of the Interdepartmental Program for Afro-American Studies. UCLA's Chicana/o studies, Asian American studies and gender studies all have their own departments, he said, which elevates the status and prestige of these programs.

"As an (inter-departmental program), we can't hire people, we don't have faculty lines to hire on our own, we have to go and beg from other departments," Kelley said. "With a department, we can decide who we want to hire. We can make decisions on faculty who fit our model."

Final approval from the university's Legislative Assembly, which includes 124 elected faculty members representing academic units across campus, is expected in April and then will head to the desk of the executive vice chancellor.

Although the review process is inherently a lengthy one and started late last year, not much investigation was needed in this case, said Jan Reiff, chair of the UCLA Academic Senate.

"Students are happy with the curriculum; they're going on to graduate programs or jobs," Reiff said. "We didn't have to do a whole lot of detailed analysis there because it's successful already."

The number of undergraduates majoring in Afro-American studies increased from 23 in 2000 to 93 in 2012, according to UCLA.

Meanwhile at Cal State Long Beach, a proposal was made last year by the dean of the College of Liberal Arts to demote the Africana Studies Department into a program since it lacks the required number of tenured faculty. Department Chair Maulana Karenga, who is the creator of the pan-African and African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, has led opposition to the proposal in the form of demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns and a teach-in. …

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