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FVSU shelving African studies institute

By Ayanna McPhail

The new president of Middle Georgia's historically black university is abolishing the African World Studies Institute created by his predecessor four years ago.

Fort Valley State University President Larry E. Rivers, who took office in March, said although the institute won't be around after Friday, students will still be able to take the African Studies classes, including those planned for the fall semester.

"I'm trying to make it very clear here that students will not be disadvantaged because the institution as a building, as a place, will be abolished. Their studies will not be abolished," Rivers said. "I had to make some adjustments in personnel there and the institute itself."

This is one of the latest changes in the president's ongoing restructuring process.

"The entire university is going to be evaluated," said Canter Brown, special assistant and counsel to the president. "Any changes that are ongoing are not occurring because the president or anyone at the university is picking on programs to drop, it's occurring because of the serious financial challenges that the university faces because of a declining enrollment."

There are five employees at the institute, which was created as its own entity by former university President Kofi Lomotey, who saw it as a fit endeavor for a historically black university.

The fate of the personnel working at the institute is still being evaluated, Rivers said recently.

Employment counseling has been established to help individuals whose credentials may not meet the requirements of other programs offered at the school. While professors may have polished rŽsumŽs, the school has to adhere to accreditation standards that are becoming more particular, Brown said.

Meanwhile, the school is forming a committee to determine the future of African World Studies at Fort Valley State, Rivers said, including whether classes will continue after students currently pursuing majors and minors in the program graduate, and whether some of the courses should be required.

The committee will represent a cross section of faculty, students, staff and administrators, Rivers said.

Since 2002, the institute has staged an annual film festival to expose the public and students to African culture. It also produces a newsletter and publishes a journal in which students contribute written pieces.

The executive director at the institute is coordinating a yearlong program designed to prepare black males in high school for college. The initiative was awarded a $20,000 grant from the state Board of Regents.

It is unclear which, if any, of the activities at the institute will continue.

"All this is happening so quickly that those kind of decisions haven't had a chance to be made yet," Brown said.

It is that uncertainty that troubles African World Studies majors.

Anthony Abner, one of those students, is concerned about the fate of the teachers and the institute's activities, including a study abroad program.

"The whole purpose of college is to help you find yourself; those activities open the doors to other experiences," said Abner, who is among five people majoring and six people minoring in the program.

The program won't be the same if there aren't teachers who are passionate about the subject matter, said the 19-year-old junior from Atlanta.

"As soon as you walk into (the institute), you are just happy. You are just infused with something. You just want to work hard. You want to do more," said Abner, who found out about the changes from a classmate. "I feel like it's so much that we're not taught as African Americans, or just people, about our history. When you go into the institute, you're given a different view."

Jessica Mitchell, a rising senior, transferred from Albany State University so she could major in African World Studies. She gets emotional when she talks about the institute.

"This program is more than just a piece of paper that somebody can discard. It's a part of our lives," said Mitchell, her cracking voice punctuated by sniffles.

She said she wants to pursue a master's degree in theology and use what she's learned at Fort Valley State to establish a school that includes African culture.

"It has really done some wonderful things and just expanded some students' views. A lot of students appreciate it," Mitchell said.

Mitchell doesn't understand how her school, founded for black people, cannot make curriculum about themselves mandatory.

"It seems that because we are at a (historically black college and university), a black history course should be required with the rest of the core curriculum when you are a freshman," said Mitchell, who is studying abroad in Africa.

But everyone on campus doesn't agree with Mitchell.

"I don't feel like just because we're a historically black college we should have to take an African Studies class, because everyone is not here because it's a historically black college," said Micah Johnson, a 19-year-old who is taking her first African Studies class next semester.

Some students are enrolled at Fort Valley State because the school is near their home and they can pay in-state tuition, said Johnson, a mass communications major.

Rivers said the continuation of African World Studies courses ultimately depends on how many students want to take the classes.

"It will be offered only if there is a demand for those courses," Rivers said. "If we have one student and we are paying professors 'x' amount of dollars then it would not be economically feasible to continue."

"We have got to try to use the money as efficiently as we possibly can," he said. "That's one of the mandates I had from the Board of Regents."

Instead of having an institute, Rivers suggested African World Studies will be combined with another department, which could include political science and history.

"What I'm trying to do is expand what we once had in the institute," said Rivers, a historian who has written several books and articles, including the topics of slavery and African Americans.

The president wants additional courses to be offered within the department so there's something available for everyone who decides to take classes at the university. The courses could cover farming in Middle Georgia, Southern history, history of women in Middle Georgia and Civil War history, Rivers said.

Rivers envisions a center that would be a library, archives and museum all rolled up into one and open to the public. It would have records of oral history related by Georgia residents, he said.

But, some students think African World Studies should be separate.

"I'd rather it be its own department and maintain its own character," said Chris Outlaw, a sociology major. "I just think it's very distinct from history and very distinct from political science."

Outlaw took a class at the institute last year, and is among a handful of students who wrote administrators protesting its closing.

"I realize how important it is to have diverse perspective and reading these different articles really opened our critical thinking skills," said Outlaw, a rising senior. "Without these classes, black students will graduate and the only thing they will do is seek a job and add onto the American work force, but with classes like this, it will fulfill a sense of identity as a place in America."

He added, "If African World Studies was just phased away and we lose the major (and) we lose the faculty, I think it would be a big mistake."

The future of the African World Studies will be evaluated from the "bottom up" with discussions within the faculty senate and the committee studying various options, school officials said. Rivers will review those opinions before deciding the fate of the curriculum.

In the meantime, many students hope to see their school continue classes after the handful of students majoring in African World Studies are long gone. They say they want to be taught a different perspective and about their history.

"I'm not an (African World Studies) major, but this is something I feel strongly about," Outlaw said. "I think the university should take the opportunity to say our students should be required to know their history and have a sense of identity."


To contact Ayanna McPhail, call 923-3109, extension 238, or e-mail


Looks like the Department of Education of both State and Federal government RECOMMEND that THEY TRASH SUCH DREAMY NOTIONS.  Either get in line with their funding or lose all together ACCREDITATION STATUS and FUNDING.

Oh well.

The Internet can help fill the GAP. Use it.

Waka Snek Feeds: Blog
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I am reminded that a 'well round education' is said must include the study of European literature and philosophy.

I am made to now wonder why is that true. These courses have students 'demanding' them because they cannot get a degree in LIberal Arts unless credits from these course are included.

If this new president wants to be really constructive he would include these course in the requirement for selected degrees awarded by the school.

He may understand his 'instruction' from the Board of Directors, but not understand his responsibility to African American-American students as an educator.

Certain degrees come to mind e.g. World History, a list of degress in anthropology's ethnography and ethnology curriculums, certain courses in philosophy.

Since when are those diciplines in African societies irrelevant?


Jim Chester

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