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Africana Ruckus Distracts From Real Changes

MetaEzra has been too busy dreaming up the 161 things that every Cornell alumnus must do to weigh in the controversy over the Provost's announcement that Africana Studies will receive increased funding to launch a PhD program while having its oversight functions transferred from the Provost's office to the College of Arts and Sciences.

But, I couldn't help but to finally chime in:

Isn't it ironic that in a year of traumatizing budget cuts, including the dismantling of the Education, Swedish, and Dutch programs, along with the gutting of Mathematics and Theatre, Film, and Dance, that the announcement of a budget increase would yield the biggest protests?

Of course, the subtext behind the move and the resulting student protests is that the vocal faculty members are actually not so much concerned about the fate of Africana Studies at Cornell (which I suspect will prosper) but of the fate of their particular niche of research and expertise: the ideology of identity and protest as a means to overcome racial barriers in society. By coming under the purview of Arts and Sciences, Africana faculty will see more overlap with sociologists and economists who may have a different way of thinking about race in a globalized century.

The problem, of course, is that Fuchs's decision doesn't reflect a racial barrier, it reflects an administrative need. And so students are now being treated like pawns in a game of faculty politics, told by their professors to put up a fight over something that would undeniably help them: being exposed to different and opposing perspectives on their major. Isn't that what an education in the liberal arts should be all about?

Here's one anonymous black alum writing on the Daily Sun's website:

With that said, I, a black alumni from Cornell, fully support Africana being made a part of Arts and Sciences. That way, you can have classes cross listed between departments, and it would be easier to fund African languages.

I think what the faculty in Africana fear most is review from Arts and Sciences and they fear that new Professors who are actually experts in African languages, religions, and economics can be brought in. In other words, they are fearful for their jobs.

The New York Times actually hinted at this trend a couple months back when it reported that culture is now (again) an acceptable pursuit of study for questions of poverty:

But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.

Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.

“We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.

Perhaps it is time to re-assess the culture of protest on Cornell's campus, and where exactly it is getting the involved parties. It's obvious that those who consistently teach a culture of difference aren't getting anywhere.

One final thought: the ability to disagree encompasses more forms than just vocal protest; students might even be able to learn how to use the power of theatre and film to convey powerful messages were it not for the gutting of that department last year.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on December 06, 2010 (#)

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