The world’s second-largest continent is now fading from the history course catalog.
Financial pressures have halted the search for an African history specialist to replace Professor Michael R. Mahoney, who will be leaving at the end of this academic year after being denied tenure. The University decided in October 2009 to intensify scrutiny of faculty searches because of budget constraints, and Deputy Provost Charles Long noted that the University would try to walk a line between conserving funds and causing “long-term damage” to Yale’s academic offerings. Now, with students and faculty saying the decision not to replace Mahoney will leave a gap in the department’s offerings, his departure provides a glimpse into the recession’s toll on the University’s academic core.
“I wouldn’t say people are discriminating against Africa,” said Robert Harms, the history department director of undergraduate studies and a professor of African history. “On the other hand, I would say that Africa is not the top priority either.”
Mahoney said he did not know whether a lack of appreciation of Africa contributed to the delayed search, but he noted that the administration allowed searches for history professors in other regions to continue.
Long said Mahoney’s area of concentration did not affect the decision to hold off on finding his replacement, but rather, such decisions are made based on how long the position has been advertised.
“It’s a tough choice because every one of those positions is something [the history department] need[s],” Long said in an e-mail.
Harms said the department knew of Mahoney’s departure with plenty of time to hire a new faculty member for the position; the history department got permission from the administration for the replacement search and started advertising last summer. By mid-October, when further budget cuts meant the department needed to postpone faculty searches like Mahoney’s replacement, about 50 applications had come in.
History Department Chair Laura Engelstein declined to comment.
Harms said revisiting whether to renew the search would have to wait until this spring. Depending on the University’s financial position, he said, a new search may start in the fall. If that is the case, the situation would be no different from instances in which a professor of African history takes a year’s leave of absence (Mahoney took leaves during 2003, 2004 and 2007), and students could adjust their academic plans accordingly. Long said he is optimistic.
“It’s just a matter of next year or the year after, but no positions have been taken away,” he said.
But if the postponement endures for more than a year, Harms said, it will severely restrict availability of history courses on Africa’s 47 countries from the year 800 on. Two students said the postponement worsens a preexisting problem: the underrepresentation of Africa in the History Department.
“Yale puts absolutely no effort into really recruiting people to study Africa,” said Callie Lowenstein ’10, a student representative of the Council on African Studies who was deterred from an African studies major because of the scarcity of courses offered.
Tomas Rua ’10, a history major who took “Africa since 1800” with Mahoney, expressed similar sentiments about a bias, though he said the scarcity of courses about Africa is somewhat representative of student interest. Although Rua, as a graduating senior, would not be affected by the postponement, it will hinder others from experiencing a course he said transformed his view of history.
Not only students but also historians across the globe have noticed the postponement because searches are so widely advertised, Harms said. When conducting research in Mali, he met a historian based in Berlin whose first question was, “Why did Yale cancel the search?”
This semester, Mahoney is teaching two sections of both “Africa Since 1800” and “International Development in Historical Perspective.”