UT Upgrades Black Studies Center To Department Level

UT is adding intellectual heft to its black studies center, beefing it up to the Department of African and African Diaspora Studies for the fall.   

The move tails those of many leading U.S. universities, which generally have contained such departments for a decade or longer. But it leads in the state and the region: pending Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approval, UT will be the only school in the South to offer a doctorate in African-American studies.

The first black studies department in the United States (at San Francisco State) was founded in 1969 — the same year UT hired its first black faculty member.

“There is a strong tendency of the top universities in the country to have departments of black studies. From my perspective, UT is catching up,” says Edmund Gordon, the department’s chair. “We’re behind the curve, but we’re ahead of the curve in terms of our area of the country.”

Serious talks between faculty and Liberal Arts dean Randy Diehl about such a move began two years ago, Gordon says. A $1 million donation from philanthropist Joe Jamail, BA ’50, JD ’53, Life Member, endowed the department’s first chair.

Currently, about 30 students major in African-American studies, and up to 2,000 take classes in the discipline each year through courses that are cross-listed with other departments, Gordon says.

But what has until now been called the Warfield Center for African and African-American Studies could not have any professors of its own, he says. Everyone teaching a cross-listed course had to be fully funded by another department.

As a department, that will change. Leaders aim to fill 10 positions in the next five or six years. Although the bulk of those will be taken by faculty members already teaching here, UT already has listed several full and associate professor positions in the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Applicants from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups are especially encouraged to apply,” the posting says.

The African and African Diaspora Studies Department will help further the diversity of faculty, Gordon says, but more importantly, will advance research and knowledge. “It’s about excellence and scholarship in this area first,” he says, “but about diversification second.” 


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