Asante again appointed African-American Studies chair

Molefi Asante, the once chair of the African-American Studies Department, will return to his former role on July 1, following a contentious battle between faculty and students of the department and the university.

Dean Theresa Soufas of the College of Liberal Arts said she received the faculty’s nomination on April 17, and after an interview with Asante the next day, confirmed the appointment of his three-year position as head of the department.

April 17 was the deadline Soufas had set for the faculty to submit nominations after more than a year of controversy and lack of a permanent dean following the announcement of Nathaniel Norment’s retirement in April 2012.

Despite student protests in recent weeks that called for Asante to be put in the position of department chair, Asante said he was reluctant to accept the nomination.

“In order to unite the department, and also to restore as much as possible its’ academic program…I said to the faculty that I would be willing to run,” Asante said, adding that he had twice urged Soufas to look into hiring someone from outside the university.

The controversy began last year when, following Norment’s departure, the African American studies faculty nominated Asante’s former wife and member of the Dance Department Kariamu Welsh to become chair of the African-American Studies Department. Soufas said she rejected that appointment on the grounds that Welsh was not a member of the department. Instead, Soufas appointed then Vice Dean Jayne Drake to a one-year interim position to head the department.

Asante was a former head of the department from 1984 to 1997, has written 74 books, according to his website, and is widely known as a leader in his field.

Still, Asante has been embroiled in controversy in the past. His first chairmanship over the department came to an end when Asante stepped down after a colleague brought charges of plagiarism against him. Asante denied the accusations brought against him, and the university ultimately dropped the charges.

Asante also had troubles with Norment while he was head of the department. Asante said Soufas twice tried to fire him when Norment accused Asante of failing to teach his classes while being engaged in activities outside his university position.

Soufas denied ever trying to fire Asante, saying that such an action against a tenured faculty member would require “serious allegations.” Asante described his current relationship with Soufas as “cordial,” adding that he believed she was misled by Norment.

Asante said he did not participate in the nomination of Welsh last spring, choosing to recuse himself, because he was formerly married to the candidate.

In the meeting between Soufas and Asante following his nomination by the department faculty, the two discussed Asante’s visions for the future of the department.

Specific ideas for the department laid out by Asante included additional majors and new classes, such as Black Philadelphia, Black Political Economy and popular culture.

Asante’s research and writings have focused on the topic of Afro-centricity, which Asante described as the study of social phenomenon from the African perspective.

“You must allow the Africans to speak for themselves. You can not impose a European or a Japanese or a Chinese vision on that, you must hear the voice of Africans,” Asante said.

One of the predominate concerns of student protesters at rallies this spring was that the the appointment of Drake, a white woman, to the chair of the African-American Studies Department was that it would lead to African Americans being studied as “pathology.”

While Asante said he had no problems with Drake, he said the protests gained popularity and served a purpose as part of a perceived lack of respect for the African-American Studies Department.

Asante said that at one time, former President Peter Liacouras told him that Temple should have the best African-American Studies Department of its kind in the country.

“We haven’t had a president since that time to say that,” Asante said.

With a relatively new president in Neil Theobald and Provost Hai Lung Dai, Asante said he has hopes the department that founded the first Ph. D. program in African American studies can be at the top of its field.

John Moritz can be reached at john.moritz@temple.edu or on Twitter @JCMoritzTU.

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