Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, February 18, 2011

Center for Afroamerican and African Studies becomes full department

Established in 1970, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies had surged in size and stature by its 40th anniversary last year. Now just 11 months later, the Board of Regents has conferred department status on CAAS, to best support future growth.

"The shift to departmental status will fortify their undergraduate program, develop graduate studies beyond their two graduate certificate programs, and facilitate the recruitment, promotion, and support for a diverse range of scholars and instructors," Terrence McDonald, LSA dean, and Phil Hanlon, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, wrote in a recommendation to the Board of Regents, which approved the change at its meeting Thursday.

CAAS has become one of the leading centers for the study of Africa and its diaspora. Its mission is strengthening the fields of African-American and African studies by encouraging the production and public dissemination of original research and scholarly knowledge about Africa and its diaspora, its diverse cultures and peoples, and their changing relationship, past and present, to the modern world.

Angela Dillard, professor of Afroamerican and African studies, and CAAS director, said the center already enjoys several features shared by departments, due to the enhanced program status that allows it to hire faculty at a 100 percent appointment and engage in a tenure process.

Still, the change from center to department is more than a name change. "It's really important to our students, and to a range of alumni. It gives one a sense of stability, and of being a real peer with departments we interact with on a regular basis," Dillard said.

"It's important for us because it's more of a coming of age, a recognition that CAAS is maturing. For CAAS becoming a full-fledged department in LSA is something a lot of people have wanted for a lot of years."

First housed on Monroe Street, CAAS moved to West Hall and then to its current home at Haven Hall. Dillard said there are no plans to move, noting that a new gallery space recently opened on the ground floor.

The 1990s were a significant period in the history of the center, as the curriculum grew and became better defined.

"I think the '90s witnessed more of an intellectual sophistication, a focus on what are the links between African-American studies, African studies and Afro Caribbean studies — those became the three major areas in CAAS. The trend was not to study them as three separate areas but all part of the same historical phenomenon," Dillard said.

By the mid-'90s, academic offerings had grown to include undergraduate minor and major degrees, subsequently augmented by the addition of the two graduate certificate programs; one in African studies, and another in African-American and diasporic studies. Dillard said graduate students who've studied at CAAS have tended to pursue careers in the humanities and social sciences, public health, epidemiology, public policy, and international and area studies.

The center offers study-abroad programs in Africa and is the home of the South African Initiatives Office (SAIO) and the African Studies Initiative, funded by the Rackham Graduate School. Through SAIO and the African Initiative program, CAAS has supported research and travel for scores of U-M Africanist graduate students in a wide range of departments and schools.

Research projects have ranged from the study of social groups in Ethiopia to working with an internationally funded ecology research institute in Kenya, studying a ranching operation managed by local Turkana and Maasai herdsmen.