Transcending the Classroom
Men of scholarship and prophetic insight must show us the right way and lead us into the light which is shining brighter and brighter.” — Carter G. Woodson Over the past 15 years, the Black Issues staff has interviewed thousands of faculty. So, it was no small feat to come up with 15 faculty members that we thought personified outstanding scholarship, service, and integrity; and whose work has had a substantial impact on the academy over the past 15 years. When we finished the list, we were struck by how many of the scholars selected were “activist scholars” in the tradition of W.E.B. DuBois. And how many, like University of Maryland professor Ron Walters, deliberately modeled themselves after DuBois. But the times demand activism. The doors to higher education are being closed on many Brown and Black students and efforts to diversify the curriculum are branded as “political correctness.” Moreover, at the dawn of a new century the number of minorities who are prepared to enter a career in the sciences is woefully inadequate.Michigan State history professor Darlene Clark Hine so eloquently summed up the past 15 years when she said, “There is a real cultural war going on in this country right now and we’re all part of it. People who have invested their life’s work in creating or constructing a certain vision of American history are not just going to lie back and die and say, ‘Okay, you’re right, you young Turks, just take it and go with it.'” 1) Molefi K. AsanteHis critics consider many of his ideas to be intellectually wrong-headed, but Asante, a leading advocate of Afrocentric scholarship, set out to turn the academic world on its head. He exposed the Eurocentric view of much of the nation’s scholarship and went on to train a new generation of scholars to look at the world through Africa by establishing the nation’s first Ph.D. program in African American studies at Temple University. 2) Cynthia Flynn CapersDuring the 15 years Cynthia Flynn Capers spent teaching, she helped make the nursing profession more aware of the importance of cultural diversity in recruiting and retaining professional nurses. Capers received the Distinguished Nurse Award from the Pennsylvania Nurses Association in 1995. Recently, she has become dean of the University of Akron’s College of Nursing. With her arrival, the college has a renewed emphasis on research, forming collaborative research groups into such areas as domestic violence. In 1999, the college’s faculty has received several new major research grants to support their work.
3) James CarmichaelThe driving force behind Xavier University’s science program that places more Black students in medical school than another college in the nation. Carmichael, a physical chemist, gave up prime teaching assignments to teach freshmen when he came to the university in 1970. How does he succeed while others at bigger colleges with bigger budgets throw up their hands? “Rather than try to flunk students out, we really try to help them,” he says. That commitment has won him such awards as the CASE Professor of the Year in 1990 and McGraw Hill’s Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education in 1997. Now, the big boys trek to Xavier to learn the secrets to success of attracting so many minority students to a career in the sciences. 4) Kimberle Crenshaw In 1991, Kimberle Crenshaw agreed to assist the legal team representing Anita Hill in the Senate confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas. From there, the UCLA law professor vaulted into the public consciousness as a leader in the intellectual movement, which has come to be called Critical Race Theory. “Law is clearly becoming an arena where the basic fundamental tensions about race and society are being played out,”she says. 5) Henry Louis “Skip” Gates His critics accuse him of being too elitist, overextended, and too flamboyant. Meanwhile, his fans fawn over his prolific scholarship, his ingenuity, and his compassionate demeanor. Whether one loves or hates him, the fact is that in less than a decade, this erudite 48-year-old has transformed Harvard’s once ailing Afro-American studies department into the envy of scholars in all sorts of disciplines. As a screenwriter of three films, a contributing editor at the New Yorker, and a founding partner of Afropedia, Inc. — which owns the editorial content of the new Encarta Africana — Gates also is giving new meaning to the monikers “public intellectual” and “scholarly entrepreneur.”6) Asa HilliardHilliard is a firm believer that African American, Hispanic, and Native American children can blossom academically under the right school conditions. Hilliard is the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Education at Georgia State University, where he has directed several research projects on diversity in the curriculum. His life, he says, has been devoted to helping all children to learn. “The content of school course work is never neutral. It has an effect on children, one way or the other,” he says.
7) Darlene Clark HineUntil recently, no one thought Black women were worth studying. Students would be hard-pressed to find a mention of Black women in the history texts. But a more complex picture of Black women’s rich history is emerging because of Hine’s efforts. As the John A. Hannah Professor of History at Michigan State University, Hine is a race woman stepping forward to rebuild the canon of history to include Black women. In 1994, she edited Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, a work she hopes will “begin lifting the veil, and shattering the silence about Black women in America.”
8) Linda Darling HammondHammond has been at the forefront of the movement to increase teacher standards and recruit more minorities into the teaching profession. She is the Charles E. Decommun Professor of Teaching and Teacher Education at Stanford University. Before coming to Stanford in 1998, Hammond was a professor at Columbia University’s Teacher College, where she currently serves as executive director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “As a society,” she says, “we have been willing to tolerate incompetent teachers if they are teaching Black and Brown children in the cities, but not in the wealthy suburbs. If we want to survive as a democracy in a knowledge-based economy, we can no longer allow the quality of any child’s teacher to be a matter of chance,” she says.9) Sylvia HurtadoCurrently a professor at the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education, Hurtado’s research focuses on diverse college contexts for the success of students of color. She has coordinated several national research projects on undergraduate education and the National Study of Hispanic College Students. “I began diversity work the minute I stepped onto a college campus as a freshman,” she says. “I didn’t realize it then, but I now know, from that moment forward, I would be educating others about diverse student experiences probably for the rest of my life.” 10) Lynda JordanWith her string of degrees and her work on phospholipase A2, a cutting-edge research project, Jordan could easily be working at an Ivy League institution or in a research corporate division. Instead, she decided in 1984 to come back home to North Carolina A&T. Her dream is to develop a major research facility at the university. Jordan has received numerous awards, including the White House Women in Science, Technology, and Engineering Award. She was also profiled in the 1994 PBS Series Discovering Women. “I want to give back to the place where I came from,” Jordan says. “I want to build up my community. I have a contribution to make, so why not make it here.” 11) Michael T. NettlesWhen policymakers want the facts and figures about Black students, they turn to Nettles, professor of education at the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan and researcher par excellence. While he was at The United Negro College Fund, Nettles helped create the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute to conduct and publish research that helps policymakers and educators improve the education of Black students. Throughout his career with the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, he has been a truth-seeker and an advocate for the numbers because he knows that without data, policymakers will still be operating in the dark.
12) Claude SteeleThis Steele is the ideological polar opposite of his brother Shelby. While Shelby is busy criticizing affirmative action, Claude is defending the policies. The latter Steele is the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences at Stanford University and may just have the answer to the nagging problem of why Black students’ test scores lag behind those of White students. Black students are subject to “stereotype vulnerability,” he says. While he was at the University of Michigan, Steele found that Black students perform so poorly because they believe the stereotype that they don’t and won’t do as well academically as White students. He helped create intellectually challenging programs at Michigan and Stanford that have helped to close the gap between White and Black students.
13) Ronald TakakiWhen you looked at who was fighting Proposition 209 in California, Takaki was one of the most outspoken critics. This professor of ethnic studies at the University of California-Berkeley has long been one of the most prominent advocates of multicultural education. An internationally renowned scholar, he has advised President Clinton on race matters. His book, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans, was listed as one of The New York Book Review’s most notable books of 1989.
14) Uri TreismanWho would have thought that calculus would be used as a retention tool? Uri Treisman, the University of Texas-Austin scholar, that’s who. Treisman developed a program of student honors workshops to help Blacks do well in their calculus classes. Students not only passed the classes, but calculus seemed to help them to stay in college. Treisman’s method was widely adopted by other universities searching for ways to increase the number of minorities in science and mathematics careers. The MacArthur Foundation was so impressed, it awarded him one of its “genius” grants in 1992.
15) Ronald WaltersJust when we were tired of looking at the same old talking heads on television, along came Ronald Walters to put a new spin on political analysis. Whenever there was a national political race of significance, you could see him on CNN, CBS, NBC, and C-SPAN. Walters is an internationally recognized scholar and public policy analyst whose work centers on African American politics and issues of race in America and the African Diaspora. Walters has always had his feet firmly in two camps, one in the academic world, the other in the world of politics. He was one of the founders of the National Congress of Black Faculty as well as the Washington-based TransAfrica. And when Jesse Jackson Sr. ran for president in 1984, Walters was his deputy campaign manager for issues.
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