The Agreement:

In return for the students agreeing to vacate Hamilton, stop the hunger strike, and cease all disruptions of academic and administrative activities, the Administration made several promises. With regard to discipline, it decided to censure for a period of two years all students who broke University codes and policies from April 9 to April 15, rather than suspending or expelling them.

It agreed to appoint tenured directors for each Latino Studies and Asian American Studies, and to begin fund raising for a junior tenure track position for each program. Protestors insisted on formal student involvement in each of these searches.

The Program vs. Department Debate:

In their negotiations with the administration, students advocated for a department of Ethnic Studies. The agreement the two groups reached granted them Asian American Studies and Latino Studies programs, housed together within the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. The preexisting African American Studies program was to be incorporated into the Center, while maintaining some autonomy, and an American Studies program was to be created there as well. The debate over whether Ethnic Studies should be a program or a department has far reaching implications for the future of the discipline at Columbia.

A department is an independent entity, with the power to hire and tenure faculty. English and History are examples of departments at Columbia. A program is an interdepartmental entity that does research and can offer majors, but depends on actual departments to approve the hire and tenure of faculty specializing in its field. Comparative Literature is one Columbia program.

Students advocating for Ethnic Studies at Columbia decided that it would develop better as a department. They believed that Eurocentric theories and methods of scholarship have pervaded traditional disciplines, especially at Columbia. This eurocentricity can be noted clearly in the required Core Curriculum, centered around six semesters of courses based on "masterpieces of Western Civilization." Ethnic Studies scholars coming to Columbia would thus be stepping onto hostile academic terrain. Only with an autonomous department could they ensure the field of Ethnic Studies centrality in the curriculum. According to the "Ethnic Studies Manifesto," presented by students to the Columbia administration during the hunger strike, "only with departmental status can Columbia attract leading scholars in Ethnic Studies and ensure that the tenure of junior faculty will be evaluated by appropriate academic standards."

The Blue Ribbon Committee, consisting of faculty appointed by President Rupp to evaluate the place of Ethnic Studies at Columbia, eventually fell on the program side of the debate. In their recommendations, they based this position on a concern that departmental status could limit the role of Ethnic Studies in Columbia's curriculum. The existence of a department could serve as an excuse for other departments, such as Economics or Art History, to avoid diversifying their faculty or offering courses that consider issues of ethnicity and race. According to the Committee's findings,

"(Ethnic Studies) departments have tended to suffer 'ghettoization,' sometimes because of self-imposed limits, sometimes because other departments either did not hold their courses in sufficient regard to cross-list them or were resistant to their challenge to conventional scholarship. Too often, faculty in these departments have been marginalized, left to preach, in effect, to their own racial constituencies."

Since Ethnic Studies is defined as interdisciplinary, incorporating, for example, aspects of political science, sociology and literature, the committee decided that it made sense to institute it as a program.

In the three and a half years since students and administrators reached the agreement, progress toward the establishment of Ethnic Studies has been slowed by its lack of departmental status. Two searches for a permanent director of the Latino Studies program have failed, largely because the Center for the Study for Ethnicity and Race could not get their choice scholars approved by particular departments. A third search is currently in process. Ethnic Studies' lack of hiring power has proved to be a significant obstacle for stabilizing the development of the programs. However, it is still early to say whether the university erred in founding programs instead of a department. Once the programs hire all their faculty and become more solidly established, they may thrive better than a department that finds itself segregated from the rest of the university.

Back to the Rise of Ethnic Studies