Earlier this month, University President Peter Salovey traveled to Ghana and Kenya on a much-ballyhooed tour of Africa, the first ever taken by a sitting Yale president. On the trip, Salovey formalized partnerships with African institutions and engaged alumni based on the continent.
But closer to home, Yale’s African Studies program — the University’s only degree-giving academic program focused exclusively on Africa — still lacks the departmental status necessary to recruit its own faculty and often struggles to offer enough courses for its master’s degree students, according to Daniel Magaziner, the director of undergraduate studies for African Studies.
“There is a disconnect between the sort of things that President Salovey is doing and the everyday teaching that goes on on campus in African Studies,” he said. “What we really need as a teaching program is more faculty. We need more hires. We need to be offering more courses, and that’s not what he was there for.”
At Yale, the Council on African Studies is housed in the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, where affiliated faculty members come from a variety of different schools, including the Law School, Divinity School and School of Medicine. But without departmental status, the program cannot serve as the primary affiliation for any tenure-track faculty. According to Magaziner, the program often struggles to offer enough courses for its master’s degree students, because only a small number of faculty members based in the social sciences and humanities are affiliated with the council.
Magaziner said that the institutional partnerships that Salovey highlighted on his trip to Africa have been important for research at the medical school, the School of Management and the School of Forestry and Environmental Science, and that building Yale’s African alumni community can support fundraising. Yale has effectively increased the number of students from Africa, he said, though most do not major in African Studies. Still, these efforts do not necessarily improve teaching and courses, Magaziner added.
In a statement to the News, Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said that African Studies is “not something that the University is ignoring.”
“President Salovey is committed to both the African Studies major and our partnerships, research, and collaboration with practitioners in Africa,” O’Connor said. “This trip was designed to strengthen those partnerships, which is part of his overall African initiative. The President, the Provost, and others are consulting in the coming weeks and months on the best next steps for the Africa initiative.”
Chair of the Council on African Studies and co-director of the Yale Africa Initiative Michael Cappello said that Salovey has requested a meeting with him and MacMillan Center Director Ian Shapiro.
Magaziner said the program’s teaching faculty in Yale College consists disproportionately of junior professors for whom African Studies is a secondary affiliation. These faculty members have a primary loyalty to their home department, he said.
At his inaugural address in 2013, Salovey announced the Yale Africa Initiative — a program designed to create more opportunities for Yalies to learn about Africa and to recruit students and scholars from the continent. In an interview with the News last month, Salovey said that Yale has effectively emphasized European and Asian scholarship in recent decades. The next step, he said, is to engage with students and universities in African countries and encourage more students to study abroad in Africa and do research and take internships on the continent. Over the past few years, he said, Yale has grown “in all those ways.”
While in Africa, Salovey also announced that the University would extend the Yale Young African Scholars Program, formed under the Yale Africa Initiative in 2013. The cost-free program introduces secondary students in Africa to American liberal arts education and the college admissions and financial aid process. Many students from the Yale Young African Scholars Program matriculate to the University after they complete the program.
Every other year, a senior admissions officer travels to eight or nine African countries to visit schools and community-based organizations, according to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeremiah Quinlan. There are 133 students from Africa currently enrolled at Yale.
But Salovey’s inaugural promise to spotlight students from Africa in addition to research and teaching in Africa at Yale came on the heels of a series of departures from the African Studies program. In 2012, former chair of the Council on African Studies Kamari Maxine Clarke, a tenured professor, left Yale to take a faculty position at the University of Pennsylvania, which has a department in Africana Studies. In a statement to the News on Wednesday, Clarke said she “didn’t feel that the University was committed to offering the necessary resources” to bring African Studies “into the 21st century.”
Columbia, Harvard and Cornell also have institutes or centers for African or Africana Studies.
In recent years, the program has lost two economists, one art historian and faculty members in the African American Studies Department interested in the African Diaspora.
“This has been a perpetual issue,” Magaziner said. “It’s just a cycle.”
But according to Director of Graduate Studies for African Studies David Simon, the program’s current non-departmental structure maximizes the interdisciplinary nature of the program, as it draws from political science, sociology, history and other departments.
Simon said that developing relationships with African institutions, like those highlighted by Salovey on his trip, can promote student-exchange programs and connect classroom activities. Both outreach in Africa and progress in African Studies can develop simultaneously, he added.
“It’s better to at this point better to continue to grow without departmental status [and] to have the commitment to expanding Africa-related outreach be matched with a commitment to hire Africanist faculty across the disciplines,” he said.
Now, the program has four undergraduate majors and five master’s degree students, according to Council on African Studies Program Coordinator Norah Langat. But hundreds of students enroll in courses cross-listed in African Studies and African languages each year, according to Cappello. In an effort to attract more students, the council has restructured the undergraduate program to make it easier for students to double major in African Studies.
Cappello said the council is currently working to develop new courses, research opportunities and practical internships in Africa. But he argued that the lack of departmental status can serve as an advantage, as the program includes faculty members with expertise across various departments. The council now offers a year-long course in social entrepreneurship beginning in the spring, in which students work with social enterprise organizations in Africa during the summer. A similar offering might not appeal to a traditional department, Cappello said.
For now, he said, the African Studies Council has enough room for growth without departmental status.
“As time moves forward, if there is enough sustained interest, I think that consideration as a department would be appropriate,” Cappello said.
Yale has 52 scholars from Africa.
Hailey Fuchs | email@example.com
Clarification, March 30: The headline of this article has been clarified to reflect the specific areas in which the African Studies program has struggled.