A proposed idea in Northern Kentucky University’s history and geography department has upset some professors and students as they view it to be a threat to two minor programs that study minority groups.
Debra Meyers, assistant chair to the history and geography department, announced via email Sept. 8 that an ad hoc committee has been discussing the possibility of combining the Black Studies and the Women’s and Gender Studies minors to create a new major – Gender and Race Studies.
Opponents of the possible change say it undermines the importance of two separate areas of study; and in turn, would discourage students from pursuing those topics. They also feel as though the change is being forced on them by the department without their input, and some who are affected have inferred that the change includes underlying intentions.
However, proponents in favor of the possible new program say it will help diversify students and faculty, give students more marketability when they are entering the workplace and put NKU in line with other Kentucky universities.
Former Black Studies Director Michael Washington said via email that “[n]o attempt was made to collaborate with me on any aspect of Black Studies, only a decision was made to destroy it without the director’s input.” Washington said that he was removed as director in early August, before the academic year had begun.
According to Meyers, those involved in Women’s and Gender Studies are in support of the proposed changes. The Northerner attempted to reach Mary Bucklin, Women’s and Gender Studies director, but she was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
The Northerner also attempted to contact Dannie Moore, African American Student Affairs director, but he declined comment until he could read the proposed changes.
Paul Tenkotte, chair of the history and geography department, said the Black Studies minor, in particular, has low attendance. Under an upcoming state-mandated program review, the minor would require changes, according to Tenkotte.
“We encourage people to do their debating; but if somebody says, ‘I have heard that you are getting rid of Black Studies,’ I’ll say, ‘that’s inaccurate information, please come and see me, lets sit down, lets set up a meeting, lets talk,’” Tenkotte said.
Tenkotte said the move to a major instead of two minors will give NKU an advantage over other local universities, and that NKU would “rather be the model than the whipping boy.”
Meyers added that the suggestion is still in the first stage and there are several steps before the proposed idea for the minor can be implemented, including gaining approval from the Deans’ Council.
In the course of these discussions, Washington was permanently removed as director of Black Studies, despite that the program had not yet been eliminated. Washington was excluded from the committee while other faculty discussed the prospective changes.
Washington said that the proposed changes were the consequence of years of struggle for the Black Studies program. He said that the proposed changes were evidence of the attempt to maintain the “status quo.”
Washington responded to the proposed changes and his removal from his position as program director by saying, “We had to fight for support every step of the way.”
“What they’re doing now is the retaliation, and my job is to retaliate the retaliation. My job is to respond in a way that brings about equity and fairness. My job is not to shrink away from racism,” Washington said.
When asked the reasoning for excluding Washington, Tenkotte said he was “not at liberty to discuss confidential personnel issues.”
“He still does have input he’s just not in charge of the committee and he’s no longer director of Black Studies, and I think that’s a healthy thing,” Tenkotte said. “He’s been director of Black Studies since 1987. I really know of no other institution where anyone would be director of anything for almost 24 years. A change in leadership is always a good thing.”
Tenkotte said the changes are in the interest of the program, not individuals.
“So this really isn’t about any one individual,” Tenkotte said. “This is about a larger program, what we think would be best for students, and faculty and staff, and the employers, and we welcome everybody’s suggestion.”
After learning of the proposed changes, student reaction was swift and filled with concern.
Senior integrative studies major Abagaile Bueschel said she feels “violated” by not being made more aware of the potential changes earlier.
Other students have expressed it is disconcerting to learn of the changes in this way and to be excluded from discussions involving their academic ventures.
“I’m very, very upset that this college that started as a liberal arts college is now turning into a business model,” said Sheryn Labate, a student in the history and geography department.
“I think this is bad for both parties involved,” history major Bradford Hogue said. “First, I think that women’s studies is significant enough that it deserves its own unit to be studied. I think that African American studies is significant enough that it deserves its own unit for study. Though they have some similar protests against dominance and oppression historically, it’s not a thing that you can just lump together and homogenize as though they were the same things.”
Tenkotte and Meyers said that student input is welcome; but the decisions, Tenkotte added, about potential curriculum changes ultimately need to be made by professionals.
“It’s not that we’re disregarding students’ opinions or thoughts about this,” Meyers said. “But again, it’s way too early to be worried about the nuts and bolts … this is just in its infancy.”