Plans for Africana Studies and the Africana Studies and Research Center to flourish at Cornell

Dean Peter Lepage, College of Arts and Sciences, has issued the following statement:

In a meeting with Africana faculty today, I was excited to underscore the College of Arts and Sciences' active commitment to and enthusiasm for the enrichment of Africana Studies. First, the Africana Studies and Research Center will immediately benefit from a seasoned leadership team. Two highly respected administrators – senior associate deans of the College of Arts and Sciences, Elizabeth Adkins Regan and David R. Harris – will share the leadership role. They will guide the department as it develops and acts on an ambitious hiring plan, and as the African and African-American Studies graduate field defines Cornell's new PhD program in this area.

David and Elizabeth bring administrative expertise that makes them uniquely suited to this role. As deputy provost, David was extensively involved in Africana administration from 2007 until March 2010, and Elizabeth has helped plan and manage Africana's transition into the College of Arts and Sciences over the past six months, both in areas of administration and faculty relations. They will spend part of each week at the Africana Center as they continue with their current responsibilities, which include overseeing a portfolio of the college's academic departments.

Over the past several months, the College Deans and Provost Kent Fuchs worked with Africana faculty to identify new leadership. We were looking for someone who could help Africana realize its promising future in the College and maximize the impact of its considerable new resources provided by the Office of the Provost. Ultimately, we weren't able to identify a faculty member who was both willing to serve and acceptable to a substantial majority of the Africana faculty, and we believe that faculty enthusiasm is critical to effective long-term leadership. Rather than prolong the search and delay Africana's growth, we decided to take the highly unusual step of having the Arts and Sciences Dean's Office lead the department for at least the 2011-12 academic year. Offering the leadership of Elizabeth and David reflects the College's commitment to providing Africana with its best opportunity to thrive.

We were especially determined to finalize Africana's leadership by the semester's start in order to move swiftly on growing the faculty. In 2010-2011, the College hired an impressive number of faculty – 34, including several full professors. We now expect to expand the College's recruitment process with the search for three to five faculty in Africana, a transformative number for a faculty of eight. Again, this promises to be a superb year for hiring highly desirable candidates at all faculty ranks. We are committed to recruiting faculty who will allow us to build on recent Africana hiring and retention successes and establish Africana and Cornell as leaders in scholarly work and education on African and African-American peoples. As with other Arts and Sciences searches and past Africana searches, we look forward to engaging faculty across campus in this endeavor.

We also have curricular goals. Establishing a PhD program has been a priority for Africana and the graduate field of African and African-American Studies for a number of years. At Cornell, graduate fields and the Graduate School have responsibility for all PhD programs. We look forward to working with them to identify the form that the program should take, as well as the implementation steps and timeline necessary for success. We envision a vibrant, intellectually rigorous community of scholars across the university engaged in research and teaching on African and African-American peoples and their histories, literatures, visual arts, socioeconomic conditions, and much more. This is the time to bring together the impressive array of Cornell faculty already recognized for their work in African and African-American studies. At the undergraduate level, we will partner with Africana faculty to finalize and implement program revisions that members of the department have developed over the past year. The undergraduate major will remain in Arts and Sciences, as it always has.

Once we have made substantial progress in hiring and curriculum development, we will begin the process of identifying future department leadership. As the academic year progresses and we have a growing faculty and the groundwork of a PhD program in place, we expect to be well-positioned to identify an internal or external candidate for director who will lead Africana through the next stage of achieving its goals.

The President, the Provost, and now the College of Arts and Sciences Deans have committed significant resources to support Africana. We also share great excitement about its future. Together, we aspire to place Africana Studies and Cornell among the country's most influential intellectual leaders in the field.