The AHA Forges Collaboration with HBCU Faculty
In June, more than 25 historians and philosophers from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) met with AHA and American Philosophical Association (APA) staff at three focus groups in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, as part of the “Extending the Reach of Scholarly Society Work to HBCU Faculty” project. These focus groups were supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the AHA and APA to work toward deeper collaboration between scholarly societies and faculty members at HBCUs. Participants came from Hampton University, Jackson State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Morehouse College, Texas Southern University, Tuskegee University, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and Xavier University of Louisiana among others.
Participants discussed how philosophers and historians at HBCUs can improve the work of scholarly societies, and how societies can improve access to the resources and academic networks they provide. What do historians and philosophers at HBCUs need to succeed as individual scholars and as disciplinary professionals advancing their institutions’ missions to serve African American students and communities? What might scholarly societies do to help? And how might supporting HBCU faculty help the AHA and the APA better serve all of their members?
Focus group participants expressed strong interest in professional development programming, such as the AHA’s Tuning project.
Members of the project steering committee, along with AHA and APA staff, listened as historians and philosophers discussed their experiences with intense teaching and service commitments, tightly constrained budgets, and growing demands for research productivity. Focus group participants expressed strong interest in professional development programming, such as the AHA’s Tuning project, that would strengthen their departments and programs and provide tools to advocate for their disciplines.
The focus group conversations addressed specific concerns about the financial and leadership challenges that some HBCU institutions face, as well as concerns common to higher education faculty across the United States—the erosion of traditional investments in liberal arts education and skepticism regarding the value of humanities education. In the midst of these institutional pressures, what kind of support and professional development opportunities can member organizations like the AHA and APA offer?
Some concrete ideas and insights emerged, including supporting efforts to recruit students and to offer professional development opportunities for faculty on specific pedagogical strategies. Faculty were especially interested in improving learning for those students who are not well prepared for college-level academic work when they matriculate.
Collaboration across institutions is rare, even among HBCUs themselves.
Faculty also noted that it is more expensive for them to attend national conferences as associations seldom meet in the South where almost all HBCUs are located. There are also widespread perceptions that the organizations are exclusive or not welcoming of colleagues from non-elite colleges or universities. Many HBCU faculty members have never attended an AHA annual meeting or an APA division meeting.
Faculty also asked for greater collaboration which is rare across institutions, even among HBCUs themselves. Faculty would welcome the chance to meet under the auspices of a scholarly society. Finally, faculty noted that many existing fellowships and other opportunities have requirements that are structured for scholars who operate with more teaching and financial flexibility than is typical at HBCUs.
The AHA and the APA will reflect on the lessons from these conversations and the responses to an online survey of HBCU faculty. The project will continue to generate ideas for closer connections between scholarly societies and HBCU historians and philosophers. The AHA and APA will communicate project findings and insights in a report, to be released next year. In addition, AHA and APA meetings in January 2019 will include activities related to the project. Work on the project will continue through March 2019. More information can be found at historians.org/HBCU-faculty.
Julia Brookins is special projects coordinator at the AHA.
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