African American Studies may become department

By Stuart Lieberman

The Senate Committee on Educational Policy, EdPol, held a public hearing Tuesday on the reorganization of both the African American Studies and Research Program and the Program for Religious Studies. The African American Studies and Research Program submitted a proposal to become a formal department, and this hearing was meant to gather public opinion, said Abbas Aminmansour, chair of the EdPol committee.

Ann Mester, associate dean for LAS, said the program has existed since the late 1960s and has a graduate minor and concentration. She added that the African American Studies and Research Program has submitted a proposal to create a new major, which is currently being prepared for review by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

“It walks like a duck, it looks like a duck and talks like a duck; it needs to become a duck,” Mester said.

Jennifer Hamer, interim director of the program, presented the projected timeline of development to the hearing. She said the program already functions as an autonomous unit, and that in the past few years, this has been accentuated by the immense growth the program has seen. In 2001, there were 296 students enrolled in the program, and in 2006, there were 2,500, Hamer said.

According to the proposal prepared by the program and submitted to the committee, the program consists of the equivalent of 11.25 full-time faculty members, along with nearly 40 affiliates around seven schools and colleges, demonstrating that the program has indeed been functioning more like a department than an individual program. The proposal also notes that the program is “a self-governing academic unit” which administers its own staff, budget and facilities.

Hamer noted that changing the distinction of the program to that of a department will be a mere formality and will have no impact on the budget, staff, enrollment or facilities. She added that things which need changing will be trivial, such as updating the letterhead.

Sarah Mangelsdorf, dean of LAS, said that an objection had been brought up about whether the college could devote additional resources to the creation of a new department.

“As they have said, they are already acting like departments, so nothing will be different,” she said in response to the possible objection, referring to both the program as well as the Program for Religious Studies.

The Senate Committee will meet on March 3 to discuss the proposal further and will vote March 31.