Alumni Group Calls on Brown U. to Rethink Focus on African Studies

by Stephen Beale on October 7, 2009


October 6, 2009

Contact: Stephen Beale

Alumni Group Calls on Brown U. to Rethink Focus on African Studies

PROVIDENCE, RI – The Foundation for Intellectual Diversity today called upon Brown University to rethink its campaign to expand academic programs related to African studies.

The Brown Daily Herald reported earlier today that the University wishes to establish itself as a leader on scholarship on Africa by bringing more scholars from that field to Brown and launching master’s and doctorate programs in Africana studies.

At the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity, we have to wonder what could possibly lead Brown administrators and faculty to think they have neglected Africana Studies. Brown has a Department of Africana Studies with 14 full-faculty members—not counting seven visiting and affiliated professors. In addition, Brown has the Third World Center, The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, the Africa Group Colloquium, and the university recently sponsored the Focus on Africa speaker series as well as the Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. All are related to Africana studies.

We are especially concerned over the recent hiring of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe to the faculty of the Africana Studies Department. Achebe is known for denouncing British author Joseph Conrad as a “bloody racist” and claiming his book Heart of Darkness “celebrates” the “dehumanization” and “depersonalization” of African people.

“It is unfortunate that Brown continues to buy into this empty notion of diversity based on race, sex, and ethnicity,” said Stephen Beale, president of the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity. “We urge the University to consider more creative ways to teach its students about the classics of Western literature than calling them racist. Students deserve to appreciate great books on their own merits, without having them cut down into caricatures of European colonialism.”

“Such approaches to literature reflect a spiritual and aesthetic shallowness,” added Christopher McAuliffe, a board member of the foundation. “Professor Achebe has successfully reduced one of the best works of Western civilization to a political statement, which is entirely tangential to its purpose and meaning.”

We urge the University to hire professors who give students the tools they need to analyze and understand great works of literature, not tell them what to think about them. Moreover, we challenge faculty and students to think about African identity without simultaneously demeaning and diminishing the achievements of Western civilization.

“For some time now the Left has been oddly obsessed with the topic of racism to the point where they have an inability to consider any causes other than bigotry for all the world’s problems,” said Travis Rowley, a board member of the foundation and author of Out of Ivy. “I am disappointed that Brown has adopted such a small-minded focus on African issues.”

Given the University’s commitment to Africana studies, we at least hope students are afforded the opportunities to hear other perspectives on African history and European colonialism.

About the Foundation for Intellectual Diversity

The Foundation for Intellectual Diversity is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of intellectual diversity and academic freedom at Brown University and other institutions of higher learning in Rhode Island. We pursue this goal through funding of The Brown Spectator and Closing Remarks, sponsoring speakers, and other programs.

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