Campus News

‘A call to conscience of action’

Second annual education conference addresses black issues in teaching, research initiatives, hiring

“Black is one of the most positive words found in ancient African languages,” said Joyce E. King, keynote speaker at UGA’s second annual Black Issues in Higher Education Conference. “Black sun” describes when the sun shines brightest in the sky. “Black earth” refers to the most fertile and prosperous soil. “Black water” is considered the deepest and freshest in rivers.

However, evidence from everyday conversation tells us that “the concept of black in the English language is, for the most part, negative,” said King, who asked for and then received a quick handful of such phrases from the audience.

Recognizing language differences is just one of the ways to “disrupt the discourse of black inferiority,” said King, the Benjamin E. Mays Chair in the department of educational policy studies at Georgia State University.

A diverse group of graduate students, faculty members and researchers from UGA and elsewhere gathered at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education Conference Center and Hotel on Feb. 2 as presenters and panelists addressed black issues in teaching, research initiatives, university hiring procedures and other areas.

The conference, sponsored by the College of Education, was created last year by professors Juanita Johnson-Bailey and Bettye P. Smith to provide a place for open discussion about such issues.

“Be provocative. Be insightful. Be informed,” said Karen Watkins, the College of Education’s associate dean for research and external affairs, in opening remarks to an audience of about 160 people.

That figure doubled last year’s conference attendance, and organizers hope to see even greater growth next year.

“We want to improve and grow this conference in years to come,” said Johnson-Bailey, a professor in lifelong education, administration and policy, who cited the vision and support of College of Education Dean Louis Castenell for the conference’s success.

Some of the early presentations quoted disturbing statistics. One thousand black minors are arrested every day; homicide is the leading cause of death for black males and one out of eight black men between the ages of 25 and 29 will be incarcerated. Panelists discussed the need for research-based solutions applicable in the community.

“This is a call to conscience of action,” said King. “Are we really about building a research agenda or living a research commitment? All of this is larger than our personal problems.”

Low numbers of black faculty in higher education make it difficult to create a legacy for future scholars, said Cheryl Dozier, UGA’s associate provost for institutional diversity.  Some universities are falling short of replacing retiring black faculty and administrators seem reluctant, even unwilling, to expend the needed resources.

However, progress in increasing diversity at UGA is apparent in the numbers. In fall 2006, blacks made up 5.4 percent of UGA faculty, and the university ranked eighth in the nation for black faculty employment. At the College of Education, 17.9 percent of faculty are people of color, with 12 percent of that number being black faculty, far surpassing the national average, and nearly half of those are associate or full professors with tenure.

Meanwhile, 41 percent of black graduate students applying to UGA programs are accepted, and 59 percent of black Ph.D. students complete their doctorate within 10 years. Outreach programs developed in recent years have sought to recruit more black undergraduate students as well.

Dozier encouraged black graduate students to return to the classroom as mentors and teachers, and challenged academic search committees to continue reaching out to qualified minority job candidates.

During a luncheon presentation, Robert Branch, professor and coordinator of the instructional technology program, Talmadge Guy, associate professor of adult education, and Kecia Thomas, professor of psychology and interim director of the Institute for African-American Studies, made presentations, emphasizing the importance of adding an international dimension to research and building international contacts, as well as focusing on students and the scholarship of teaching.

“If you want to serve, it will take a different kind of commitment,” said Branch. 

Two panel discussions in the afternoon focused on managing research agendas and issues in teaching. Panelists included UGA faculty members Chris Cuomo, professor of philosophy and director of the Institute for Women’s Studies; Jerome Morris, associate professor of  workforce education, leadership and social foundations; Peter Smagorinsky, professor of language and literacy education; Derrick Alridge, associate professor of lifelong education, administration and policy; Billy Hawkins, associate professor of kinesiology; and Doris Kadish, research professor of ­Romance languages.