Barnard has hired two new faculty members for its Africana studies program, echoing University-wide efforts to rejuvenate African-related scholarship.
The new faculty members are Severine Autesserre in political science and Abosede George in history. Autesserre is a specialist on the Congo, completing a post-doctoral year at Yale, and George teaches African history with joint appointments in history and international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.
The two hires represent a move by Barnard to expand its Africana studies program, which students say has been lacking resources due to a rapid succession of program directors-three in four years.
Current director Kim Hall, an English professor, called the hires a "baby step," because she sees program-specific senior faculty as necessary to help its growth. Unlike academic departments, which can hire their own tenure-track
faculty, programs draw on professors across disciplines. Because Africana studies is a program, partaicipants expressed concern that the new hires will not be able to devote sufficient energy to enriching the major can that replace
But Barnard Provost Elizabeth Boylan expressed confidence that the hires would be beneficial.
"Both of them will strengthen the social science side of the Africana studies program," she said.
Many members of the Barnard community have expressed concerns regarding increasing funding for the program. In an e-mail to students on Feb. 7th, Student Government Association president Eman Bataineh, BC '07, included funding as part of a short list of concerns that 15 student leaders raised at a meeting with Barnard's Board of Trustees.
Created in 1993, the Africana studies major has grown since its inception. An average of two graduating seniors majored in the discipline throughout the 1990s, whereas the past two years saw seven as the average.
"It's not that the resources aren't there, it's just that there aren't people there who have the time and energy," said Sydnie Mosely, BC '07, an Africana studies and dance double major, of the lack of senior faculty specific to the program.
"Kim Hall has been the first glimpse of stability that I have seen in the program," Mosely said.
Autesserre will not teach in the Africana studies program during the coming school year. Autesserre said she looks forward to participating, although her level of involvement will depend on the needs of the political science department.
"There's no official connection. That's just something that will happen at an unofficial level," political science chair Kim Marten said when asked about Autesserre's potential participation with Africana studies. The job description was for a candidate in international relations, not specifically for African-focused scholarship. George's job description did include participation in the Africana studies program. She will be teaching a core Africana studies lecture course in the fall.
Barnard's hires come during a University-wide refocus on African studies scholarship. The Institute for African Studies at the School for International and Public Affairs was temporarily suspended in the spring of 2006, lacking resources and a permanent director. African studies courses, which were not overseen by the institute, were absorbed by the Middle Eastern and Asian languages and cultures department. This provoked concern from students and faculty who say Africana studies should have its own department.
The Institute is reopening next fall under incoming director Mamadou Diouf. Hall and Diouf, who will also have a MEALAC appointment, said they hope to forge a relationship that would ideally lead to a joint African studies major.
"If there are two great institutions in a great place, it's worth fighting for a new African studies program," Diouf said of the possibility of a joint Columbia and Barnard major.
Autesserre and George both expressed excitement at the thought of being part of Columbia's African studies community as the reopening institute provides a center for African-focused scholarship.
"It seems like a really exciting place to be," George said.