Friday, January 28, 2022

Board votes to establish African American and African Studies department

February 15, 2019
<p>Provost June Youatt and Trustee Dianne Byrum listen to a statement from president Lou Anna K. Simon during the Board of Trustees meeting on June 6, 2017, at the Hannah Administration Building. The board discussed tuition, budget and facility renovations.</p>

Provost June Youatt and Trustee Dianne Byrum listen to a statement from president Lou Anna K. Simon during the Board of Trustees meeting on June 6, 2017, at the Hannah Administration Building. The board discussed tuition, budget and facility renovations.

Photo by Jon Famurewa | The State News

The Board of Trustees approved at its Feb. 15 meeting a proposal to establish a Department of African American and African Studies at Michigan State.

The vote, brought forward by the board's committee on Academic Affairs, was unanimous. That committee includes Chairperson Dianne Byrum and Trustees Joel Ferguson, Nancy Schlichting and Kelly Tebay. 

The university's current African American and African Studies program, or AAAS, is hosted by the College of Arts and Letters. It provides both a doctoral graduate program and undergraduate minor to interested students. With the approval by the board, that program now transitions into an actual department. 

Provost June Youatt said it was her pleasure to recommend the department's establishment.

"Many of you know that the faculty of this program have successfully nurtured and graduated Ph.D. students for almost two decades," Youatt said. 

Youatt brought up the recently-created minor and how students have been educated through that and through opportunities provided by the graduate program. But interest is still growing, she said.

"As interest has grown and the expertise across campus has expanded ... this program really deserves to be elevated to the status of an academic department," Youatt said. 

She said AAAS is deserving of an "academic home" to be a foundation for work to continue at MSU. 

"During Black History Month, particularly, it is a joy to be able to recommend the work they've done to support this creation of an academic department and I so appreciate the dean's support in that," Youatt said, referring to Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Christopher Long.

But the move to transition the current AAAS program to a department — complete with full-time faculty — has been discussed for a long time. Faculty, staff and students are part of a longstanding "collective effort" to establish an actual department, according to Glenn Chambers, director of the AAAS program. 

"The program was founded in 2002," Chambers said. "It's really always been the goal of the program to eventually develop to the point where it could become a department."

The idea gained the support of students and faculty, plus backing from both Youatt and Long. Interested individuals worked on the proposal for a year, taking it through various levels of academic governance. The final step in the process was to get approval by the Board of Trustees.

The ability to hire full-time paid faculty is a benefit of establishing the department, Chambers said. The creation of an undergraduate AAAS major could also happen, supplementing both the minor and graduate programs. 

"'(Being a) department provides stability and structure to where you could really create a mission, create a vision, recruit students into it and really help and nurture them and guide them through the entire process, whether that's an undergraduate or graduate degree," Chambers said. 

During the transition, the program won't accept applications for admission. However, they'll reopen in fall 2019 for admission in the 2020-21 academic year. 

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