Hopkins won't set up black studies division

April 28, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Sun Staff Writer

The Johns Hopkins University, despite prodding from black students, has ruled out the creation of a black studies department, college officials said yesterday.

The university instead will set up a major in comparative cultural studies that draws on courses from several disciplines.

A black studies department was among black students' demands in a list of grievances presented to the university in the summer of 1992.

University officials said yesterday that a free-standing black studies department would be too small and would lack political influence, making it vulnerable to budget cuts.

"In all good faith, we can't create something that will fail," said Mary L. Poovey, an English professor who headed a committee that recommended against the department.

Students in the new major could concentrate on African, Asian or Latin American issues.

Blacks make up about 5 percent of the full-time undergraduate enrollment of about 3,200.

University officials reported progress in addressing some of the students' other demands.

Hopkins, for example, has hired two black professors for next fall in the School of Arts and Sciences, doubling the number there now.

The university's other major undergraduate division, the School of Engineering, has no full-time black faculty members.

The university reported that the number of black graduate students in arts and sciences has grown from eight two years ago to the 25 expected in the fall.

In addition, officials said, student complaints about campus police harassment of black students have fallen, officials said.

Yesterday, several black students gave the university only passing grades for its efforts.

"They've made some progressive recommendations, but I don't see a lot of concrete changes," said Nicole London, president of the Hopkins Black Student Union.

She and other black students said they were disappointed that Hopkins had declined to set up a black studies department.

"They seem to think we want it just for ourselves," said Prophete Charles, a black sophomore. "We already know about black history. We want it for all students to learn about black history."

Kobi Little, who helped write the demands of two years ago, said university officials need to be more outspoken on racial issues.

For example, he said, campus leaders did not speak out last fall against an incident in which a swastika was spray-painted on a picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the university library.

"I would like to have seen them use this as an opportunity to realize that racism is real on this campus and has the potential to be dangerous," said Mr. Little, a senior.

Dennis O'Shea, a campus spokesman, said the library director criticized the vandalism in a memorandum to the library staff.

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