University News

Faculty senate unanimously votes to create African American studies department

Becoming a formal department would bolster UCLA's scholarship and opportunities in African American studies

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African American Studies grads

Past graduates of the Afro-American Studies program at UCLA.

The Academic Senate’s Legislative Assembly unanimously approved today a series of changes that will create the Department of African American Studies at UCLA.
 
Faculty representatives voted to disestablish the Interdepartmental Program (IDP) in Afro-American Studies, approve the bylaws of the new department and approve the transfer of B.A. and M.A. degree programs from the IDP to the new department. The Executive Board will formalize its vote and send a letter to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh informing him of the Senate’s actions.
 
The creation of the Department of African American Studies was supported by Chancellor Gene Block, the dean of social sciences and multiple faculty committees during a yearlong process of deliberation.
 
“It’s wonderful and long overdue,” said Robin Kelley, the Gary B. Nash Professor of American History and acting director of the IDP, following the vote. “Clearly, the faculty recognized the need for a department … Now the really hard work is about to begin because just declaring it a department is not enough. We need to make this department work for the benefit of the broader UCLA community, the college and the university. We’re going to do that work.”
 
Kelley said he and other faculty will be organizing a retreat to discuss the curriculum to be offered in the fall. Kelley said he is also pulling together a search committee to find the department’s first chair.
 
Since its founding in 1974, the interdepartmental program has built a strong reputation for scholarship and innovative undergraduate and graduate courses that have been taught by top UCLA faculty from sociology, history, communications and many other disciplines. These course offerings have attracted students from a wide range of backgrounds and fields.
 
One major benefit of becoming a department, supporters noted, is that it will draw more ladder faculty, who may hold joint appointments, to teach certain courses and allow the new department to reduce its reliance on lecturers and adjuncts.
 
In a letter sent earlier this year to the Graduate and Undergraduate councils, Kelley explained that the new department will continue to depend on affiliated faculty, including faculty with Bunche Center appointments who have consistently taught courses in the program.
 
UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, Kelley said in his letter, will continue to work closely with the new department. “The Bunche Center is not only an ally but a key asset as we move toward departmentalization,” said Kelley. “As we plan to expand and refine our curriculum, we expect to continue to rely on the Bunche Center faculty to teach in the department, develop new courses and deepen our faculty base.”
 
In the past two decades, at lease three dozen programs, centers and institutes in the field of African-American, Africana and African Diaspora studies at other universities have transitioned to departments, including those at Harvard, Yale, Brown, UC Berkeley, University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin and many others.
 
Before it came before the Legislative Assembly, the proposal to create a Department of African American Studies was unanimously approved by the Senate’s Undergraduate Council after it received input from the Graduate Council, the Council on Planning and Budget, the Faculty Executive Committee of the College of Letters and Science, Dean Alessandro Duranti of the Division of Social Sciences as well as Darnell Hunt, professor of sociology and director the Bunche Center for African American Studies, among others.
 
"The Interdepartmental Program in Afro-American Studies is a model of collaboration and innovative curriculum that reflects UCLA's commitment to robust scholarship and teaching," Block said earlier this year in support of the proposal. "Elevating the program to a full academic department would facilitate its growth in further service to both our students and to society.
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