Three African Americans Win MacArthur Genius Award: All Are Prominent Academics

The Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation announced recently the names of 23 individuals who won the organization’s 2010 fellowships, which are commonly referred to as “genius grants.” Recipients receive $500,000 over the next five years. There are no stipulations. The program aims to allow recipients to continue their work without having to worry about their financial well-being. Each recipient also receives health insurance for the duration of the fellowship.

This year, three of the 23 MacArthur fellows are black. All three hold academic positions. Here are brief biographies of the three African-American winners.

Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor at Harvard Law School. She holds a joint appointment in Harvard’s history department and is the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She previously taught at New York Law School and Rutgers University.

Gordon-Reed is the recipient of the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize in history, and the National Humanities Medal. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School.

Jason Moran is a pianist, composer, and bandleader. His work transcends the genres of jazz, blues, classical, and hip-hop music. Moran is a graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. He recently joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory.

John Dabiri is an associate professor of aeronautics and bioengineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. His recent research involves the use of theoretical fluid dynamics to study the locomotion of jellyfish.

Professor Dabiri is a graduate of Princeton University and holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from CalTech.

Over the past 29 years, 96 African Americans have been awarded MacArthur fellowships with cash awards of $35.1 million. Thirteen of the 96 awardees have been graduates of Ivy League colleges. Fourteen earned their bachelor’s degrees at historically black colleges or universities. Fifty-two of the 96 black MacArthur fellows earned at least one graduate degree. Twenty-three black fellows, mostly musicians and artists, never graduated from college.


Large Increase in Black Freshmen at Louisiana State University

Louisiana State University, the flagship educational institution in Baton Rouge, has announced that black freshman enrollments are up a whopping 45.8 percent from a year ago. Overall freshman enrollments are up by 14 percent.

There are 2,215 black undergraduates on the Baton Rouge campus. They make up 9.4 percent of total enrollments. There are 406 black graduate students. They make up about 8 percent of the total graduate enrollments.


Howard University Names Two Alumni to Its Board of Trustees

Howard University in Washington, D.C., has named two prominent African-American alumni to its board of trustees.

Amy S. Hilliard is founder, president, and CEO of ComfortCake Company, a Chicago-based baker specializing in southern-style pound cake. After graduating from Howard in 1974, she earned an MBA at Harvard Business School.

Charles M. Boyd is founder and director of the Boyd Cosmetic Surgical Institute in Birmingham, Michigan. A summa cum laude graduate of Howard University in 1987, Boyd completed his medical training at Harvard University and also earned an MBA from the University of Michigan.


New Black Studies Program Launched in Indianapolis

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is now offering a bachelor’s degree program in Africana studies. Students in the program can choose to concentrate their studies on Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, or North America. A minor degree program is also offered.

This fall there are 10 students enrolled in the Africana studies bachelor’s degree program. The Africana studies program is under the direction of Monroe H. Little, a professor of history at the university. Dr. Little is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Princeton University.


Howard University to Drop Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programs in Philosophy

Howard University, the historically black educational institution in the nation’s capital, has announced plans to eliminate bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in philosophy. At the present time, Howard is the only historically black university to offer a master’s degree in philosophy. The university stated that the small number of students majoring in the discipline and the costs of running the program were the reasons for the decision.

The philosophy department at Howard University was founded by Alain LeRoy Locke in 1921. Locke, one of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance and the first African-American Rhodes scholar, served as chair of the philosophy department from 1921 to 1953.

Richard A. Jones, professor of philosophy at Howard, told JBHE, “The loss of this program — for fiscal considerations — reflects a growing trend: the elimination of humanities and social programs for more ‘practical’ training programs. It is a postmodern reenactment of the debate between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington over liberal education versus vocational training.”


Appointments, Promotions, and Resignations

• Tracy S. Dawson was named associate general counsel at Emory University in Atlanta. She was serving as deputy general counsel for the Grady Health System.

Dawson is a graduate of Tuskegee University and the Howard University School of Law.

• Conrad Walker was appointed campus operating officer for the new Brooklyn campus of Berkeley College. He was associate dean for student development and campus life at the college’s New York City campus.

Walker is a graduate of Morgan State University and holds a master’s degree from New York University.

• Dianne Boardley Suber, president of Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina, was appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

• Anton Goff is the new director of athletics at Bowie State University in Maryland.  He was associate director of the academic support and career development unit of the athletics department at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Goff holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is working on his doctorate in educational administration at Kent State University.

• Ashley Ballard was named director of distance education advisement and enrollment at Fort Valley State University in Georgia. Ballard has served in a number of recruitment positions at the university.

More than 700 students are involved in the distance education program at the university.

• Raymond Pierce, dean of the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, was elected to the Council of the Section of the Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association. The council serves as the national accrediting association for U.S. law schools.

Pierce is a graduate of Syracuse University and the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

• Pamela S. Simmons was appointed director of the Quality Enhancement Plan at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. She will oversee a program that aims to increase the writing skills of the university’s students.

Dr. Simmons, an assistant professor of English at the university since 2006, is a graduate of Albany State University. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern State University and a Ph.D. from Walden University.

• Ronald B. Neal is the new visiting assistant professor of religion at Wake Forest University. Dr. Neal previously taught at Hofstra University in New York and Claflin University in South Carolina.

Dr. Neal is a graduate of Florida International University. He received a master’s degree in divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta and a Ph.D. in religion from Vanderbilt University.

• Michael D. Ward, associate dean for student programs and professor at the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College in St. Louis, was elected president of the International Society of Radiographers and Radiological Technologists. He will serve a four-year term.

Dr. Ward is a graduate of Saint Louis University. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Missouri at St. Louis and an educational doctorate from Saint Louis University.


Grants and Gifts

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a total of $7.4 million to 10 historically black colleges and universities for projects to revitalize neighborhoods near their campuses. Here is a list of the colleges and universities receiving the grants and the funded amount:

Tuskegee University ($800,000)

University of Arkansas Pine Bluff

Southern University

Fayetteville State University

St. Augustine’s College ($498,682)

North Carolina A&T State University

Langston University ($800,000)

Winston-Salem State University

Benedict College

Voorhees College

North Carolina A&T State University, the historically black educational institution in Greensboro, received a $99,913 grant from the U.S. Army Contracting Command in Huntsville, Alabama, for logistical support services.

Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, received a $2 million donation from Janet Rosenwald Becker and Bernard Becker to create an endowed scholarship fund for African-American students. Mrs. Becker, a 1952 graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, is the granddaughter of Julius Rosenwald, the former Sears, Roebuck executive whose philanthropic efforts built more than 5,000 schools for blacks in the southern states in the early 1900s.

The law school at historically black North Carolina Central University in Durham received a $1.9 million grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to establish a broadband videoconference link between five legal clinics and five historically black universities.

Georgia State University in Atlanta received a five-year, $6.7 million grant to establish a new Center for Excellence in Health Disparities Research. The center will focus on health issues in underserved communities, on the role of churches in reducing drug use and HIV transmission, and reducing maltreatment of children.

Historically black Hampton University in Virginia received a $293,853 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish a bachelor’s degree program in biochemistry.

Do you think a GOP takeover of the House and/or Senate would harm the higher educational opportunities of African Americans?


Young Blacks Are Three Times as Likely to Be Poor as Young Whites: The Impact on Access to Higher Education

Despite the availability of federal Pell Grants and other financial aid for low-income students, money remains a major barrier to access to higher education for millions of students nationwide. And when it comes to money for higher education, African Americans are at an extreme disadvantage compared to whites.

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 35.4 percent of all African Americans under the age of 18 are being raised in poverty. There are more than 4 million blacks under the age of 18 who live in poverty. Clearly the dream of higher education for many of these young blacks will never be met.

Less than 12 percent of whites below the age of 18 are being raised in poverty, about one third the rate for blacks.



MIT Brings Distinguished Group of Scholars to Campus as Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a group of eight scholars who are serving as Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors during the current academic year. The program, which was established two decades ago, brings distinguished scholars of any race to campus for a period of one semester to two years. Here are brief biographies of the MLK scholars teaching at MIT this year who are African Americans:

Sylvester James Gates Jr. is the John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland at College Park. Professor Gates holds two bachelor’s degrees and a Ph.D. in physics from MIT.

Donal Fox is a pianist and jazz composer who will be at MIT for a second year. Fox was trained at the New England Conservatory of Music and Berklee College. He is teaching a course on musical improvisation.

Reuben A. Buford May is a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University. He is teaching courses on urban cultures and sports culture. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Juana Mendenhall is an assistant professor of chemistry at Morehouse College in Atlanta.  Her goal is to forge long-term collaborative efforts between the chemistry departments at MIT and Morehouse. A graduate of North Carolina A&T State University, she holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Clark Atlanta University.

Isaac M. Mbiti is an assistant professor of economics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He will be conducting research on the impact of vocational education in Kenya. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, he holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Brown University.


Oberlin College Has a Banner Year in Attracting Black Students

Oberlin College, the selective liberal arts college in Ohio with a long history of educating African Americans, reports a major increase in incoming black students this fall. There are 67 black freshman students on the Oberlin campus this semester. This is a 71.8 percent increase from a year ago. Blacks are 9.5 percent of this year’s freshman class, up from 5.6 percent a year ago. Black student yield (the percentage of students who accept a college’s offer of admission) increased from 21.9 percent in 2009 to 36.4 percent this year.

Debra Chermonte, dean of admissions and financial aid at Oberlin College, offered the following reasons for the college’s success this year: “A variety of initiatives have been under way in recent years including the advancement of agency partnerships, increased opportunities for black students to visit campus, and a strong financial commitment to access.”



In Memoriam

Herman D. James (1943-2010)

Herman D. James, the fifth president of Glassboro State College, which is now known as Rowan University, has died of heart failure at his home in Voorhees, New Jersey. He was 67 years old.

A native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Dr. James was a graduate of Tuskegee University. He earned a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh.

In 1982 he was hired as vice president for academic affairs at Glassboro State College. He was named president of the college in 1984. Dr. James secured a $100 million donation from Henry and Betty Rowan, at the time the largest gift ever received by a state college or university. As a result, the institution was renamed Rowan University.

After resigning as president in 1998, Dr. James continued to teach at the university for another decade.

Recent Books That May Be of Interest to African-American Scholars

The JBHE Weekly Bulletin regularly publishes a list of new books that may be of interest to our readers. Here are the latest selections.

  • American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt by Daniel Rasmussen (HarperCollins)

Black Power at Work: Community Control, Affirmative Action, and the Construction Industry edited by David Goldberg and Trevor Griffey (ILR Press/Cornell University Press)

Black Theology, Slavery, and Contemporary Christianity by Anthony G. Reddie (Ashgate Publishing)

I’m Black When I’m Singing, I’m Blue When I Ain’t and Other Plays by Sonia Sanchez (Duke University Press)

Loyal Subjects: Bonds of Nation, Race, and Allegiance in Nineteenth-Century America by Elizabeth Duquette (Rutgers University Press)

Rising Anthills: African and African American Writing on Female Genital Excision, 1960-2000 by Elisabeth Bekers (University of Wisconsin Press)

Soul Music: Tracking the Spiritual Roots of Pop From Plato to Motown by Joel Rudinow (University of Michigan Press)

The Price of Progressive Politics: The Welfare Rights Movement in an Era of Colorblind Racism by Rose Ernst (New York University Press)

Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era by Chad L. Williams (University of North Carolina Press)

Trustee for the Human Community: Ralph J. Bunche, the United Nations, and the Decolonization of Africa edited by Robert A. Hill and Edmond J. Keller (Ohio University Press)

What Was African American Literature? by Kenneth Warren (Harvard University Press)

• “White Man’s Heaven”: The Lynching and Expulsion of Blacks in the Southern Ozarks, 1894-1909 by Kimberly Harper (University of Arkansas Press)




Honors and Awards

• Kenneth C. Edelin, emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University, received an honorary doctorate from Meharry Medical College.

• George C. Wright, president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas, will receive the Educational Leadership Award from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund on November 1.

Dr. Wright holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky and a Ph.D. in history from Duke University.

• Dorothy Cotton, the civil rights activist who is the former education director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and long-time director of student activities at Cornell University, received the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

The building that houses the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville was named the Woodford R. and Harriet B. Porter Building. The Porters, who have passed, owned a funeral home business in Louisville. Woodford Porter served on the university’s board of trustees from 1968 to 1991.



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