May 02, 2013

By Rev. Eric P. Lee

LAWT Contributing Writer

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The California State University at Long Beach (CSULB), under the direction of University President King Alexander, is seeking to eliminate the entire Department of Africana Studies and replace it as a “program”, which will result in the considerable downgrade in class offerings, degree opportunities and the ability to reflect diversity on the university campus.

This proposal comes after eight consecutive years of the administration’s refusal to hire any new faculty members in the Department of Africana Studies, whether as replacements for exiting faculty, attrition for retiring faculty or additional faculty for the increased student population.  Regular and repeated requests for maintaining the original levels of faculty were ignored and the faculty decreased from ten (10) tenure/tenure track faculty to three (3), with two (2) more faculty members in the gradual retirement program who do not count for calculating and determining Departmental status rather than Program status.

The reason given for this proposed downgrade is that the Department has an insufficient number of tenured faculty members.  Dr. Karenga states that “it is the height of injustice to refuse to hire…and then penalize the Department for the university's failure to hire. It is also a reflection of the level of support for diversity, although it is stated as a central part of the university's mission.”

While California State University, Long Beach has increased its programmatic offerings, facilities and awareness on a national scale which has resulted in a learning environment that drew over 80,000 applications this year – the most of any CSU campus, President Alexander is engaging in efforts to reduce the offerings in Africana Studies.

“Our faculty and students are engaged in a critical struggle in opposition to the dean’s proposal to downgrade the Department of Africana Studies to a program here at California State University--Long Beach”, states Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair of the Department of Africana Studies. 

California State University at Long Beach currently has ethnic/cultural Departments for American Studies, American Indian Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano & Latino Studies, Italian Studies, Latin American Studies, Medieval & Renaissance Studies and Russian & East European Studies.  The elimination of Africana Studies represents a clear assault on and challenge to the integrity, viability and vitality of Black/Africana Studies as a department and discipline.

The CSULB website regarding the Department of Africana Studies states in part that “The Africana Studies major is designed to provide students with a rich intellectual experience through the critical and systematic study of African peoples, Continental and Diasporan, in their current and historical dimensions. The Discipline of Africana Studies focuses on critical study from an Afrocentric or African-centered perspective, while retaining a respect for and openness to the multicultural character and instructive value of the total human experience. Thus, Africana Studies majors have been successful in a variety of fields, including education, law, politics, urban planning, business, government, journalism, psychology, social work, criminal justice, acting, creative writing, and Foreign Service.”

The implications of closing the Department of Africana Studies at California State University at Long Beach is reflective of the current trend of turning back gains from the civil rights movement and can be far reaching as it pertains to college campuses throughout the United States.

If California State University, Long Beach President Alexander King succeeds in eliminating the Department of Africana Studies, whose chair is Dr. Maulana Karenga, founder of the holiday Kwanzaa which is celebrated by millions around the world, and author of numerous works currently used as the foundational teaching for Introduction to Black History, then Black/African Studies Departments in our nations’ universities may more easily suffer the same fate. 

Additionally concerning is the recent appointment of CSULB President King by the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors to become the system president of LSU and chancellor of Louisiana State University A&M (LSU).  Alexander was quoted as saying, “my tenure as president of Cal State Long Beach has prepared me to assume the role as the head of the Louisiana State University system.” Alexander was also quoted as saying “the challenges facing LSU are similar to those in California and elsewhere.”

Alexander will remain president of CSULB through June and will participate in the 2013 CSULB graduation ceremonies. In a March 2013 press release President Alexander was quoted as saying, “I look forward to continuing my work at Cal State Long Beach over the next few months. I am especially excited to be a part of this year’s upcoming commencement ceremonies where I will have one more opportunity to shake the hand of every 2013 CSULB graduate and wish them success.”  An interim president will be appointed upon Alexander’s departure, and the Chancellor and CSU Board of Trustees will begin a national search for a permanent replacement.

According to Senate Policy Statement 95-19, 2.1, the administration can waive the number requirement in “exceptional instances”.  Dr. Karenga states “this is clearly an exceptional instance for waiver, given the arguments for the importance of Africana Studies to the educational mission, the particularity of the faculty number rule itself to CSULB, i.e., it is not CSU system-wide, and the fact that the administration itself is the cause of the decline in the number of faculty by refusing to hire any Africana Studies faculty for eight consecutive years, even for replacements.”

Category: Education

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